Opium, Soho

Published in Scout London Magazine January 28 – February 03 2013 Issue number 25:

With history in mind, one might find a restaurant named Opium in Chinatown to be somewhat bad taste. As it goes, this is anything but. Like its neighbours, the Experimental Cocktail Club, it is nestled high above the Chinese eateries we know the area for. Owners Dre Masso and Eric Yu have drawn inspiration from 19th century opium dens in their theme. A smoking signature cocktail made with kaffir lime, mandarin, absinthe and rum is a pleasing shock to the system; a toilet that shouts at you is just shocking. A smattering of dim sum make up the single-page food menu, and the scallop, coriander and pea dumplings could rival any on Gerrard Street. The sesame and poppy lobster prawn toast is another must-try.

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon: where France meets Japan

Published on Luxuria Lifestyle on 22nd January 2013:

It’s hard to pinpoint the L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon experience – it’s so overwhelming.  Let’s start with the concept.

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon is a two Michelin-starred French restaurant offering a Japanese style counter service.  The man behind the brand is the French born and internationally acclaimed Joel Robuchon, once named “Chef of the Century” by Gault Millau and chair on the committee which produced Larousse Gastronomique. At the steering wheel is head chef Olivier Limousin, who has led a skilled and international team since the restaurant opened in 2006.

The food? All fabulously French; but that fresh, light and boasting-of-health kind that Robuchon is so well known for. And plentiful in inventiveness.  At the kitchen facing front-line of the counter, it feels like the menu is an endless list of options, each one equally meticulously prepared. Even as we made our way through seven savoury courses, many more perfect alternatives were created for other guests. Then there’s the sweets – but more on that later.

First, an aperitif of parmesan cappuccino with port opened up the palate – a shot of flavour that really didn’t need its spoon for delivery. Taste buds shaken up, it was time for the next few courses.  We started on two seafood courses – crab meat with tomato jelly and scallop carpaccio with sea urchins and lemony olive oil; both delicate in colour and bold in flavour. My preference for white wine materialised in an inspired matching of Spanish Albariño and Luxembourgeoise Rivaner.  More classic white wine matches followed: a mineral-laden Austrian Grüner Veltliner to green asparagus cappuccino; a well-perfumed Alsatian Gewürztraminer to seared duck foie gras with Muscat grapes; and a balanced creamy Mâcon to a soft boiled egg with Iberico ham and parsley oil.  If the courses and wines seem like they are arriving hard and fast, it’s because they were. But each course is delicate and each wine light, leaving plenty of room for conversation. Besides, attentive service from the other side of the counter offers the option of savouring pauses; if needed.  The final savoury course was a luxurious foie gras stuffed quail with truffled mash and the first red wine of the evening, an Austria St Laurent – a combination I would happily enjoy every day.

The surprise of the evening was actually the pre-dessert – a small crumble. Not only because it marked the end of seven marvellous courses that went by all too fast but also because it’s markedly different from the sorbets and mousses so often presented for this interlude.  The arrival of the pre-dessert also introduced two intricate antidotes to my sweet tooth.  The first is a variation of La Sphere, a fruit and cream filled spherical structure, and the second, Le Minty, was a juxtaposition of mint chocolate, mint sorbet and milk foam. “Straw wine” from South Africa and a ’99 port tamed and embraced the sugar, fruit, mint and chocolaty tannins. Simply divine.

There it is, all ten courses of the l’Atelier de Joel Robuchon experience; perfection which began and ended with port. How difficult it is to pick a favourite from all these impossibly intricate combinations. Behind all the courses, though, is a solid back bone – one supported by skill, well-travelled exploration of ingredients and fresh-faced classical French cuisine.

One thing is for sure though, it is not somewhere to return to but somewhere to frequent.

La Mancha, Putney

Published in Scout London Magazine October 12-21 2012 Issue number 12:

La Mancha, Putney, Scout London

Running for some 20 years in Putney, this locals’ favourite has had a menu overhaul of late. There are now more than 50 tapas dishes on the menu, plus mains, sides and desserts. And if you thought tapas were small plates then think again. Here, the portions are generous enough to share happily – five dishes are recommended for two people. As a strangely large amount of the food is fried, things can get a little greasy, especially when it comes out faster than you can make room for it. But that’s nothing a cold sherry, icy Spanish beer or a frozen daiquiri can’t fix. A drip-feed of Jamon Serrano with pan al ajillo (that’s garlic bread for those of you whose grip on Spanish is less than basic) will keep you chatting for hours over those cool drinks, and you’ll probably feel like a siesta afterwards. Go on, take it easy – there’s always mañana.