Thursday, 9 October 2014

Wormwood Restaurant

Without wanting to sound too gushy, this place is a real 'find'. One you should have on your radar for sure. From a design point of view, it won't blow you away. It's simple without fancy table linen and plump upholstery; but the food and service are where it's at.

From the front of house team - lead by Christophe Cavaille, a mean cocktail mixologist and a man passionate about organic & biodynamic wines, hence their impressive cocktail and wine list - to the kitchen, led by Rabah Ourrad, a seriously accomplished chef - it was faultless, from start to finish.

Every box was ticked on our visit, from the personable way they looked after us and the superb wine recommendations; to the stunning dishes that galvanise the senses - every mouthful making a lasting impression. This food has been so carefully thought out and produced with such passion and finesse, that it surely won't be long before the Michelin man comes knocking.

Dishes are small and designed for sharing, although that's a tough call once you get started, so be prepared. Divide the portions equally or run the risk of squabbling over how many mouthfuls you each have. There's a strong urge to scrape the plate clean, something that I was taught you never, ever did when you were 'dining out'! Scraped or not, I can't imagine plates returning to Rabah's kitchen with any signs of remains.

Wormwood has already been reviewed and given the thumbs up by several highly regarded food critics; and when one of those is Fay Maschler, you're chuffed to bits. I'd put a lot of that down not only to the skill and passion applied here, but by their humble approach and attitude. This place is not pretentious and ponsey - which when you come from a Michelin star background as both Christophe and Rabah have, could be an easy mistake to make - it's genuine and enticing for all the right reasons. 

This humble chef, (they're not always easy to come by) clearly injects real emotion into his cooking, combining Moroccan, Spanish and French styles and flavours, and spends time talking to his customers, explaining his dishes in such a gentle, engaging way, you find yourself mesmerised. And a manager whose love of wine and spirits is so transparent that you sit back, relax and just leave the choices for him to make on your behalf. I gave him a guideline on price and he went way under it. I like that. It taints the experience if you feel your trust has been abused.

This kind of dining is effortless. Hand yourself over to Chris and Rabah and they'll take you on a gastronomic journey that you'll never forget.

Notes on the food:

The portions aren't generous, but they are priced accordingly. The idea is to order 2 to 3 plates each and share, which is what we did. Perfect if you want to experience lots of different flavours and textures.  

What stood out: Everything stood out in its own way but these dishes in particular....

Bavette D’Aloyau  
Grain fed beef bavette, pomme fondante, roasted onions & béarnaise.  

When the quality of the beef is this good, the least expensive cut can taste like the finest, which this did. It was tender and succulent, oozing those meaty flavours that you crave from a good steak.

Wild Sea Bass    
Green peas, new potatoes, bacon & romaine lettuce. 

Sea Bass never disappoints if cooked well, and this dish, although a fairly obvious marriage of ingredients, was uncomplicated and packed with honest flavours and lovely textures.

Pulled Pork                                                                        
Baby spinach, spinach velouté, sunflower seeds & black olive crumbs.

The pork was unctuous and moorish, piled prettily on top of the spinach velouté with a hat of spinach leaves and olive crumbs. The whole thing looked so delicate and structured, it almost felt wrong to eat it!

We finished off with a Beetroot and Cherry Soufflé - it sounded so original, you couldn't ignore it. What it lacked in looks and vibrancy, it made up for in flavours - the cherries providing the sweetness and the beetroot adding balance with its earthy tones. The texture....well as light as Soufflé should be and the final Touché from Rabah, finally, a master in his own kitchen.

16 All Saints Road,
London W11 1HH

Monday, 17 March 2014

15 Minute Meals - Recipe 2

It's a struggle to find the time to cook new recipes these days, let alone blog! But, cooking and writing are two of my favourite things so I do make the time for the them.  I'm not that special at either, but you know what, that's not going to stop me! So, here's my 15 minute meal number 2 - an idea inspired by a Sainsbury's recipe card and a cracking little dish for all the family. 

I say 15 minutes, but that's once you're familiar with doing it and then you've got to add 10/15 minutes cooking time on realistically. Still quick and easy though and if you want to eliminate the bacon to keep the calories down, the flavour will still be great.

Spaghetti tossed in a Pea & Mint Pesto

with spring onions, bacon and poached egg.

Serves 4What you need:

  • Food Processor
  • Saucepan for spaghetti
  • Frying pan

  • 300g spaghetti
  • 200g baby spinach (optional)
  • Pack of smoked back bacon
  • 5 spring onions
  • 300g frozen petit pois peas
  • 3 large sprigs of fresh mint
  • 40-50g  pine nuts
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 40-50g of parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of white wine vinegar (for the egg poaching)
  • 4 large 'happy' green range eggs

What to do:

Boil some water in your saucepan and get your spaghetti done. When draining, hold back 150ml of the water to use later. Toss your spinach, if you're using it, in the spaghetti so that it wilts.

Meanwhile, start frying your bacon and spring onions in either a little olive oil or butter (naughty, but nice!). 

Grab your food processor and throw in the garlic, peas, mint, pine nuts (toast them a little first to maximise the flavour) parmesan, pasta water and oil. Once blended, set aside in a bowl ready to use.

Now get some water boiling/turning in a pan for your poached eggs and add the wine vinegar. Gently crack in your eggs, two at a time and cook gently for 2 minutes. Repeat with the other two and place them on kitchen paper to absorb excess water if you need to. 

Now your bacon should be crispy and spring onions soft and gooey, so throw them in with your pasta and spinach, then gently turn the pea pesto in to the mix too, so that everything is nicely combined and ready for you to pop your perfectly poached egg on top of and serve.


Tuesday, 5 February 2013

15 Minute Meals

Like many of the Mums in this country, I'm a big fan of Jamie Oliver and I couldn't wait to crack on with his 15 minute meal recipes, because there's never enough time in the week to spend any longer cooking. 

Having said that, everyone knows in our house that 15 minutes will end up as 30, and 30 will end up an hour. If I've made it a few times, then I can shave a bit off that. These days I can knock something nutritious up pretty quickly myself that contains fresh veg and good protein. This was one of those.  I scanned the 'almost bare' cupboards to see what I had and came up with this. 

Warm Salmon & Lentil Salad

serves 2-3

1 packet of pre-cooked (!) Merchant Gourmet Puy Lentils with sun-dried tomatoes & basil
2 or 3 salmon fillets  - 'wild' preferably as they contain less fat
1 large courgette
1 medium red onion
1 pack of green beans
1 red pepper
tablespoon Olive Oil
knob of butter
ground rock salt & peppercorns to season
Watercress & Rocket Salad to serve with cherry tomatoes
Crusty Bread - optional


1 large frying pan with lid


Start by chopping your vegetables. Finely slice and halve the courgette. Finely chop the onion & pepper. Cut the green beans 4 times into quarters. 

Warm the oil and butter in the pan over a medium heat then throw in all the chopped veg and keep stirring until it softens a little. Don't let it get too soft, you'll be cooking the goodness out of it and it's got a little way to go yet.

Season to taste. I used plenty of red & black freshly ground pepper, because I love it!

Meanwhile, chop your salmon fillets up into small bite size pieces, removing the skin as you do. Then clear a space in the middle of the pan and add the salmon. Move it around gently so it gets coated with some of the pan's juices/oils, then pop the lid on for a minute or two so it steam cooks. Keep an eye on it though so it doesn't stick. 

In the meantime, grab your Puy lentils and gently break them up while still inside the pack, then sprinkle them into the pan with all the other ingredients. Stir and fold everything in gently before removing from the heat.

Prepare your plates with some watercress, rocket and chopped cherry tomatoes. Dress it with a tiny drizzle of walnut oil & balsamic. Serve your Salmon & Lentils next to it once they've cooled a little, and if you're craving some bad carbs, have some crusty bread with it too!

Tasty grub in just 15 minutes. I didn't think to take a picture, sorry, next time....

It's not a Jamie, it's an Issy, but I hope you like it.


Sunday, 15 April 2012

Pollen Street Social

There’s something quite misleading about the name, Pollen Street Social. It conjures up images of working men’s clubs, not a smart, fine dining restaurant off Regent Street. Or is that just me? Throw the word ‘social’ into the mix and somehow it lowers the tone. But perhaps that’s exactly what owner/chef Jason Atherton intended. Is this his way of removing the stuffiness out of fine-dining, stripping away the pompous air that we’ve all come to assume is part of the deal, with the ‘social’ being the kick up the backside that ‘pretentious’ needed?

Mr Atherton may be of fine stock, having earned his stripes in Ramsey’s fold, not to mention a stint at El Bulli, and what he puts on a plate may be a million miles away from social club grub; but he’s not courting the whole fancy fine dining thing with this concept and visually, first impressions don’t impact me the way I thought they would. However, once you ease yourself into this space (a ‘Pere Asino’ cocktail helps) and take in the understated, no-nonsense styling, the subtle detail pulls you in – handsome, practical furnishings and lots of earthy oak. It’s smart but comforting and banquette seating de-formalizes the main dining room further, with a relaxed buzz that’s a clear indication of un-intimidated, relaxed folk, loving this new approach to the fine dining scene.

Contemporary art punctuates plain cream walls and floor space - there are some really quirky pieces here including a bronze sculpture of a ‘cote de boeuf ‘ a nod to Damien Hirst perhaps? But Jason’s creativity and flair really shines through in his food, and that of course is the whole point. The meticulous attention to detail and original, clever, often fun combinations; this is art,
his art, on a plate.

So, the art we chose for our lunch was from the set lunch menu at £22.00 for 2 courses. Reasonable we thought, considering the artist! Slow-cooked egg, (which appeared under-cooked but certainly didn’t taste it) with home-smoked haddock and curry puffed rice suggested something more substantial but was instead a delicate little mound of perfection and a modern take on kedgeree. The haddock, flawlessly smoked, flaky and moist, and content under the oozy rich, silky yellow yolk, was delightful and moorish. But this is fine dining, so put any ideas of generous portions out of your head and embrace quality over quantity! Next up, for me, a rather plentiful portion, I thought, of braised ox cheek with charred eggplant and smoked potatoes. Whoa, they’re good at the old smoking malarkey here; the baby spuds were just perfect. The meat too, was faultless; a rich and unctuous knoll of juicy cheek that fell apart under the gentlest pressure. My D.P had the Yorkshire partridge which was luscious, plump and pink, although the skin could have been a little crispier we thought.  An unusual sauce of game Bolognese came with this and neither of us knew quite what to make of it. The flavour was good, but the grainy, quorn like texture let it down I thought.

On to dessert and the opportunity to move to the dessert bar to enjoy it. Ordinarily I can’t imagine leaving a comfortable table just to sit up at a bar and eat dessert (innovative perhaps, but it felt a little unnecessary to me – dessert & digestif lounge, maybe!) but the advantage of this is, shift your eyes to the right and the glass-fronted kitchen reveals a tight, calm and talented brigade at work, with none other than the man himself, Jason, on the pass.  For a chef groupie (not in the ‘actual’ sense, of course!) like me, this was a real treat! Men, in a kitchen, cooking….ok, enough said!  We tucked in (decorously, naturally, just incase Jason glanced our way) to complimentary lime & fromage frais, and passion fruit sorbets – beautifully light and cleansing. Then just when we realized we’d underestimated the impact of these fine dining portions and prepared to call it a day, a pretty little tiered creation in a glass appeared before us of citrus posset, blackberry granita and sangria foam, drizzled with olive oil. Hold on, olive oil on dessert you’re thinking; well, yes, olive oil on dessert; and lovely it was too. The creamy, zingy punch of the posset with the cold crunch of the granita was an ideal partnership; but somehow the sangria foam and olive oil brought it all together - totally ingenious and instinctively natural.

All the while we drank some excellent wines; there’s a good selection of wines by the glass, so ideal for lunchtime lightweights like us! A German Pinot Noir and a fuller-bodied Spanish Tinta Fina were wisely suggested as good accompaniments to our meaty mains, and they were exactly that. With our desserts a plummy-pinkish, slightly fizzy dessert wine, Pétillant Naturel de Raisin, wasn’t too sweet and dangerously quaffable at 9% vol; whereas the Muscat de Rivesaltes was golden, honeyed and more alcoholic. The wine list was predominantly European (but the New World isn’t forgotten) and interestingly, even Greece gets a look in, which I suppose they could do with right now!

Service is, as you’d assume, precise and polished, although our waitress lacked the ability to be anything else and struggled to engage on any ‘real’ level. Efficient is no good without a little charisma, but their sommelier demonstrated the two, which served her well when she was nudging us up towards those unlikely and unexpectedly elegant (pricey!) wine choices.

Of course, the likelihood is you’ll be taking a trip to the bathroom while you’re there, so you’ll pass the meat ageing room, where spectacular cuts of meat are boldly and proudly displayed, opposite a 14 cover private dining room where all sorts of things go on apparently – mostly wine tastings and dinners though I’d have thought!

So, as we tore ourselves away, when so many look settled for hours to come, a departing gift was presented with our coats - a charming little bag containing ‘afternoon tea’ – a tea bag and delicious frangipane cake – an endearing little detail that leaves you smiling and keen to get home to put the kettle on.

So, at £121 for two it isn’t cheap, (and that was with complimentary desserts – not sure how we swung that!) but hey, this is food to get excited over people, it’s not just any old social, this is Pollen Street Social, where a world class culinary artist resides.

Pollen Street Social                  
8-10 Pollen Street                                 
London W1S 1NQ                                                       
020 7290 7606

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Veeraswamy - A rather Fine-Dining Experience

Veeraswamy – London’s oldest Indian Restaurant.

For a long time I assumed that one would have to travel to India to experience great Indian food, (but then my palate had been agonizingly subjected to local takeaways, where every dish tastes the same just with varying amounts of heat) until just recently, when a friend introduced me to Veeraswamy; and now, my love affair with Indian cuisine has truly begun. I feel a sense of commitment that I’ve never really felt before and a deep longing to return and try everything Veeraswamy has to offer.  I’m finding myself planning trips to Regent Street that aren’t strictly necessary, but are somehow crucial for my happiness.

Of course, it does help that it’s located in a beautiful part of town, on the corner of Regent and Swallow Street, with the dining room on the first floor overlooking swanky shops and twinkling city lights. It couldn’t be more chic and romantic if it tried and we girls do love a bit of glamour & romance! The entrance is discreetly tucked away in Swallow Street and when we arrived we were greeted by a charming young doorman, clad in traditional colonial Indian costume. It all felt very swish and majestic, a bit like entering a private member’s club with cool décor (that was just a little bit ‘disco’) leading to a cosy elevator that prolonged the excitement further.

As you enter the main dining room the elegant and sophisticated Bombay-Bollywood theme opens up before you with multi-coloured glass lanterns punctuating the dramatic ceiling, and an original 1920’s Venetian chandelier deservedly takes centre stage. The lighting is so gentle and soft it could complement even the most unfortunate and the elevated views over Regent and Swallow Street give you a wonderful sense of grandeur and importance. Delicate crimson rose petals are lightly scattered on each table; elegant wine glasses reflect the room’s vibrant colours and silk Maharaja’s turbans line the walls. Everything is so beautifully appointed, shimmery and sexy; even the pearlescent menu sparkles!

If you, like me, are not an authority on Indian cuisine, or if your knowledge only stretches as far as Dopiaza and Aloo Gobi, then sit back and let the exceptionally conversant and polite staff guide you through the menu; they clearly enjoy doing it and you’ll learn something in the process. We had a starter we’d never have considered trying had it not been for their knowledgeable cajoling, which turned out to be an absolute triumph - Raj Kachori – puffed puri (an unleavened bread) filled with vegetables, sweet chutney and yoghurt, then topped with pomegranate seeds. 

I’m afraid that no description I give this dish will do it justice, it simply has to be tasted. I also discovered Bishop’s Weed, a fragrant little seed-like fruit spice (which I first mistook for cumin) which apparently has “Ayer Vedic qualities”, or was that just meant to distract us from the calories that lie ahead? Many typical and indigenous spices are used here, harmonising and enhancing first-rate ingredients that clearly don’t require any chaperoning, but are however, lifted from the introduction. Lamb cutlets were achingly tender, scallops were unctuously plump and bouncy, and sauces were luxuriously rich but never overpowering. The problem with food this good is you convince yourself you can eat huge quantities of it! I was soon releasing a notch on my belt and trying to get to grips with my wide-eyed gusto by consciously slowing myself down.

We ended this sublime experience with a silky rich crème brulée and green tea ice cream which were both wonderfully light and refreshing. It was a struggle though if I’m honest and anything heavier would have just broken the belt, so this was the perfect ending to a lovely evening.

Folks, round up your partners, lovers, husbands, wives or whoever and make Veeraswamy your next stop. It ticks every box and is now safely positioned in my ‘Top 10’ for sure. In fact, the sooner I get back there, the better.

Veeraswamy, Mezzanine Floor, Victory House
99 Regent Street, London W1B 4RS
(entrance on Swallow Street)
tel: +44 (0) 20 7734 1401
fax: +44 (0) 20 7439 8434