Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Brunch at Villandry, Great Portland Street

A few weeks back I won a Twitter competition to enjoy a brunch for two at Villandry on Great Portland Street, so a week later I trotted along one August Saturday morning with my mum, Vicky for a leisurely brunch followed by some retail therapy.

Having only ever popped into Villandry for a tea or coffee with a slice of cake before, I was keen to try out what else they had on offer. Our table was booked for 11:30am and I immediately ordered a Virgin Mary with a pot of tea for Mum, and a latte for myself, whilst we perused the menu.

The Virgin Mary had a good hit of spice in there, which is just how I like them, and for once I wasn’t hungover, so I wasn’t craving a good glug of vodka for that oh-so soothing hair of the dog feeling.

Rather than the traditional egg and bacon options, Mum and I were rather more tempted by their ‘small plates’ section of the menu which had some very enticing sounding dishes listed.

We chose the Villandry Mediterranean mezze platter, a smoked salmon dish, salt and pepper squid, beef carpaccio and a dressed crab salad with some chunky bread – in short, a mini-feast for the pair of us.
The platter consisted of a quenelle each of hummus and babaganoush with some focaccia, some deliciously salty black olives, sun-dried tomatoes, sweet roasted red pepper, some griddled courgette and some mozzarella balls rolled in a mild pesto. 

The babaganoush and focaccia were the stand-outs of the mezze. In fact, all of the bread is produced on-site and is outstanding, but the focaccia had an extra something – a slight garlic hue with the crunch of sea salt, it was sensational – I could have certainly eaten more of it. The babaganoush had a coarse, chunky texture and a divine smoked flavour – again, I could have eaten tons more of it, but luckily we had plenty more to get through.

The Severn & Wye smoked salmon had a beautiful flavour, gently smoky and with a melt in the mouth texture, the drizzle of lemon over it only improved it, with of course the essential sprinkling of black pepper. Eaten with a hunk of the delicious Villandry bread, this was a winner.

The salt and pepper squid was fantastic. Coated in a beautifully light batter that was packed full of flavour, the squid was cooked to perfection, unlike so many other venues that over-cook their squid, this was light with just a touch of bite to it, but had, happily, completely avoided that awful rubberiness that I’ve experienced time and time again elsewhere. I did find it a little strange that this was served with what tasted and looked like a thousand island dressing, but hey ho. 

The other real winning dish was the dressed crab and avocado salad. Once again the quality and flavour of the crab was excellent, and with a little green leaf covering the mound of crab, and the cucumber jelly which covered the square plate, it was a very, very  pretty plate and certainly wasn’t a case of style over substance. I would actually return for this alone as a delightful lunch dish. 

The only other dish we had was the beef carpaccio, which was the only thing that there was really any left of at the end of our feast. It was perfectly acceptable in terms of quality, but really was lacking in seasoning, and when compared to the delights of the squid, salmon, crab and the mezze platter, it just didn’t match up, but as we’d over ordered anyway, this wasn’t a problem at all.

The service was attentive, friendly and informative throughout our brunch at Villandry. We sat in the restaurant area rather that the café, which was a mistake as there was much more of a buzz in the café area that was packed full, but this certainly didn’t detract from what was a very pleasurable meal. We were gifted a £50 voucher and had a small bill of £8 to pay at the end so this also presents good value in the heart of the West End. Definitely a key contender for the best brunch spots, but I will certainly return to try some of the main dishes too as they all sounded rather glorious too.

Villandry on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 20 August 2013


I recently visited Marco Pierre Whites’ L’Escargot with my one and only French friend, Estelle.

My first visit to L’Escargot was also with Estelle celebrating a mutual friend’s engagement and Estelle has since returned several times, each time reporting good reviews, so I was glad to return and try out more of the menu.

We decided to bypass the appetisers to ensure we could fit in dessert and I chose a duck dish for my main which was very impressive for the £20.50 price tag.

The beautifully seasoned honey-glazed duck breast was cooked exactly how I like it, crisp and flavourful on the outside with the perfect amount of crispy fat and tender, rare and melt-in-the-mouth meat in the centre.

The bird came with some crushed new potatoes that had a delicious crunch to them from some kind of coarse salt, some just-cooked pak choi and a colourful and tasty port jus. The whole dish was neatly and attractively presented and I enjoyed every last mouthful. 

Estelle selected a salmon dish, and once again it was well-received. The salmon fillet had been pan-fried, and so just like my duck, it had that delicious, well-seasoned crust on the outside and was cooked to perfection, with just a touch of rareness in the centre. Served on a bed of couscous flavoured with sweet peppers and surrounded by a gazpacho style sauce, this was another well-presented dish with the taste matching up to the style. 

We decided to share on the dessert front and happily opted for a chocolate dessert and the cheese board as the pair of us are absolutely obsessed with both. And me being with an absolute connoisseur of French cheese I was happy to take Estelle’s lead.

Our cheese board consisted of Comté which is a favourite for both of us, and three other cheeses, two of which I had yet to try and am now converted to. The Fromage de Chevre Cendré is a rich goats cheese that is flavoured with ash, and so predictably had a smoky, deliciousness about it. The Reblochon is a seriously smelly cheese that has a similar texture and appearance to Brie, but a much stronger, nuttier flavour. Our shared favourite cheese was the Fourme D’Ambert – an unctuous blue cheese, which gives my favoured English Stilton a run for its money – perfection. Grapes, celery and a few small crackers came with, but we asked for some more bread to enjoy with our dairy feast – very, very satisfying. 

For our final, sweet treat we chose the chocolate fondant, which is always a pleasure when done well as it was done at L’Escargot. With the firm, crumbly almost chocolate crust on the outside and the oozing dark chocolate centre this was truly heavenly. It came with a scoop of milk ice cream, which in reality tasted of pure vanilla, but nevertheless was superb, and a thin, curved sweet tuille or wafer biscuit which added to the, once again, fantastic presentation. 

We spent around £45 each here for a very good meal with no complaints whatsoever so I’ll certainly return again. The value of the food coupled with the exceptional quality and service is what sets this place apart from others in the Soho area.

L’Escargot is the ultimate in classic yet contemporary food so if you haven’t already – definitely give it a try, my prediction is that this will be around for years to come - unlike the few different Soho burger joints Estelle and I tried to get a table at beforehand and weren't willing to wait 2 hours for. 

L'Escargot on Urbanspoon 

Thursday, 15 August 2013

A busy week...

As life often gets in the way of me posting all of my eating and drinking endeavours on here, I thought I’d pop up a bit of a short round-up of ‘what I’ve been up to’ this week.

I cooked a gorgeous Thai beef recipe I spotted in delicious magazine adapted ever so slightly. Firstly I cooked a 300g piece of rump steak that I picked up from Williams Butchers in Balgores Lane, Gidea Park (my favourite local butchers).

I simply rubbed in a tablespoon of green Thai curry paste into the steak and then pan fried for 2 minutes on each side (for rare) and then wrapped in tin foil to allow to rest. Next I added some sliced fresh garlic and ginger to the pan with half a chopped green chilli for a minute before adding half a tin of coconut milk and another tablespoon of green Thai curry paste and simmering for ten minutes. In the meantime I cooked some green beans and broccoli and some rice to serve alongside. Just before serving I popped the juices from the rested steak into the sauce and stirred. I sliced the steak which served two of us and piled on top of the rice with the vegetables before pouring over the sauce and throwing over some coriander. It was absolutely delicious and will be reappearing in my kitchen. 

On Thursday evening last week I attended a really cool Chilean art exhibition by the utterly beautiful artist Macay. I’m not the most arty person, so I won’t try and detail the work (too much) aside from saying that Macay uses women and other feminine beings such as birds and butterflies on girly backgrounds to make stunning prints. As well as a big outside display leading into the Red Gallery in Shoreditch, the gallery was dotted with intricate prints on the inside too. The evening was hosted by TRIO – a range of Chilean wines by Concho Y Toro that were served throughout the exhibition. The Sauvignon Blanc was fantastic, light bodied yet crisp with some citrusy zing in there, in short the perfect drink to start off my weekend. 

My best friend Larni and I have finally booked up our New York trip which we have been planning for the past eight months which is incredibly exciting. We go in nine weeks and are staying at The Waldorf Astoria which is exciting enough in itself – neither of us has been before so if you have any recommendations for this city, then please do pass my way. We indulged in a little retail therapy at the weekend at Westfield Stratford City, and after building up a bit of an appetite enjoyed some mezze at The Real Greek, washed down with a celebratory Mythos & Peroni or two. I have to say their ‘tiropitakia’ are immense – filo pastry filled with spinach and feta and the addition of leak and cream – gorgeous. 

With New York in mind I’m going to attempt to lose a little weight in the next two months in the lead up so have been eating a lot of what Glen likes to call ‘rabbit food’. Whilst there is only so much soup I can stomach, I never tire of a good salad and with the additions of zingy flavourful things such as lime juice, capers, anchovies, beetroot and peppery radishes (from my parent’s garden I might add) there’s no need to get bored. Here is a feta salad I enjoyed with only 50g feta, some lettuce, shredded red onion, half an avocado, an abundance of radish, a chopped pepper, some tinned sweetcorn and a few chopped cherry tomatoes with a good drizzle of olive oil, the juice of half a lemon some fresh snipped chives over the top and some oregano for some good, Greek measure – beautiful.