It’s not everyday that one is invited to the Ritz. I’d never even stepped into the hotel prior to this invitation and I’ve been in London for 15 years! When one thinks of The Ritz, afternoon tea is usually the first thought that comes to mind (they serve 400 teas each day), not fine dining and I certainly never thought I’d ever see their kitchens, let alone dine there. But there I was on a Saturday morning, down in their basement kitchens, taking part in a pastry masterclass with The Ritz’s head pastry chef, Lewis Wilson.

Lewis Wilson

I forgot to ask Lewis whether he did this on a regular basis but he was a very very good teacher. He had an infinite amount of patience and explained everything very clearly. And everything was laid out, ready to go. We were going to make a vanilla, chocolate and hazelnut ice cream bombe. See that copper mould? It’s a Victorian one, sourced on ebay!

Untitled

We went through all the steps, from making the ice cream to making the hazelnut nougat parfait, to filling the mould all the way to decorating. It was fun and I certainly learned a few tricks here and there. We also learned how much work went into one of these pastries!

Here were the decorations, which had been prepared for us in advance (I mean, look at them!!!).

Chocolate Decorations

Here we are pouring the chocolate shell over the finished molded ice cream (a hazelnut core, followed by chocolate ice cream, followed by vanilla ice cream and the bottom was a hazelnut daquiose).

Pour

Here’s Lewis teaching us how to pipe (I did the other one and was quite chuffed with my results).

Piping

And here’s the fiddly decorating. It’s very fiddly and the kitchen was a bit warm so the decorations kept falling over.

Decorating a Bombe

And there’s one of the finished bombes – I say one of because we obviously weren’t working on just the single bombe that entire morning as the ice cream and chocolate needed to freeze and set in between stages. Lewis had carefully organised many bombes at various stages of production.

Chef's Finished Hazelnut and Chocolate Ice Cream Bombe

After all that hard work, we were brought up to the restaurant for lunch – what a treat! Here were all things classically English and I’m not just talking about the food! The dress code is smart…and smart for men means a jacket and a tie, as one in our party discovered. He was lent the suitable pieces that he was missing. Women, of course, can get away with a lot in the name of ‘smart’.

Anyway, dessert that afternoon would be, of course, the bombe that we made.

The Table

But first, the bread basket. A fabulous selection was brought out and I selected these two: a crispy thin white flatbread and a pancetta and caramelised onion brioche (very similar to that at The Ledbury). The white flatbread also turned out to have a thin layer of parmesan baked into it, rendering it into quite-possibly the best cheese cracker ever.

Breads

A tray of amuses was a good start to the meal proper – here were cheese gougeres, prawn crackers topped with prawns, and a curiously melting macaron of smoked salmon.

Amuses

Our starter of Var Salmon, Beetroot, Horseradish and Orange almost looked raw but was most definitely cooked – was this cooked sous vide? Anyway, it was a fabulously moist and tender piece of fish that had some lovely accompaniments. The tiny little cucumber flower was particularly memorable.

Var Salmon, Beetroot, Horseradish and Orange

Our main course was Loin of Lamb, Herb Crust, Caramelised Shallot and Peas. What I didn’t expect was the other parts of lamb included. There was the beautifully cooked crusted loin. There was a roll of pressed confit lamb belly (gorgeous) and on top of that was a meltingly soft sweetbread.

Loin of Lamb, Herb Crust, Caramelised Shallot and Peas

And then there it was! A serving table had been set up behind my chair and the bombe was brought in and shown to us – was there ever a dessert so photographed? There’s something so old-fashioned and yet fun about having something large brought to you and served tableside (I also saw lobster served this way at another table and later crepes suzettes being prepared tableside).

The Chocolate Bombe

That ice cream bombe did look quite tricky to portion out, what with its solid chocolate shell and if you take too long, there’s a risk of it all ending up as a very expensive puddle. But our waiters did magnificently – here’s my portion:

A Portion of Bombe

Mmm…. the hazelnut, vanilla and chocolate layers were all distinct yet blended together beautifully. I’m not normally a fan of chocolate covered ice creams (Magnums in particular as their shells are too thick) but the layer of chocolate here was much more delicate.

We finished the meal with coffees and “frivolities”, the Ritz’s way of saying….sweets. From the front, we had salted caramel filled chocolates (they use Amadei), vanilla macarons, passion fruit jellies, and little almond cakes topped with raspberries. All were delicious but as you can imagine, we were struggling to put them down by this point.

Frivolities

Needless to say, service at The Ritz was phenomenal. Every waiter always had on a smile, could always see when we needed something, was always there with the small talk required. I would love to go back but, of course, the only thing holding me back is the cost of the meal – though I can imagine saving up for a special occasion. Or perhaps first I should go for tea!

Anyway, it was a magnificent lunch – it was a fantastic opportunity to visit the kitchens at The Ritz, to learn from their head pastry chef and to dine at their restaurant. Thank you very much to Sauce, Lewis Wilson and The Ritz for a wonderful day! All my photos from the day can be found in this Flickr set.

The Ritz London
150 Piccadilly
London W1J 9BR

The Ritz Hotel on Urbanspoon

I’ve been wanting to try Kateh, a Persian restaurant near Little Venice (north of Paddington), for a while. And when I joined a few colleagues for a dinner there one Friday night, I was not disappointed. What I didn’t expect was such a tiny yet elegant restaurant and the terrace where we were seated was lovely. Though it was chilly that evening, the heaters were on full blast and we never felt cold.

Back to the elegance, this is possibly the most refined Persian restaurant I’ve visited in London. Portion sizes are more European in size rather than the usual overflowing platters I tend to get at other Persian restaurants in London. But it’s a lovely, rather romantic place, which, of course, I visited with my colleagues (ahem). The menu was full of things I’ve not seen in other restaurants and the grills had a distinctly Indo-Persian flavour to it (chicken tikka?). We stuck to the purely Iranian things.

We split three starters between us. My favourite was the kashke bademjan, a dish of grilled baby aubergine topped with kashke (a dried yoghurt), dried mint, fried onions and walnuts. Oh, that silky aubergine was gorgeous – I could have eaten just a few orders of this for my dinner!

Kashke Bademjan

Less impressive was the Dezfouli salad, a mixture of pomegranate seeds, cucumber, dried mint, angelica powder and lemon juice. While the combination sounded magical, it tasted alright at best. Perhaps we expected that angelica powder to make quite an impact! (I’m still not entirely sure what this is!)

Dezfouli Salad

The mast va khiar damavand was a refreshing combination of thick yoghurt and cucumber mixed with dried mint, raisins and walnuts.

Mast va Khiar Damavand

We mopped up all that yoghurt with a couple orders of freshly baked taftoon, a delicious Persian flatbread that’s just slightly thicker than lavash.

Taftoon

We also split our main courses. The mixed grill (for two) was a combination of their various kebabs: koobideh (minced veal), joojeh (saffron marinated chicken breast), chenjeh (marinated pieces of best end of Organic Rhug Farm lamb), and rack of lamb. The meats were very good but of particular note was the chenjeh – that lamb was incredibly tender and tasty.

Mixed Grill

With everything came perfectly cooked saffron rice, here topped with butter (there should always be butter…especially with kebabs – and perhaps I’ll adopt that as the motto for my life). The only quibble I have is the portion size – I can really down my rice and a larger serving would have been welcome!

Saffron Rice

The classic fesenjan (a pomegranate and walnut based stew) was served here with confit Barbary duck leg. While I thought the duck could have been a bit more tender, the sauce was rich and complex and utterly wonderful. I really do need to learn to make this at home.

Fesenjan

Aloo Esfanaj was one of my favourites that night and a real discovery for me. This stew of baby chicken, spinach and fresh Bukhara plums was a fabulous mix of sweet and sour and I almost licked the bowl clean.

Aloo Esfenaj

We ordered some Persian tea which came in what I believe is not a traditional Persian teapot. The black tea was very welcome after all the rich food though and with dessert.

Persian Tea

Desserts were also shared. A melting chocolate fondant was served with pistachio ice cream.

Chocolate Fondant

A couple slices of baklava cake, though while not strictly Persian (um…neither is chocolate fondant), were fantastic with the tea.

Baklava Cake

The bill came to a little over £30 for each of us (food only, no drinks except for the tea). It’s the kind of price I’d expect for the quality of the food and elegant plating and posh location but it was possibly the most expensive Persian food I’ve had in London. But still, if that’s the most expensive Persian food I’ve had in the city, it makes Persian food still a bargain, no?

Kateh
5 Warwick Place
London W9 2PX

Kateh on Urbanspoon

I suspect my new neighbourhood is full of little gems that need wheedling out. One that never needed any investigation is An Nam, a Vietnamese restaurant in the Wing Yip Centre on the Purley Way. Their chef has won local awards and while it’s not as crowded as Tai Tung (the Cantonese restaurant) at the front of the centre, they more than hold their own. We’re pretty much regulars there now.

However, we’ve mainly had their starters and one dish meals – very similar to the casual street food you’d encounter in Vietnam. On our most recent trip, we brought my brother along and he gave the place a hearty thumbs up – the kind of thing I like to hear from someone who did a long work placement in the country! Anyway, we didn’t eat all that you see below on just one visit; this must have been over at least four, I reckon.

I love Chả Giò (£4.50) and the version here at An Nam is fantastic. I love the sticky, crispy rice paper wrapped pork rolls and I love that they’re served properly with the lettuce and herbs and pickles, all to wrap around the fried rolls.

Chả Giò

Gỏi Cuốn Tôm (£4.50) are the fresh summer rolls filled with salad, rice vermicelli and prawns and their rolls are light and not at all stodgy like others I’ve had.

Gỏi Cuốn Tôm

Their Bánh Cuốn Thịt (£4.50) are definitely one of our favourites. These thin rice rolls are filled with seasoned minced pork and mushrooms and are just gorgeous with all those herbs and the usual side of nước chấm. They do have a tendency to slip out between one’s chopsticks though!

Bánh Cuốn Thịt

Bún Chả Giò (£6.50) makes a meal of the chả giò with the addition of the bún (rice vermicelli) and salad and pickles (daikon and carrot). Pour over that nuoc cham and dig in!

Bún Chả Giò

Bún Thịt Heo Nướng (£7) normally has bún but we can substitute rice…which is what we clearly did here. This is accompanied by fabulously delicious grilled marinated pork slices, complete with crispy edges. And there’s a generous pile of the thinly sliced, tender pork too.

Bún Thịt Heo Nướng (but with rice)

Wait for it…..Bún Thịt Nướng Chả Giò (£7.50)…. combines the best of both worlds – the grilled pork and the fried rolls.

Bún Thịt Nướng Chả Giò

Chả, Bi, Suon Nướng (£7.50) is another rice dish which can also be served with bun. There’s a grilled pork chop (drool, so good), a slice of steamed pork and egg loaf and shredded pork and pig skin; it’s a winning combo.

Chả, Bi, Suon Nướng

It’s not all just stuff on rice and noodles. They have noodle soups too. Their Bún Bò Hue (£7) is a spicy bowl full of thick rice noodles and tender stewed beef. This really hit the spot on that cold night when our heating wasn’t working yet!

Bún Bò Hue

We are going to have to try more of their main dishes soon though. A spicy steamed aubergine we ordered as a side vegetable for dinner one night was brilliant – the soft, silky, steamed aubergine had been sliced and laid flat and then topped with a mixture of soy, garlic, chilli, scallions and fried shallots.

Spicy Steamed Aubergine

Next on my list to try there (if you can tear me away from any of the bun bowls) is their deep fried fish – I saw a massive platter go by our table one night and it looked fantastic. Their pho is also pretty solid as is their fried rice (why is Vietnamese fried rice always ridiculously good? What secret ingredient do they put in there?!). The only thing that was a dud so far was a random pork udon soup we once ordered but if you stick to the Vietnamese classics (and anything that says it’s their specialty), you won’t go wrong.

An Nam Vietnamese Restaurant
Wing Yip Centre
544 Purley Way
Croydon CR0 4NZ

An Nam on Urbanspoon

A group of us headed to the new branch of the Big Easy in Covent Garden last Sunday night to try their barbecue, after hearing quite good things about it. We were led down to the basement when we replied in the positive to a question as to whether we’d like to be near the live band. It became clear to us that this place was huge and even on a Sunday night was packed with family groups, couples, friends. And each table was groaning with huge platters of food – seafood and barbecue. It’s loud, it’s bustling, it’s huge – it’s all quite American really.

Drinks first. A fresh watermelon juice (£3) was refreshing if, ironically, a bit on a small side. A friend’s watermelon juice with a shot of tequila was deemed nasty however.

Watermelon Juice

We could see around us that portion sizes were huge and our waiter confirmed it, giving us the thumbs up when we decided to split a few things. The Grand Appetizer Platter For Two (£19.50) was split between four. Please forgive the horrendously blurry photo but I’m hoping it gives you an idea of the size of it!

Grand Appetizer Platter For Two

There were Voodoo chicken wings (great), Pit-smoked Bar.B.Q. wings (alright), Hush puppies (excellent), Calamari (very good), Deep fried jumbo shrimp (pretty good). Nestled in the middle of it all was a token amount of dressed salad leaves – I actually did eat most of it, realising that this was the only bit of vegetal matter I’d be consuming that night. The platter is definitely a good deal but if only two people were to consume it, I’m not sure they’d have any space left for anything else!

For our main course, we again split two orders of the Bar.B.Q Blow Out (£15.95pp, minimum 2 people) between four. This gave us a generous portion of their Pit-Smoked Bar.B.Q Chicken, their Dry-Rubbed St Louis Pork Ribs, and their Carolina Pulled Pork. Their pulled pork was quite good – meaty and tender  – and their ribs weren’t too bad either. I just wish there had been more of the rub on the latter – the accompanying gravy boat of barbecue sauce wasn’t entirely to my taste. It was fine, but just a bit to sweet and … sweet. The chicken was very moist and tender (at least my drumstick was) but again I found the sauce on the skin a bit on the sweet side – and yeah, to me pork > chicken.

Bar.B.Q Blow Out

Some sides were included: Pit smoked beans, the annoyingly named ‘Slaw, Potato salad, Cornbread, Barbecue sauce. The cornbread was pretty good, not too dry. The coleslaw and potato salad were both fine if a bit dull. The beans I thought were excellent, with a great smokey flavour.

The Bar

On our way out, we noticed the bar for the first time and it’s quite a gorgeous one. Oh, and the band? Not bad! The food overall is a bit of a mixed bag. I might return to try the seafood but I suspect it’ll be a bit hit and miss too. It’s a good spot for groups though and its central location is certainly a plus.

Big Easy
12 Maiden Lane
London WC2E 7NA

Big Easy on Urbanspoon

After many many years in West London (Acton), we’ve now moved to South London (Croydon). It’s quite a change but transport in this area is pretty good and we can both get to work quite easily from here. Anyway, I thought I’d do a round up of our favourite places to eat in Acton – some I’ve blogged before and some I never got around to blogging. I do miss them all but I’m also quite excited about trying all the places in our new neighbourhood.

Pinto Thai – Ah, one of our favourites. In addition to their usual a la carte menu, they also offer an excellent lunch deal, as shown below in the first photo.

A last lunch in Acton at Pinto Thai. Pad kra pao made with minced beef. Hot hot hot!

Thai dinner

Fried Sea Bass

Pinto Thai Kitchen
46 High Street
Acton
London W3 6LG

Pinto Thai Kitchen on Urbanspoon

L’Oriental – I never blogged about this one and I’m not entirely sure why. This tiny Lebanese place has been on Churchfield Road for years and the local community association holds their dinners and quizzes in their basement. Their food is great and I only recently discovered their excellent lunch deals.

Today is all about cleaning our old flat... And that requires fortification in the form of Lebanese chicken kebab and chips and salad.

Lebanese Takeaway

L’Oriental
94 Churchfield Road
Acton
London W3 6DH

L'Oriental on Urbanspoon

Woody Grill – Again, another one never blogged. I like the Turkish dishes they usually have in hot water baths on display and their kebabs are pretty tasty too. Why don’t I have any photos of the food?!

Woody Grill
187-189 High Street
Acton
London W3 9DJ

Woody Grill Acton on Urbanspoon

Persian Nights – This one I did blog! I love this restaurant and its party atmosphere on a Saturday night!

Khoresht-e fesenjan - Persian walnut and pomegranate stew with chicken

Kabob koobideh with freshly baked nan

Persian Nights
379 Uxbridge Road
London W3 9SA

Persian Nights Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sanabel Lebanese Bakery – This is a little Lebanese bakery and cafe in between Acton and Ealing Common and I loved their freshly baked manakeesh with zataar or spiced lamb. Their falafel was pretty good too as were their whole grilled chickens.

Falafel at the local Lebanese bakery

Picked up dinner at our local Lebanese bakery and these had just come out of the oven

Sanabel Lebanese Bakery
387 Uxbridge Road
London W3 9SA

Laveli Bakery – This one’s down Churchfield Road and is right by Acton Central overground station. It was the second branch of a bakery that originally opened on Askew Road near Shepherds Bush and it was the first proper bakery in the Acton area. We went there often for their excellent breads and pastries.

Breakfast at Laveli.

Lunch

Laveli Bakery
5 Churchfield Road
London W3 6BH

Frank’s Cafe – This is our go-to cafe for fry ups. I usually order one of their gigantic omelettes – mushroom and cheese for me! One of those will set you up for the day.

Omelette and Fry Up

Frank’s Cafe
128 Churchfield Road
Acton
London W3 6PJ

Ciambella – This Italian cafe and restaurant just opened a few weeks before we moved out of the area but we just managed to squeeze in a light dinner there, splitting one of their excellent thin crusted pizzas. Their homemade desserts are also excellent! Again, no photos.

Ciambella
257 High Street
Acton
London W3 9BY

CJ’s Cafe – Another never blogged. By day, they serve fry ups and some rice and noodle dishes. By night, they have a full Thai and Malaysian menus. I really like their nasi goreng and mee goreng.

A day of packing is fueled by mee goreng at a local cafe

CJ’s Cafe
15 The Vale
London W3 7SH

C J's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Not far from where we used to live in Acton is Ealing Common and we had a few favourites there too.

Kiraku – Ah, another favourite. The best time to eat there is lunch as their lunch menu is more affordable and full of great sets.

My half udon, half maguro yamakake don lunch set at Kiraku

The husband's yakiniku lunch set this afternoon at Kiraku

Dragon Roll

Kiraku
8 Station Parade
Uxbridge Road
Ealing Common
London W5 3LD

Kiraku on Urbanspoon

Atari-Ya – This Atari-Ya is on the site of the old Sushi Hiro. Their sushi is still excellent.

It's too hot to cook - sushi time!

There’s also an Atari-Ya shop at West Acton.

Atari-Ya
1 Station Parade
Uxbridge Road, Ealing
London W5 3LD

Atari-Ya on Urbanspoon

Mugi – This little Serbian cafe sells delicious boreks, which we often bought for takeaway. Their spit roast pork and cevapi were also excellent.

Boreks

Spit Roast Pork

Cevapi and Chips

Mugi
15 Station Parade
Uxbridge Rd
London W5 3LD

Mugi on Urbanspoon

Duri – I don’t seem to have many photos of food we’ve bought from Duri, a little Korean shop in Ealing Common. Here’s a Korean Pear that we tried; it was ridiculously sweet and juicy. They have a couple of tables for you to eat their bibimbaps or jjigaes that they serve hot in the shop.

Korean Pear

Duri
9 Station Parade
Uxbridge Road
London W5 3LD

Natural Natural – This isn’t actually a cafe or restaurant but a Japanese food shop with a great selection of ready made meals in their fridge. I like their bentos; the Japanese kids with their pocket money like the skewers of karaage and croquettes.

Chicken Karaage Bento

Natural Natural
20 Station Parade
Uxbridge Road
Ealing Common
W5 3LD

Yo Yo Kitchen – This one’s not in Ealing Common exactly but a little further north at West Acton. It’s a little Japanese deli with bentos and sushi and other bits and pieces and it’s extremely popular with local Japanese families and the schoolchildren from the local Japanese school.

Yo Yo Kitchen
4 Station Parade
Noel Road
London W3 0DS

Yoyo Kitchen on Urbanspoon

I’m sure I’ve forgotten something but I hope I haven’t! Do let me know if there’s anything I should add to this list!

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