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


Saturday, 2 April 2011

Freggo Review

Forget meeting your friends in a pub before you head out clubbing, apparently the ‘thang’ to do now is ‘shake and cake’! Well, I say that, but it hasn’t entirely wiped out the popularity of bars and pubs just yet, of course, as there are very few places like Freggo around to cope with the demand of this growing trend. Another of Swallow Street’s little gems, Argentine Ice Cream Bar Freggo is related (as in, ‘sweet’ little baby sister status) to Gaucho (big ‘beefy’ brother) next door. Don’t think of it as an ice cream parlour, because it’s not. It’s far funkier than that. This place oozes cool, from the mirrored & deep purple padded walls, to the funky retro stools and cocktail bar ambience, all enhanced by Ibiza style tunes - think Blue Marlin on a Sunday afternoon and you’ll get my drift.

My date for the night was probably not as appropriate as I’d originally thought. I assumed that my 7 year old son, an ice cream and shake-aholic, would be the best person to judge how good this place was. And, give him his due, he offered some very insightful observations about various flavours and textures. However, once we’d tucked ourselves nicely into a cosy banquette corner (surely designed with lovers in mind, sharing cake and licking hot chocolate from one another’s lips) the crowd descended. Cool, edgy, pre-club, straight off the pages of Style or Grazia magazine; relaxing, chatting over espresso and ice cream… all felt so chic and cosmopolitan and I suddenly longed for my ‘cool friends’ and wanted to ditch my son! Then, a young family with children who clearly considered Freggo their local, bobbed in for a huge tub of take-away ice cream and Alfajores (traditional Argentine cookies filled with sweet caramelised milk); followed by some tourists, then some nearby office workers, then some more funky-looking clubbers……it was just an endless stream of interesting looking people. I could have sat, people-watching all night. Dangerous though, because I reckon you could put on a stone in this place in under an hour!

Meanwhile, we were tucking in to an array of gorgeous Argentine yummies. Sweet stuff for me isn’t a natural preference so I insisted on having a 3 cheese tart to start – stilton, parmesan and mascarpone – clearly the Italian links were coming through here. It was good. Quite subtle, but enough to satisfy my savoury craving and there’s a pretty good selection of other savoury things too if, like me, you can’t just go steaming straight in to the sweet stuff. ‘Better have the Alfajores’ we thought, ‘If the regulars are having that.’ This was the lightest shortbread biscuit I’ve ever had, covered in coconut and filled with sweet ‘dulce de leche’ caramelised milk. One was enough. Lovely, but enough. My little man had the cheesecake; a crafty forkful told me this was more my kinda sweet thing. We fought, we shared, and we ordered more. All the while, Grace, Freggo’s very ‘dulce’ manageress, patiently explained everything, bringing us a ‘taster’ selection of ice creams and sorbets, one containing red wine which I devoured in seconds.

Now I know why ice cream culture is so big in Argentina, where Freggos (Freddo over there) are two a penny and there’s on average 50 varieties of ice cream to choose from and it costs more than beef! Apparently, the biggest question the cool crowd ask themselves before going out is, ‘Ice cream or clubbing?’ and it would seem that ice cream wins hands down. Well, actually, here you kinda get it all – the tunes, the atmosphere and the ice cream.

So, before heading off in search of Father Christmas and pretty lights, I sipped a dark, orange & cinnamon hot chocolate; silky, rich, and utterly indulgent that left me feeling like Juliette Binoche in Chocolat. It had the cutest little meringues floating elegantly on top that, once popped in your mouth, dispersed like sweet clouds and left you wistfully craving more. A Freggo shake left my son dreamily muttering the words, ‘Mummy, it’s like heaven in here for me you know.’ ‘I know darling. I said the same when I met Freggo’s big beefy brother, Gaucho.’

Freggo Ice Cream Bar,
27-29 Swallow Street,
London, W1B 4QR

Phone: 020 7287 9506