We spent our wedding anniversary in Paris! Yeah, it sounds romantic but I forgot about it until late in the day – haha! Luckily, I had planned ahead and already booked a table for dinner at La Régalade Conservatoire, the third and newest location of La Régalade under chef Bruno Doucet. TimeOut Paris even called it one of the most romantic restaurants in Paris; I was sold.

We arrived to a warm welcome with excellent service throughout the entire meal. There’s a menu for dinner – 3 courses for €37, with supplements for some of the specials of the day.

We started with a huge (and delicious) pork terrine that was plonked onto our table. We were to help ourselves to as much as we desired.

Terrine

There was some excellent bread to go alongside…

A Little Starter

…and a crock of equally excellent cornichons. It’s too easy to fill up on all of this but we did have to keep room for the dishes we actually ordered!

Cornichons

Starters. Makis de maquereau, concombre et poivron, mayonnaise citron vert et avocat. This was a refreshing salad with rolls of mackerel and cucumber.

Makis de maquereau, concombre et poivron, mayonnaise citron vert et avocat

Risotto crémeux à l’encre de seiche, gambas rôties à l’ail, émulsion de vache qui rit. Rice, seafood, garlic – what’s not to like?

Risotto cremeux a l'encre de seiche, gambas roties a l'ail, emulsion de vache qui rit

Just look at the fabulous colour of that risotto! There was even a bit of dried cuttlefish or something similar on top that had a great salty chewiness. And a foam of vache qui rit cheese? Genius.

The risotto was a fabulous colour

Main courses. Veau en deux cuissons, caillette au jus de veau et quasi rôti, légumes verts de printemps. Here we had veal in two styles – a roasted cut akin to a lean loin and a caillette (kind of like a forcemeat ball). It was all gorgeous. This was served with lots of spring vegetables – peas, mangetout, peashoots, onions.

Veau en deux cuissons, caillette au jus de veau et quasi roti, legumes d'ete

Onglet de bœuf rôti aux cinq baies, carottes et navets nouveaux, champignons de Paris et cresson sauvage. Again, perfectly cooked meat served with lots of fresh vegetables.

Let's see the beef!

Desserts had to be ordered right at the beginning but as the portion sizes had been well thought through, we were feeling very comfortable and were looking forward to our sweets. Soufflé chaud Grand-Marnier seemed to be one of the favourites with our neighbouring tables as everyone seemed to have one. And yes, it was glorious – all hot and fluffy and with a strong hint of Grand Marnier.

Souffle Chaud Grand Marnier

Pêche plate du Lot-et-Garonne cuite au four, émulsion de verveine et sorbet pêche. Oh gee, this was swell. What a fabulously gently cooked flat peach, topped with the peachiest of peach sorbets and a hint of lemon verbena.

Peche Plate du Lot-et-Garonne cuite au four, emulsion de verveine et sorbet peche

With our post-dinner teas came warm madeleines, served in the tiniest basket you ever did see. Teas were from Le Palais des Thés in Paris – and they were fantastic.

Madeleines

Portion sizes were very well thought out and we only realised afterwards that there were no extra carbohydrates on the plates – there was only bread on the side. And there were plenty of vegetables too – and we loved it all. It’s definitely a lovely restaurant to spend a special occasion (or even a not very special one!).

La Régalade Conservatoire
9 Rue du Conservatoire
75009 Paris
France

We spent last weekend in Paris – it was a much needed break from work though it did feel like we traded one city full of tourists for another. That said, I love the change of culture, of language, of scenery. On Friday evening, we caught a Eurostar train to Paris, checked into our hotel in the 11eme and then headed straight out to find the nearby Les Niçois, a bar/restaurant that brings the French Riviera to Paris.

It was crowded on that Friday night but we just managed to find the last two seats in the place. We also managed to order food just before the kitchen closed and we dined on an Assiette Nissard, featuring a variety of Niçoise specialties: pissaladiere, pizza nissarde, panisses, tapenades noire et verte, anchoiade. With a basket of bread, this was a perfectly sized sampler of fantastic treats from the south for one person.

Dinner at Les Niçois in Paris on Friday night. The place is brilliant! You can play petanque in the basement!

But we were two and we needed a couple other light dishes. Croquettes were filled with a vegetable mixture similar to ratatouille, the flavour of which was very reminiscent of the south of France.

Dinner at Les Niçois in Paris on Friday night. The place is brilliant! You can play petanque in the basement!

I couldn’t leave without an order of grilled sardines. These little oily fish were perfect. Just perfect.

Dinner at Les Niçois in Paris on Friday night. The place is brilliant! You can play petanque in the basement!

As it was close by to our hotel, we even dropped by for a drink on our last day, prior to picking up our luggage and heading to the train station. It was quiet on a Sunday afternoon and they were preparing for the barbecue they hold every Sunday evening.

Untitled

I’m leaving what’s possibly the best for last! They have a games room in the basement, complete with a petanque court!

Basement Petanque

It’s a seriously fun place!

Les Niçois
7 Rue Lacharrière
75011 Paris
France

I wish I could say that my pre-birthday lunch at Gymkhana was outstanding but that would be a lie. In a weird way I’ve been wanting to write up the meal and yet at the same time I’ve felt entirely unmotivated to do so due to our overall general experience.

I’ll start with the good. Good: the food.

We booked for lunch last Saturday – I’d been really looking forward to trying this restaurant but as they close on Sundays, finding a day that would work for both me and Blai had been a bit of a challenge. Anyway, this opportunity arose and we went for their lunch menu: 3 courses for £30.

Drinks! Our Angoor Sharbat was the better of our two nonalcoholic cocktails, being more unique, made of homemade spiced grape juice and seltzer. The Lemon Teaser was a lemon (and lemon thyme!) fizzy drink. I really liked their nonalcoholic offerings – all were interesting and there were plenty from which to choose.

Lemon Teaser and Angoor Sharbat

Our meal started (or was supposed to start with as you’ll soon read) Cassava, Lentil & Potato Papads, Shrimp Chutney & Mango Chutney. I didn’t entirely understand until we received the basket that there would be two kinds of poppadoms here, with two distinctly different textures. I loved both.

Cassava, Lentil & Potato Papads

And both chutneys served were mind blowing. The mango chutney was the finest I’d ever had while the shrimp one was an intensely savoury and unique condiment.

Shrimp Chutney & Mango Chutney

For our starters, we chose the Soft Shell Crab Jhalmuri, Samphire

Soft Shell Crab Jhalmuri, Samphire

… and the Dosa, Chettinad Duck, Coconut Chutney. Both were excellent though the dosa just pipped the crab to the post. The crab was well spiced and tasty but that duck and dosa was really something.

Dosa, Chettinad Duck, Coconut Chutney

Dosa, Chettinad Duck, Coconut Chutney

Our main courses were the megastars of our lunch. Our Tandoori Chicken Chop, Mango Ginger, Leg Chat was amazing, easily the best tandoori chicken I’ve ever had. The chicken was just perfect, perfectly spiced, perfectly grilled, perfectly tender. And I must mention that ‘leg chat’, which was a tandoori spiced mixture of cooked and chopped chicken leg topped with crispy potato bits.

Tandoori Chicken Chop, Mango Ginger, Leg Chat

Our Hariyali Bream, Tomato Kachumber was also brilliant. This incredibly tender bream had been schmeared with a coriander paste and grilled and served with a fresh tomato relish; I’ve found the recipe online and hope to replicate at home one day!

Hariyali Bream, Tomato Kachumber

To go with our main courses, our set lunches also included a side each of Dal Maharani (creamy lentils) and Saag Makkai (spinach and corn). I loved these additions, rounding out our Indian meal.

Dal Maharani

Saag Makkai

For carbs we were given a bread basket with a naan and roti and also a large bowl of basmati rice. They were particularly generous with the rice and we didn’t manage to finish that!

Bread Basket

Desserts were very good indeed. A Rose & Rhubarb Kulfi Falooda was a ball of rose kulfi with rose petal jam, braised rhubarb, jelly bits, basil seeds and vermicelli, all served with a small pitcher of sweetened reduced milk for pouring over.

Ras Malai, Tandoori Peach Chutney

Ras Malai, Tandoori Peach Chutney was probably the finest ras malai I’ve ever had (clearly a theme throughout this meal) but I only wish that they’d been a little more generous with the fabulous chutney.

Rose & Rhubarb Kulfi Falooda

Overall, this was some of the finest Indian food we both had ever had and for that we were glad we tried the restaurant. The meal ended with these excellent passionfruit and chilli jellies but we almost didn’t get these as I mention below.

Passionfruit and Chilli Jellies

Now, the bad. Bad: the service. I’m not sure what it was about us but we were clearly getting shoddy service compared to those around us. I could see everything go flawlessly around us which really rubbed salt in the wound.

What we do not tend to expect from a one Michelin starred restaurant:

  • Waiting ages to be served. Having to ask for menus.
  • Receiving the first opening dish (the poppodoms and chutneys) after the second.
  • Watching the waitpeople roll their eyes above the heads of diners.
  • Waitpeople who try to clear our dishes about 2 minutes after we received them (yes, they were still half full).
  • Waiting 15 minutes for a single espresso, especially when we have a time limit on the table.
  • Being denied petit-fours, despite every table around us getting some. I only got them (the jellies above) after asking for them (and simultaneously making a complaint about service).
  • Waitpeople who, in general, avoid you.

Now, each event taken in isolation could have been considered an honest oversight but taken all together, it was increasing clear that we had been judged for some reason and judged to be lacking in some way and thus treated differently from everyone else. I made a complaint to our waiter but his response left me feeling very uncomfortable and I perhaps regret not speaking directly to management.

The day after our meal, a generic “we value your feedback” email popped into my inbox. I took the opportunity to send detailed email feedback to the restaurant and to their credit, they apologised and said they’d spoken to the waitstaff mentioned. But the fact that it even happened in the first place….not on, Gymkhana. While the food was spectacular, the whole lunch left a distinctly bad taste in our mouths.

Gymkhana
42 Albemarle Street
London W1S 4JH

A couple of Sundays ago, I had pizza on my mind. Now, without a local Neapolitan pizza place nearby, I had to turn to nearby Beckenham, the home of Sapore Vero, a traditional pizzeria that was recommended to me by Selina of Taste Mauritius (another Croydon local!). From East Croydon station, we took a tram all the way to Beckenham (TFL zone 4) and found ourselves upon a quiet little high street with a few restaurants. Sapore Vero was tinier than we expected but later on in the night, they opened up the cafe next door as well to customers (I guess they own that too!).

I was thrilled to see that the Italian fizzy water Ferrarelle was on the menu! I like its fine bubbles and it’s difficult to find over here; it was certainly a good start! And we didn’t have to wait too long for our meals from the huge wood burning oven at the front. Blai’s spinach and ricotta cannelloni (£8.65) was delicious, all covered with what was clearly a homemade tomato sauce.

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

My Milanese pizza (£12.95) was excellent. Tomato sauce, mozzarella, DOP Nduja sausage from Calabria, aubergines, fresh Italian sausage – a fantastic combination and altogether a delicious Neapolitan-style pizza. Good dough, good toppings.

Pizza Milanese

We couldn’t turn down dessert when we heard that like the rest of their food they were homemade! My order of their homemade tiramisu (£4.95) turned out to be the largest I’d ever been served! It was so huge I could barely finish it. Good stuff though, if a tiny bit dry.

Tiramisu

Blai’s homemade panna cotta (£4.95) turned out to be an entirely more modest affair. But though it was small, it was perfectly set and not too stiff, as some panna cottas can be.

Pannacotta

Excellent pizza in Zone 4, South London then! I’m glad I finally got around to trying Sapore Vero.

Sapore Vero
78 High Street
Beckenham, Kent
BR3 1ED

From a Chinese colleague, I received a tip about a relatively new Chinese restaurant near Euston station that’s popular with the Chinese students – Murger Han. It’s a restaurant featuring the food from Xi’an, which is the province of Shaanxi, so you’d expect lots of strong flavours, thick noodles and breads. We rocked up to the restaurant at about 6pm on a Sunday evening and were surprised to see a queue. Luckily, we managed to get in quite quickly but many tables had been reserved and that queue just kept getting longer. We were surrounded by Chinese students (everyone was approximately of student-ish age) and Blai was the only non-Chinese person in the restaurant. It felt like we were back in China!

After my taste of liang pi noodles at Xi’an Famous Foods in New York, I was keen to try more. An order of glass noodles with vegetables in sesame sauce (£6.00) was slippery smooth and tasty. Apparently sesame sauce is one of the traditional toppings for liang pi and here it complemented the thick noodles well. Underneath the pile of noodles were also tofu and beansprouts. It was cold and refreshing, with a lovely zing from an additional vinegary dressing underneath. This dish was probably Blai’s favourite dish of the night.

Liang Pi with Sesame Sauce

We also had to try their murger (apparently it’s the Chinese name for the chopped meat) in bai ji bread – the restaurant’s rou jia mo. We had one of pork (£3.20) and one of beef (£3.50). Both had apparently been cooked in some kind of ‘special herbal sauce’.

Pork and Beef Rou Jia Mo

This was my first time having rou jia mo proper! The bread was denser than I expected but still quite good (especially if dunked in a bit of some noodle sauce). The pork was a bit on the dry side but the beef was wonderfully moist and everything that I expected from rou jia mo.

Spinach noodles in stir fried tomato sauce with eggs (£8.00) was probably my favourite that evening. Lovely noodles topped with that Chinese classic of stir fried egg and tomato and there was some bok choy too for extra greenery. You can just see the green noodles at the top left of the bowl below. They were a little unwieldy though with the metal chopsticks provided and we left with tomato sauce splashed all over our shirts.

Spinach noodles in stir fried tomato sauce with eggs

There are also biangbiang noodles and spicy liang pi (rice or wheat) noodles and paomo available and I need to go back to try them all! Now to also try the other restaurant my colleague recommended…

Murger Han
62 Eversholt Street
London NW1 1DA

It took us a month (mainly my fault) to find a date that would work for me, Krista and Mr Noodles to meet for lunch and we finally met up at Rex & Mariano on St Anne’s Court (on the site of a former Vodka Revolution and across from the Good Housekeeping Cookery School) a couple Saturdays ago. Mr Noodles had been rapturous about the place and we were looking forward to tucking into some very affordable seafood. And I’d not seen either of them for a while – it turned out that it had been 5 years since I last saw Krista! Crazy!

For a Saturday lunchtime, we’d made a reservation but the restaurant was much larger (and brighter) than I’d expected and also quite empty. It seems it’s like that on weekends – fine by me, I like the idea of dropping in for some impromptu seafood. Ordering was via iPads, one left at each table when you sit down (and swiftly whisked away at the end). This allowed us to order as and when we liked, controlling the order and timing of our dishes, as well as keeping a running tab of the bill. We ended up ordering two rounds of cold and one of hot dishes.

One thing about the restaurant is that you have to buy your own bread. A delection of homemade breads (£3) is four huge tranches of bread: a focaccia, white studded with garlic cloves, white, and wholemeal. Our favourites were the first two and at the end of the meal, our waitress told us to request the specific breads we wanted next time. Alright! And the breads also arrived with a little ramekin of tuna pate. Good stuff.

Homemade breads with tuna pate

We started with a seabass ceviche with coriander, yuzu, red onion, and tiger’s milk (nope, me neither) (£7.5). This was extremely moreish, with its citrus and mild onion tang.

Seabass ceviche - coriander, yuzu, red onion, tiger's milk

There was also an excellent tuna tartare with chilli and chives and sitting on a swipe of pureed avocado (£8).

Tuna tartare - avocado, chilli, chive

Second round! Raw red prawns (£10) were beautifully fresh and beautifully arranged.

Raw red prawns

To begin with, a salmon carpaccio (£7.5) looked like the cured fish had been hacked at with a blunt knife; actually it had been topped with grated tomato, lemon, olive oil and micro-basil. This was probably the weakest of the raw fish dishes we tried but still was very good. You can see from the menu that the raw fishes available were tuna, salmon and sea bass and by having different variations of them on the menu, I guess that’s how costs can be brought down.

Salmon carpaccio - olive oil, lemon, tomato, basil

Third round – hot food! Sweet little clams had been steamed with white wine, parsley and chilli (£7).

Clams - white wine, parsley, chilli

The red prawns made another appearance but this time cooked and drizzled with olive oil, dusted with salt and served with a grilled lemon half (£10). I think I preferred these cooked ones as there were more juices to suck up and mop up with the bread.

Cooked red prawns, olive oil, salt, lemon

Fritto misto had been well seasoned with old bay seasoning (£9) and was a massive portion. There was plenty of calamari, a couple of whitebait and lots of chunks of fish (yup, you guessed it – salmon, tuna and sea bass offcuts!). It was a huge pile of perfectly fried seafood for an excellent price – thumbs up.

Fritto misto - old bay seasoning, lemon, aioli

Fried courgettes with aioli (£5) were not perhaps the most thrilling of vegetable dishes (this is one that Byron does better). While the outsides were crisp, the insides were a bit too soft and mushy.

Courgettes - fried, aioli

But otherwise I love the place! I love that one doesn’t really have to queue, I love that the restaurant takes bookings, I love the seafood. Prices are very good though and we could even have done to order perhaps 2 fewer dishes for the three of us (we were rolling out of there). I’ll be back.

Oh, it’s probably good to mention that unless you like/love seafood, there’s really no point for you to go here – there are no meat options nor vegetarian ones.

Rex & Mariano
2 St Anne’s Court
London, W1F 0AZ

Over the last long weekend, we found ourselves in our old hood, dropping by on old friends. We lunched at a new Mexican restaurant I’d spotted a few months ago – Habanera, a Mexican restaurant on Uxbridge Road, close to Shepherd’s Bush. The place was empty that Monday and we found a seat in the back, under the skylight, easily.

To take the edge of our hunger, we started with some chips and salsa (£3.50) – I liked that we could choose our salsa and we went with their excellent salsa verde with its tomatillo, coriander and chilli. The chips were whole small corn tortillas that they’d clearly fried themselves – good stuff.

Chips and Salsa Verde

To my delight, there were lots of non-alcoholic options on the drinks menu. A Sandía (watermelon, raspberry & tarragon) (£3.95) was refreshing, as was a homemade lemonade with mint (£2.50).

Drinks

Chicken tinga quesadilla (£5) turned out to be two and they were generously filled with spiced chicken and lots of perfectly toasted cheese.

Chicken Tinga Quesadilla

Carne asada tacos (£5.50) were topped with grilled steak, avocado, and salsa verde. I would have liked some extra hot sauce for these but I didn’t see any bottles until later, behind the counter. Our waitress could have been a bit forthcoming with this.

Carne Asada Tacos

Huevos rancheros (£7) were a generously sized portion of eggs, tomato, avocado and salsa verde again. This would make a fine brunch for one and I liked that they’d properly warmed the flour tortilla on the side.

Huevos Rancheros

The only thing is…we were eating a lot of salsa verde! I wish our waitress had actually looked properly at our order and warned us that the dishes we’d ordered all had salsa verde (they only say that there’s salsa on them). We would have switched the salsa with our chips at the beginning if we had known.

For dessert, I was thrilled to see an impossible cake (£6) on the menu. It also goes by the name chocoflan as, yes, it’s half chocolate cake and half flan. What makes it impossible is how it’s made – one of the batters is poured over the other but it magically separates while in the oven. We got a huge slice to share between us and to make it even more insane, there was a drizzle of dulce de leche or some other caramel on top!

Impossible

Overall, good food and generous sized portions but service needs some stepping up. It’s a great addition to Uxbridge Road though.

Habanera
280 Uxbridge Road
Shepherd’s Bush
London, W12 7JA

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