Dinner@Heist Bank, Paddington

Well, it’s been a long time coming but, finally there are signs of better food options near Paddington station. Tonight we are heading to Heist Bank which describes itself as ‘a new playground for adults’ serving coffee, wood-oven pizzas, local craft beers and cocktails.

Heist Bank is set in the gradually transforming Paddington Basin and the place is buzzing when we arrive.  The interior has a trendy industrial design, walls are adorned with interesting modern art and the menu has at least 10 craft ales and ciders on tap – I’m happy already.  In the corner there is a hubbub of activity next to the pizza oven as the pizzas are built, cooked and served.

Beer is important in order to help us study the menu.  Actually the drinks menu is as long as the food menu with many bottled beers and ciders plus an array of modern and classic cocktails.  Rock has a Bibble, a pale ale brewed by the Wild Beer Company using Mosaic & Amarillo hops.  It is light, slightly bitter with some fruity notes.  I go for the Hepcat from the Gypsy Hill Brewing Company.  It is an IPA made from a blend of five different hops which deliver quite intense citrus and tropical flavours.  Now I really need a pizza!

There are a variety of other dishes on the menu but it is the pizza made with 48 hour fermented sourdough that drew us here in the first place.  We decide to share the one with courgette, sundried tomatoes, walnut pesto, basil and Talagani cheese.  Talagani is a Greek sheep’s milk cheese, similar to halloumi – quite salty and marinated in mint.  The pizza is huge – easily enough for the two of us after a heavy lunch.  On other tables, however, I notice people eating a whole pizza with side dishes without any difficulty.

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The pizza is great, the ale is great, the atmosphere and service is friendly.  We will definitely come back here!

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Lunch@Pizarro, Bermondsey

José Pizarro has established himself as one of the leading chefs in London’s growing Spanish tapas scene.  Pizarro is one of three restaurants he has in London and we are looking forward to having our lunch there before heading to the theatre.  We have to battle our way through the snow and bitingly cold temperatures ….I can’t remember being so pleased to arrive at our destination as I am today!

We are warmly welcomed and José is not only in the house – but comes over to talk to us and to the other diners.  I have an Estrella Damm, a mediterranean lager brewed in Barcelona, while we study the menu.  Pizarro is not just a tapas restaurant – there are more substantial Spanish dishes on the menu.  However, Rock and I decide to share a selection of tapas dishes to start.

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Croquetas

The first tapas dish is croquetas of blue cheese and spinach.  The blue cheese is not very  strong and the croquetas are crispy on the outside and silky soft inside.  Fantastic.  Next we have beetroot salad with mahón cheese.  This is not only one of the most beautiful dishes I have ever seen, it is also one of the best tasting.  A mix of finely sliced yellow beetroot mixed with red endive, blood orange, zingy capers, crunchy sunflowers seeds and mild mahón cheese….spectacular!

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Beetroot salad with mahón cheese

The last tapas dish is tostada de sardina ahumada – basically smoked sardines with a piquant tomato paste on small pieces of toasted bread.  The flavours are sensational.  No wonder this man has a reputation for tapas!

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Tostada de sardina ahumada

For the main course Rock chooses the mackerel & piquillo pepper paella.  After the glorious tapas, she finds the paella disappointingly bland.  I have the slow cooked Jacob’s beef rib with grilled onions and romesco sauce.  It is an extraordinary piece of meat – as thick as my forearm and nearly as long.  The beef is tender but there is just too much meat for me and I’m disappointed that the waiting staff did not recommend that I had another vegetable or rice to help balance the dish.  We take half the rib home with us for later enjoyment.

Overall, great atmosphere, probably the best tapas we’ve ever had, but the main courses just did not match the heights of the tapas.

2017 Food Awards – Part 1, Restaurants

WadeandRockandFood Awards 2017

The WadeandRockandFood Awards 2017 follow another year of dining out in hundreds of restaurants, pubs and cafes. The awards aim to celebrate the very best eating experiences we have had over the last 12 months. Part 1 will focus on restaurants, part 2 on pubs and part 3 on small independent food providers.

We have had an extraordinary year in terms of visiting restaurants of the highest quality. As usual, we have narrowed it down to 3 UK restaurants that we loved the most, plus an award for the best international eating experience. The top UK restaurants are listed in alphabetical order followed by the winner of the international award.

UK

Arras, York

Arras is relatively new and we hope it continues to thrive… as it produces very interesting dishes. Balancing a combination of flavours is the key when being inventive and this kitchen contains people with very finely tuned palates. The balance of flavours often borders on perfection! Arras review

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Grilled mackerel, brassicas and apple
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Braised pork cheek with fermented rye grain, sauerkraut jelly and mustard sauce
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Cinnamon crumble, yoghurt sorbet, orange, orange jelly, red berry jus, vanilla and ricotta mousse

Marcus, Belgravia

When you visit a place that has two Michelin stars it is impossible not to have very high expectations.  At Marcus they delivered food that met and exceeded those expectations and the level of service and attention to detail was extraordinary. Marcus review

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Scallop, curry & apple with a roast beef dressing
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Herdwick lamb, crispy breast, pea, mint
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Warm chocolate, cacao, salted caramel ice cream

The Woodspeen, Woodspeen

The Woodspeen is the only establishment in any category to have appeared every year in our Awards.  Their success is due to the excellent food and service that they consistently deliver every single time we visit. Wood Review 1 Wood Review 2

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Quail breast and crispy leg with chicory & orange jam and a cauliflower puree
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Roasted cod with pancetta, cavolo nero, girolles, onions and a cep puree
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Tarte of fig & hazelnut, fig leaf ice cream

International

The Artist, Bucharest

The Artist gave us one of the best eating experiences we have had anywhere in the world.  Extraordinary food presented in exceptional ways – almost like a culinary theatre! Artist review

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White cod, zucchini, cauliflower, eggplant and curry
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Whipped brie, granola and orange gel
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Spoons of salted caramel, chocolate & coconut, raspberry cone & berries, strawberry & white chocolate

The WadeandRockandFood Awards parts 2 and 3 will follow over the next few days.

Breakfast@The Black Penny, Covent Gdn

I’m with Rock & Neko and it is the morning after the final night of the World Athletics Championships. We had an exhilarating time at the Olympic Stadium and now we are going to try and find a breakfast worthy of the podium. We are heading to The Black Penny on the edge of Covent Garden.

The fastest way for any breakfast to get off the starting blocks is with a great coffee. We order three flat whites and study the menu. The coffee soon arrives together with a jug of mint-infused water. The menu has something for most people – traditional & vegetarian cooked breakfasts, hashes, breakfast buns, porridge, mueslis and juices. All dishes are freshly cooked to order.

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Neko sprints toward The Gatherer – The Black Penny’s breakfast plate for vegetarians: eggs how you like them (Neko asks for poached); sourdough toast; grilled halloumi; sautéed baby spinach; roasted tomatoes; mushrooms; and Black Penny baked beans. Neko has a huge appetite – he really loves the quality of the breakfast but he is slightly disappointed that the quantity makes the eating experience more middle distance than a marathon.

Rock’s appetite will only take her round one lap of the track but she is going for gold. She loves her poached eggs on sourdough toast, served with a side of smoked salmon… which is good because any place that serves her poor poached eggs or poor smoked salmon is definitely for the high jump.

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The relay baton has been passed to me and I find myself unable to resist The Hunter. Poached eggs, sourdough toast, grilled sausage, smoked bacon, roast tomatoes, mushrooms and Black Penny baked beans. The beans are quite fiery and, while I love the taste, they do overpower everything else on the plate.

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The Black Penny has a friendly, relaxed atmosphere enhanced by modern soul music. Service is very good and the quality of the coffee and food is excellent. Neko may have a slight issue on quantity and I may forego the baked beans next time but, overall, this was definitely a medal winning performance.

Lunch@Sosharu, Clerkenwell(2)

We’ve arrived early at Sosharu in Clerkenwell. This gives us the chance to have a drink at the bar and chat to Emily, the pastry chef, until Karla arrives to meet us for lunch. Kirin Ichiban, described as ‘Japan’s Premium Beer’ seems like a good way to start. It is highly carbonated, quite malty and not too sweet – it will work well with my lunch!

We watch the sashimi chef delicately shaving a variety of vegetables and neatly preparing fish with a huge knife and continue to chat to Emily as she creates a series of beautiful desserts. Sosharu is one of Jason Atherton’s restaurants and Emily has worked for Jason for 9 years. Very soon, however, she is leaving to work in a top New York restaurant. Karla soon arrives and we head to our table.

Karla always has the Bento Box when she is here at lunchtime and we cannot persuade her to change this habit. It is not surprising though – set out on a wooden tray (rather than a box) the seafood bento contains salmon teriyaki, a selection of seasonal pickled vegetables, a chirashi bowl of sashimi and sushi rice and a summer salad. It also looks fantastic.

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The seafood bento box

Rock and I decide to mix it up a bit though. We select: the tuna open temaki with scallion tobiko, sushi rice, avocado and fresh wasabi; the chicken karaage with lemon salt; the stuffed chicken wings with pickled turnip; and the Kyoto stuffed peppers. The open temaki is sensational and easily our favourite savoury dish.

Another Kirin Ichiban helps me toward the dessert course. Normally, Rock and I share a dessert but we are keen to try Emily’s creations and choose one each. Rock picks the strawberry & matcha roll with yoghurt & yuzu, I have the matcha mille crepe with matcha sorbet. This is a mistake – matcha is a green tea and has quite a distinct flavour – my dessert has too much matcha for me! Rock’s dessert though is beautiful to look at and beautiful to eat. This is Emily at her best!

Overall, the food has been a fabulous array of fascinating ingredients and beautiful flavours. Great service delivered in a relaxed and sophisticated environment.

Lunch@Marcus, Belgravia

Today we are having a special lunch, with close friends and family, at a very special place. Marcus is a two Michelin star restaurant in Belgravia and the flagship of the Marcus Wareing group. The kitchen is led either by Marcus himself or by joint chef patrons Mark and Shauna Froydenlund.

After a glass or two of prosecco, we are presented with an amuse-bouche of rabbit in a sort of Japanese style steamed bun. This really helps to put us in the mood for more food of the same great quality. For the first two courses, I’m sitting near Lani, Muffin and Ilia. Rock is at the other end of the table next to Gino and Sid. Rock, Muffin and I have the salmon, calamansi (a small citrus fruit), cucumber, shallot & buttermilk. Highest quality salmon in a beautifully balanced dish. Lani and Sid have the burrata (a soft Italian cheese) with pea, hazelnut and truffle cream.

For the starter and the intermediate courses we are drinking Miss Terre, Domaine de la Senechaliere – a well-structured and flavoursome white from the Loire Valley. Edda, who is the only vegetarian on the table, loves her vibrantly coloured starter of heritage beetroot, cheese mousse, pine and girolles.

For the intermediate course Ilia and I are both having the scallop, curry & apple with a roast beef dressing. It is a dish of surprisingly delicate flavours – the curry and roast beef could easily overpower the scallop but this is a skilful kitchen. Edda has the asparagus, smoked egg yolk & pickled turnip. Lani and Sid have the amazing Gigha halibut with spring beans, shrimp & dill. It is the favourite savoury dish of the day for many. 

Now it’s time to change places. Rock moves to sit between Neko and Rufus, while I move to enjoy the company of Cali & Edda. With the main course we are mostly drinking another Loire Valley wine, a gamay from Domaine Levin. This is a berry flavoured ruby red with some subtle notes of spice. Cali & Edda both have the agnolotti with almonds, Cuore del Vesuvio ( an Italian grape tomato) and rocket. Rock has the mushroom, fregola (a Sardinian soup pasta) and cauliflower served with cleverly engineered wafer thin discs (yes, discs) of consomme.

Meanwhile, the carnivores can choose between lamb and duck. Neko and I both have the Herdwick lamb with pea and mint. Apart from beautiful pieces of tender lamb there is a crispy piece of lamb breast and a roundel of confit lamb. It is superb. Rufus has the Goosnargh duck with cauliflower, mushroom & cumin…he must be enjoying it because his plate is soon clean.

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Herdwick lamb, crispy breast, pea, mint
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Goosnargh duck, cauliflower, mushroom, cumin

After several bottles of prosecco, white and red wine, an amuse bouche, starters, fish or veggie courses, and main courses…do we have room for dessert? Omg, yes. But, not before we move again. This time Rock sits between Van and Ilia while I find myself between Wanda & Ziggy.

Most people fall into the trap of choosing the warm chocolate, cacao and salted caramel ice cream – it just sounds so comforting. A breast-shaped cone filled with warm chocolate is placed in front of me and I think I’m in heaven. At least that is until I try the dessert chosen by Wanda and Geno – bergamot, meringue and iced tea. It is full of sensational flavours – it is to die for!

Finally, as if any of us want this dining experience to end, we are presented with petit-fours – a lemon parmentier and a bitter orange macaron plus packages of hand-made chocolates filled with salted caramel to take home. Wow!

The whole experience has been fantastic. Great food and exceptional service, especially from Nicole – who was looking after our table. All enjoyed with the very best of friends and family. Same time next week?

Breakfast@Wagamama

It’s the morning of our flight and our normal breakfast stop at Heathrow, Plane Food, is closed for refurbishment. So, we decide to try breakfast with a touch of Japanese influence at Wagamama.

The menu reads like a pleasing confusion of British, Japanese and other international influences and we are fascinated as we watch a variety of plates and bowls being served to other tables. It is also good to see an open kitchen with dishes being freshly cooked to order.

We ask Katarzyna, who is looking after us, a few questions about the menu and then start with juice but… its not going to be a simple OJ. Rock selects Fruit a mix of apple, orange and passionfruit juice. But, after last night’s curry I need a Super Green – a combination of apple, mint, celery and lime. I am quite excited – it is very different to anything I’ve had at breakfast before and it’s very good.

I fall back to tradition next and Wagamama’s version of the English Breakfast – back bacon, sausages, grilled tomato, wilted spinach, sautéed sweet potato, shiitake mushrooms and poached eggs. My sausages are not cooked enough for my taste but they whisk them back to the kitchen and then back to me without any fuss. The dish has many great notes of familiarity but also some magical notes of international flavour.

Meanwhile, Rock is being a little more adventurous and having the bacon roti wrap. A thai flatbread filled with spinach, bacon, a nori omelette and sriracha (hot chilli) ketchup. It is wildy different from a bacon roll and she loves it.

Overall, the service from Katarzyna and others has been excellent and so has the food. This won’t be the last time we land at Wagamama!