Hot foot it to Humphry’s

Published on BespokeRSVP on 19th July 2012:

A short train and taxi ride takes you, within the hour, to the charmingly secluded Buckinghamshire country club Stoke Park. Part luxury country hotel and spa and part golf club, the exclusive property is probably more well known than you realise. As well as being the set for numerous blockbuster films such as James Bond and Bridget Jones’ Diary, it’s also the host of the annual Boodles tennis tournament. With London bursting at the seams under the weight of Olympics visitors, it’s the perfect time to visit.

The Country Club opened its doors to non-members for the first time and the award winning food alone is worthy of a visit.

Humphry’s, headed up by Executive Chef Chris Wheeler, is Stoke Park’s main restaurant and the holder of two AA Rosettes. For somewhere which only catered to members and their guests in the past, you might think that the food is stuck somewhere in history. Not quite so. Though there is a hint of the classics running through the menu (consommé and tian both make an appearance for example, as does a burgeoning cheese trolley), beautifully arranged modern British fare is served up.

The pan-fried scallops with celeriac puree and crispy pancetta was the ideal starter for me. The well prepared scallops, topped with a little caviar and adorned with jewels of port reduction, struck a balance between sweet and savoury when paired with the celeriac and pancetta. It’s a perfectly executed dish which was light but bold enough in flavour to titillate the taste buds for what’s to come next.

Unusually for me, I opted for a fishy main. It was partly inspired by the surprisingly fish heavy menu and partly because I was intrigued by the accompaniments. Indeed, for me, the violet potatoes which accompanied my oven-baked red mullet is rarely seen on restaurant menus. The main also offered char-grilled peppers, crab ravioli and lobster foam to vie for attention.

What really impressed me though, had to be the desserts. I know I’m a dessert fanatic but the stunning presentation really showed off a seriously skilled pastry section, no doubt down to the hundreds of weddings and events catered for at Stoke Park each year.

The Humphry’s Snickers is the signature dessert to go for and Taste of Apple sounds the most intriguing but I really found my fancy with the raspberry mousse and white chocolate ganache. The raspberry dessert appeared in mousse, sorbet, gel, crumble and fruit form in a delicate line on a black plate. Light, refreshingly fruity and striking in presentation, there’s really nothing not to like.

A tea or coffee is definitely recommended after dessert, if only so you can spend a little while longer staring dreamily out of the window. The view, by the way, is watercolour picturesque. With great food, wonderful views and perfect tranquillity, why would you ever leave?

South for Soif

Published on BespokeRSVP on 9th July 2012:

In South West London, we enjoy a slower sort of life. Not quite on Caribbean time but certainly noticeably less hurried than anywhere else in London. This translates to our restaurants too – more laid back, less formal. And that’s perhaps why it’s the perfect location for a delightful wine-centric restaurant by the name of Soif.

I chose a funny sort of day to visit Soif; inadvertently, I had booked in for lunch when I already had a long-standing reservation for dinner at The Waterside Inn. In the back of my mind, I was thinking how they were a world apart; where one had maintained 25 years of three Michelin stars, the other was still in its relative infancy. Having visited its sister restaurant in Covent Garden, Terroirs, I was expecting some very good things though.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

Their handful of dishes were loosely split into starters, mains and desserts. Not quite tapas but certainly great for sharing over a glass of wine, or indeed several bottles if the mood takes you. And that’s really what Soif is all about, their wines.

The list, extending to six pages plus sweet/fortified and digestifs, offers some very affordable and, more importantly, interesting natural wine options. Indeed, when I later showed the list to a grape geneticist friend, he was very tempted by the varietals on show and even more intrigued by the mock offer of an ’82 Petrus at £1m.

But back to the food.

Duck rillette with toast and buffalo mozzarella, broad beans and savoury made contrasting starters where one said comforting winter and the other colourful summer. A sparkling something seemed apt and glasses of Camillo Donati Malvasia Rosa Rosato Frizzante and Benoit Courault Le P’tit Chemin Pet Nat were sunk. Needing some contrast in texture too, half a dozen well-shucked Maldon rocks followed as a palate cleanser.

Slightly more heavy set mains of turbot with samphire and Jersey Royals and loin of pork with roasted potatoes buttered cabbage and apple sauce arrived accompanied by Adegas Sameiras Blanco 2010 and AA Denavolvo Dinavolino Bianco 2010. There is a sense of Sunday brunch about the lunch. Perhaps much of it is down to the fact that the lunch rush seem to start from about 2pm with families and groups of friends.

A rather seasonal strawberries and cream was on the menu though I took on the bitter chocolate mousse and hazelnut sablé instead, keen to sample their pastry offering. Its intensity on the palate begged something even sweeter to tame. Happily, the staff recommended something mysterious that did the trick.

Satisfyingly filled with wine and food, I leave reflective. How interesting was the assault on my palate from the wine where, for once, the food took more of a back seat. How well adapted this little gem was to South West London living without being in any way inefficient. And how perfect a place it would be for long discussions late into the night. There aren’t many places that will tempt North Londoners south of the river. Soif is surely one.

Seven Pop-Ups for July

Published on BespokeRSVP on 2nd July 2012:

The pop-up restaurant craze is truly ingenious, allowing us a little of what we fancy and (hopefully) leaving us wanting more. Here are the pop-ups for July that we think you would be a fool to miss:

A Piece On The Side

Former Petersham Nurseries chef, Eloise Schwerdt, is hosting a short series of pop up dinners at The Cuckoo Club. Running from the 4th to 7th of July, 8pm to 11pm, the set menu will include Heritage tomatoes with goats curd, zartar, purple basil and bruschetta, fillet of beef with roasted beetroots, baby carrots, domestica rocket, horseradish cream and salsa verde (vegetarian option is also available) and Baklava ice cream with pistachios and viola flowers. Visit The Cuckoo Club website for more information.

Ceviche by Asia de Cuba

Fusion restaurant Asia de Cuba have always done things a little differently and during the month of July (4th – 25th to be exact), they are running a ceviche pop up in The Front Room of St Martins Lane Hotel. The ceviche menu will include dishes such as Scottish salmon and salted avocado helado; curry kingfish and passionfruit; grouper, Seville orange and Aji Amarillo; and prawn, snapper and ‘confit’ watermelon. Naturally, Asia de Cuba’s signature cocktails will also be available. Click here for details of location and contact.

Fish in the Sky

Platterform, winners of Young British Foodies’ Best Food Experience 2012, is collaborating with seafood restaurateurs Bonnie Gull of Bonnie & Wild to create a three week supper club called Bonnie-On-Sky. Hosted at Skyroom, London Bridge, the “immersive dining experience” will be all things fishy including dishes such as Isle of Lewis mussels steamed with Aspall cider and Cumbrian bacon. The supper club series will run from 5th July to 21st July, Wednesday to Saturday only. Bookings can be made here.

Mussel Men invade

Street food comes in many outrageous forms but one of the most memorable is probably Mussel Men – boys (and girls) dressed in black and white horizontal stripes serving up some of the most amazing moules frites found outdoors. On the 14th of July, however, they are taking their wares indoors to Fabrica584 for a one day pop-up. Head down for a great feast or, if you’ll rise to the challenge, partake in their hourly “Mussel Men” press up challenge for a chance to win a free feed. Click here to book your ticket.

Olympics at Annex East

Jimmy’s Supper Club, run by Jimmy Garcia of The Wild Food Kitchen, will be hosting specially curated nights of feasting and entertainment from 20th July to mid August. Held at Annex East, a brand new 1800ft arts warehouse space situated less than 100 meters from the Olympic site in the heart of Stratford, the supper clubs are designed to showcase the best of British. Expect evenings of Dodgeball & Dinner, Sunday brunch, wine tasting, Film & Feast screenings, live music and DJ’s, fine art exhibitions and gallery shows and a custom designed cocktail bar. More details can be found here and tickets can be booked here.

Corrigan’s Wine Saturdays

Starting on the 21st July, Corrigan’s of Mayfair will be hosting wine matching lunches once a month with specially selected themes. The first lunch’s theme will be “The wines of Greece” to celebrate the Olympics’ journey from Athens to London. No matter the theme though, there will always be Champagne and canapés on arrival, four courses with matched wines, coffee and petit fours. More details can be found on the Corrigan’s website. To make a reservation for the Corrigan’s Wine Lunches, call 020 7499 9943 or email


July begins with the second MAD symposium at Noma, the best restaurant in the world but, in London, it ends with IMAGINATION. From 27th July to 12th August, St Katharine Docks will be taken over by all things Danish from art and design to music and entertainment. And of course, there will be Danish food and drink stalls serving up a taste of Denmark. Details are yet to be finalised but Visit Denmark has all of the latest details.

Books Not Just For Cooks

Published on BespokeRSVP on 18th June 2012:

I recently read a very inspirational essay in defense of food writing; on how it fulfills us, and not just at the table. Its touching prose inspired me to capture something other than just restaurant reviews on The Bespoke Black Book. So from this month onwards, I will be doing a small round up of food books past, present and future. And as it’s the first of such round ups, it’s apt to start with some books by fellow food writers.

A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell

The first book from food writer and editor of Waitrose Kitchen William Sitwell is a foray into the history of food. “A History of Food in 100 Recipes”, as the disclaimer in the introduction says, does not actually contain precisely 100 recipes. Rather, it’s a narrative on food, its cooking and its heroes, through the ages and across cultures; with a whole lot of recipes thrown in for good measure. There are plenty of things to chew over, beginning with Ancient Egyptian bread and finishing at Dinner’s Meat Fruit.

Food Britannia by Andrew Webb

Published last year, “Food Britannia” is a bible and directory of local food across Britain. The author, Andrew Webb, has not only taken a journey around the country but also through the history behind the food and the stories of the producers. You will find entries on everything from Afro-Caribbean food to Yorkshire tea. Aside from being a fantastic read and excellent source of reference, it has also most recently won Food Book of the Year at the Guild of Food Writers Awards.

Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking by Fuchsia Dunlop

Having trained as a chef in Sichuan, China, Fuchsia Dunlop knows a thing or two about Chinese food. Indeed I have spoken to restaurateurs in China who knew Dunlop by reputation. So it’s really no surprise when she recently won the James Beard Award for Food Culture and Travel. Her latest book, “Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking”, is an exploration of Chinese ingredients, with photo-glossary, and simple ways to cook them. No longer is Chinese food a mystery.

June is not just Jubilee

Published on BespokeRSVP on 1st June 2012:

Getting caught up in Jubilee fever is inevitable, especially if you live in London. But as Londoners know, there is always something interesting to do in the big smoke. So here are five (food and drink) things you should do in June:

Sample some of the UK’s best produce. The restaurant at The Cadogan hotel has teamed up with some of the best known names in the food industry to bring you Great Taste at The Cadogan. The Great Taste Awards are organised by the Guild of Fine Food every year and is designed to pick out the best speciality food and drink. The current menu, designed by food writer Lucas Hollweg and celebrity chef Thomasina Miers alongside head chef Oliver Lesnik, will run until the end of June. Goat’s cheese and courgette flower, rabbit ravioli and loin and bakewell tart are just some of the things you will find on the menu.

Bask in sunshine on the Southbank. At long last, sun and wisps of summer has arrived. What could be better than soaking all those golden rays at the Propstore on the Southbank? Propstore is the National Theatre’s summer pop up, created using props from past productions, and will be running until the end of September. Street food will be served as well as beers, wines and cocktails. It could be the perfect location to sample Sipsmith’s latest gin, the limited edition Summer Cup – it has tea in it!

Go menu-less for cocktails. There’s no time like the present to visit Sanderson Hotel’s Purple Bar and Billiard Room for cocktails. And there are no cocktails quite like it either. That’s because they have dispensed with the menu. Instead, the staff create a cocktail just for you based on what you like and the mood you’re in. I can tell you the Qintini (Belvedere intense, St Germain, Granny Smith apple, rhubarb, grapefruit juice, lemon juice, glucose syrup, egg white) is quite something – fruity, complex and addictive. Some might say, a bit like me.

Eat around London in small bites. The bigger and better Taste of London returns to Regents Park again this year, from the 21st of June until 24th, with a more international theme. As well as demonstrations by British favourites like Jamie Oliver and Michel Roux Jr, superstars on the international culinary scene, David Chang and Wolfgang Puck, are also flying in. Slow cooked pork belly from The Savoy’s River Restaurant, braised beef feather blade by Maze, and Theo Randall’s chocolate cake are just a few of the things you can sample.

Get totally 80s on the river. Chelsea’s 80′s club Maggie’s, is taking their disco, cocktails and a few rotating Rubik’s cube tables to the Henley Royal Regatta for the first time this year. The Maggie’s tent, positioned at the halfway line, will be open for the full five days from 27th June until 1st July. With tribute acts, fireworks displays and the well-heeled Chelsea set, Henley has probably never been more rocking.