Laurent-Perrier Tous Les Sens: A Preview

Published on BespokeRSVP on 25th May 2012:

Laurent Perrier Tous Les Sense at Massimo, The Corinthia, London

Flowers aren’t my thing. It’s all that pollen irritating my hayfever. And all that floral femininity making me feel like I have to be all girly. But flowers on a plate, it just makes me all weak at the knees with glee.

At the Laurent-Perrier Tous Les Sens Masterclass at Taste of London this year, it is all about the flowers. Not just to look at or to smell but also to eat. International florist Ercole Moroni leads the class and guides you through a specially created tasting menu of floral delights. As well as exploring the menu and learning about the different flowers on the plate and on the table, you also get to sample a small flight of Champagnes from Laurent-Perrier.

If the preview at Massimo, The Corinthia, is anything to go by, you will surely be in for a treat. We had dishes inspired by apple blossom, green shiso, wild garlic, courgette flower, jasmine blossom, and elderflower, just to name a few; and by inspired I mean it was on the plate. While we sipped the champagne and tried the food, Moroni talked about why each champagne was chosen to match the menu and how they relate to the flowers. By the end of the meal, even I was warming a little to the bouquet.

Laurent Perrier Tous Les Sense at Massimo, The Corinthia, London

The Tous Les Sens Masterclass menu at Taste of London is slightly different though and has been put together especially for the event by specialist caterers, Urban Caprice. Canapé portions of starter, main and dessert will be paired with Ultra Brut, Grand Siècle and Curvée Rosé respectively, from Champagne Laurent-Perrier.

The starter will be Mottra Osetra caviar, apparently the world’s only truly sustainable caviar, on white toast. The caviar is sustainable and ethical because the sturgeons are massaged to release the roe rather than cut open while still alive. The main course is a Champagne infused risotto with asparagus. And finally the dessert is a white chocolate and strawberry sphere with strawberry mousse, macerated strawberries, rose jelly and crystalised rose petals.

Modern Pantry, Naturally

Published on BespokeRSVP on 18th May 2012:

Natural wine finds itself a happy home at Modern Pantry where for the month of May, it is all about minimal intervention. Collaborating with natural wine importers, Les Caves de Pyrene, chef Anna Hansen has created a light tasting menu with matching natural wines as part of Real Wine Month. For a food fanatic like me, there really is no better way of exploring wines than with great food.

Hansen, a Canadian by way of New Zealand, has certainly taken her culinary journey and put it on a plate. Interesting ingredients (verjus, cassava, monksbeard) is seasoned with Asian fusion (curry leaves, tamarind, pomegranate molasses). Though the flavours seemed strangely juxtaposed at times, they some how worked. Rather like natural wines, the food, while not appearing radically different, offered a surprising blend of vibrant and refreshing on the palate.

Modern Pantry’s well lit table made wine tasting really rather simple too – crisp white linen, natural light and window box in sight. Well that last bit is a bit irrelevant to the tasting but it does make the atmosphere a whole lot more pleasant. Just like, perhaps, the clean cut but not sterile décor and their high ceilings.

In this setting, rendang mince with deep fried quail egg and garlic briq tart with tomato and miso dressing made unusual canapé starters, paired with a mellow Domaine Belluard Haute Savoie Gringet Les Alpes 2010. Then came the cuttlefish ink laksa with grilled cuttlefish, a medley of textures and colours that played havoc with the table cloth. The intense monk’s beard was happily appeased by the Antoine Arena Patrimonio Grotta di Sole Blanc 2010.

Beef and lamb followed in the two meat courses. The pink peppercorn dusted beef fillet, tinted with the vanilla verjus dressing, was well rested and perfectly flavoured – easily the best I’ve ever had. The Masala roast lamb rump, with its smoked cassava and fenugreek croquette, wild garlic and coconut labneh as sides, provided quite a flavour map to explore. The pair was matched with Louis-Antoine Luyt Carignan Trequilemu 2010 and Dard et Ribo Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2010 respectively.

Rounding off the evening was Madeira cake, vanilla cream and sloe gin sorbet on a bed of poached rhubarb. The creamy, tangy mix prepared the palate well for the Jurancon La Magendia de Lapeyre 2008. By the time fresh mint tea and chocolate truffles rolled round, a feline purr is about all you would be able to manage under the weight of satisfaction.

Italians do it better – Pret a Diner is back

Published on BespokeRSVP on 15th May 2012:

“Italians do it better” by Pret a Diner launched in Mayfair last week with a bang. Though the invite did not say so, the dress code was definitely Italian chic: think Dolce & Gabbana with added stars and sparkles – the likes of Chris Eubank and Zafar Rushdie came along for the bash.

With Giorgio Locatelli at the helm sending out plates of delicious Italian in the restaurant, created by him and five other Michelin-starred Italian chefs, the food was positively nourishing. The canapés sent round ran along the lines of mini-burgers, pasta and scallops just to name a few. Fashionistas might worry about the calories but you’ll definitely be in need of some carbs after sipping the potently easy drinking cocktails at the bar run by 69 Colebrooke Row. Cocktails aside, Moët & Chandon flowed alongside Martini Royales making grooving to the beats of the DJs a whole lot smoother.

Pret a Diner: Italians do it better launch, Mayfair

There’s rumours of there being some 14 floors in the building and more bar space than you can shake a stick at. Well, there is definitely a gallery, an all-Italian restaurant and a few bars along side space for live music.

During the run of the pop up, dinners will be a set menu designed by either Giorgio Locatelli (traditional) or one of the guest chefs (the modern take). Fish burgers, gnocchi and fritto misto are just the sort of things you might find on the menu. The 69 Colebrooke Row pop up will have classics from its Islington namesake such as Death in Venice as well as cocktails with an Italian twist like Sicilian Sour.

Basically, prepare yourself for a night of heady Italian.

NuBeginnings: The luxury of a bootcamp retreat

Published on BespokeRSVP on 12th June 2012:

As the Food and Drink editor of The Bespoke Black Book and a freelance journalist writing on the subjects, I’m lucky enough to eat out at a lot of nice restaurants. Even when I’m not working, I am always indulging in food of some sort whether or not I cooked it myself.

I would never restrict myself when it comes to food and consequently my diet is a meat, carb and dessert heavy one. But I think my relationship with food is a healthy one. I have never dieted and am instead a firm believer of exercise.

For the last ten years or so, my weight has fluctuated up and down centering around the 54kg mark, which, for someone who is five foot two, is a pretty good weight to be at. At a UK dress size of 8/10, I’m not without my “wobbly bits” at times but I’m quite happy with that. Occasionally even proud.

Why do those facts matter? Well I’ve been dispatched to a bootcamp in Devon, albeit a boutique one by the sea, and for the first time in my life, I will be put on a diet. Here are my thoughts for the short stay at NuBeginnings.


It’s shortly after midnight and I’ve finally arrived at NuBeginnings – two hours or so from Paddington and then another in the taxi. I am so glad that my room is spacious and the bed literally pillow soft and comfy.

Feeling strangely full after judging at the International Chocolate Awards this afternoon. That’s probably the most surreal juxtaposition – chocolates and bootcamp. Or as some would say, rather handy.

Anyway, time to head for bed. There’s a seriously early start (7.30am) tomorrow which for a Saturday morning is not something to look forwards to. Still, I’ve been told that there are massages and Alexandra Burke has trained here so it can’t be all bad. Right?


NuBeginnings, Devon

I am feeling slightly duped – I was made to exercise before breakfast! As you can imagine, every lazy bone in my body resisted. Especially when I realised breakfast was a paltry serving of muesli with fresh fruit. It looked good but compared to my usual muesli, had so much less sweetness and therefore, in my mind, flavour. This probably didn’t put me in good stead for the mindful eating lecture where we were told, amongst other things, to always leave something on the plate.

The morning snack was just three slices of fridge-cold orange and a few nuts. Refreshing stuff but I could really have done with a bit more after a leg-wobbling amount of circuit training up and down a hill. And all before lunch!

That said, lunch was a pretty impressive nut burger with seeds and side salad. Yes I know what you’re thinking and I was thinking it too – how could a nut burger taste good? But it was really good – flavoursome and filling, but by no means trying to be meaty.

One short hiking practice later, where I learnt that people come for fitness as well as weightloss, it was time for our afternoon snacks. The smoked salmon and cannellini really helped to tick things along through my hypnotherapy session, which I managed to sleep through. All that exercise was seriously tiring.

Dinner was when I really got to grips with one of the key aspects of the diet I’ve been put on – there’s no added salt. Steamed red pepper, baby corn and bean sprouts would have made for very dull eating if it wasn’t for the aromatic Thai chicken curry that they accompanied. I guess I will find out more in the nutrition lecture tomorrow.

Post dinner I finally got the opportunity to meet the man preparing all the food. The chef, Gary, has travelled extensively in South East Asia, where a lot of his influences came from, and had previously run his own restaurant before cooking at NuBeginnings. He created an amazing pistachio and cashew pesto for the sea bass dish which he was demonstrating. It was so good, in fact, we all requested it for dinner tomorrow.


NuBeginnings, Devon

With five hours of hiking ahead, a cooked breakfast was definitely much needed. I must admit, I had secretly hoped for a greasy fry up but the gluten free pancakes we got weren’t bad either. Layered with fruit and soya cream, it was really rather delicious but also seriously nutritious.

The hike was pretty miserable though; it was windy and raining. My legs were so stiff from yesterday that I could barely move. Instead, I spent much of the time tripping up. When did I get so unfit?

A snack of apple and nuts felt a bit like a band-aid on a gaping wound so I changed over to the less intense hike half way through.I actually had the opportunity to admire the beautiful views then. And I even enjoyed the warming tomato soup at lunch. But where was the bread?

I was definitely grateful for the afternoon snack of prawns with a spicy salsa and salad back at base after the hike. With free time to relax and a sport massage with Andy before dinner, I was beginning to feel pretty happy. Especially when dinner was the fantastic fish dish that Gary demonstrated last night.

After dinner, NuBeginnings nutritionist Hazel was on hand to explain our diet. Apparently we are on the GL diet – based on the GI diet but with much more guidance on portion control. That’s where our structured regime of breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack and dinner comes from. It makes sense to maintain blood sugar levels within a range for weightloss and control though I am still a bit dubious about this business of no salt, especially given how much exercise we’re doing.


NuBeginnings, Devon

It’s my last day at NuBeginnings and I woke up feeling energetic and positively jubilant. Most of the stiffness and soreness have gone and I was actually excited about exercising on the beach, even if only fueled by half a banana! The post-work out muffin and morning snack of melon, strawberries and nuts were just the cherry on the metaphorical cake really.

I think it also helped that after a really good salmon fishcake for lunch, all we had was a brisk walk in the Devonshire countryside. That said, I did learn that Nordic walking, with hiking poles, uses up some 30% more calories – a substantial amount considering how little effort is put in. It was also interesting to find a very intense start to the bootcamp before settling into a more relaxed schedule. Though it must work if the average weightloss is 10lbs. I guess it helps to allow our bodies time to recover but also conditions us for change.

My final snack was red peppers and cucumber crudités with hummous before a Tui Na session with Vanessa to relieve the last of the muscle sore. The therapists, I hear from the other well-travelled guests, are some of the best they have experienced anywhere. That was certainly my experience anyway having recovered from muscle pain remarkably quickly.

Funnily enough, the last supper – chicken korma, vegetable curry and onion bhaji – was actually a portion substantial enough for me to leave something. I guess I did take something from that mindful eating lecture – knowing when to stop!

Sake sommeliery at Harrods

Published on BespokeRSVP on 30th April 2012:

sake sommelier at Harrods wine shop

Sake, that illusive Japanese drink which, despite its increasing popularity in restaurants and elsewhere, remains a bit of a mystery to the public.

For one, there is often misconceptions about what it is. Despite the fact that basic versions are now widely available in supermarkets, it is still often mistakenly called Japanese rice wine. In reality, the process of making sake is more like that of beer – the starch in rice must be converted to sugars before it can be fermented using yeast. And in Japan, the establishments which make sake are called breweries.

Then there is the matter of how to drink sake. Should you have it warm or cold? And how does this then affect that food you might have with it? After all, sake is reported to have completely different characteristics on the palate compared to the nose.

Luckily these, and other intricate matters, are covered in the first and only sake sommelier course in the UK. Held in the private room of Harrod’s wine shop, the course is run by the Sake Sommelier Association and offers an introduction to the history of sake, its making and its characteristics. Although the course is only intended as an introduction, you do get a serious overview of everything. Particularly useful, perhaps, is the classification of sake – a very confusing matter when you realise there are names for every variation!

sake sommelier at Harrods wine shop

Theory aside, you will also get to sample a few sakes from different categories and at different temperatures – everything from super polished to slightly aged. The tasting is tutored and with specially designed glasses by Riedel as well as more traditional glassware so you leave with a great set of tasting notes and ideas on how to match particular sakes with food. And as you leave, you will receive a sake sommelier certificate too. Just think, a newly qualified sake sommelier in just one session.