More Bake Off love Sunday, Oct 5 2014 

After a long hiatus, I’m back, drooling over the latest series of The Great British Bake Off. Specifically this latest episode, which saw contestants making baklava:

rose baklavaI’m loving the idea of Luis’ rose and barberry baklava (pictured above). Not to mention Chetna’s masala chai versions, which fit in perfectly with the arrival of autumn, the season of spices (just don’t get me started on the deliciousness of Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte):

masala chai baklavaComing soon will be more autumn adventures, including lunch at the Fat Duck before its temporary move to Australia, macaroons at Ladurée in Paris, and afternoon tea at the Connaught, so stay tuned 🙂

Restaurant Review: Le Thé, Geneva Sunday, Aug 3 2014 

lethegeneve

courtesy of Kokille46, TripAdvisor

This hidden treasure in the European centre of Geneva is a good five minutes’ walk from the main attractions, but often it’s five minutes’ walk that can make a real difference. Le Thé – one of many of the city’s cosmopolitan offerings – is a Chinese restaurant which also functions equally as a tearoom (hence the name). The main giveaway is the entire wall of teas and teaware that greets you as you enter, all available for purchase at a varying range of prices. However, they also serve a traditional Chinese menu, which is so popular that booking is advisable even on a weekday evening.

Nevertheless, the tea-house theme is prominent throughout, thanks to the leafy bowers, bamboo ‘walls’ and the use of chunky traditional teapots as decoration (as well as sale items and practical use). You have plenty of time to admire these, as service is on the leisurely side, but the food is worth the wait: the dim sum and steamed breads, available with a variety of fillings, are all excellent, and are washed down easily by the highly palatable (and affordable) Chinese wine on offer. Even if you finish with a gelatinous rice dessert, and amply sample the wide range of teas and other dishes offered, the food is light on the stomach and ultimately a good value offering, with the relaxed pace of service making for a perfect way to unwind. Would definitely return for more of this authentic cuisine and adventurous range of beverages.

Rue des Bains 65, 1205 Geneva, Switzerland
+41 79 436 77 18

Restaurant Review: Itihaas, Birmingham Wednesday, Aug 22 2012 

Living in France, where Japanese food takes prevalence in the Asian takeaway market, meant we had a hankering for some Indian food when we visited the UK. We decided Birmingham was the perfect place for it, and luckily for us the weather was on excellent form for Indian food too (read: tipping it down with rain).

It turned out we didn’t regret choosing Itihaas for our lunch after seeing it recommended in the Louis Vuitton travel guide we had acquired as part of a box set (the guide also covers London and Oxford, so served us well throughout our stay, which saw us visiting all of these destinations). We were slightly early, getting there just when they opened, but staff welcomed us warmly and led us to a table – which, perhaps unfortunately for some, was located right next to a bunch of smouldering incense. This does well in helping to cultivate an authentic atmosphere, but is slightly overbearing when you’re sat right next to it.
But onto the important business of the food. While admiring the sumptuous interiors – which encompassed red, gold, shiny dark wood, glass chandeliers and more – our choice of food was made easy by the presence of the set lunch menu, which is so bargainous that you’d be silly not to choose it. Great for the uninitiated (as it offers a bit of everything for your delectation) or for the plain indecisive (what’s not to like when you have everything on one plate?!), its six courses cost a mere £9.95 per person and are all served on a massive silvery tray for extra wow-factor. A vegetarian version and a more elaborate ‘business lunch’ version are also available, priced at £8.95 and £12.95 respectively.

When our plates arrived we weren’t disappointed. The lamb rogan josh and the makhani murgh (made with chicken) were fragranced with intense flavour and not swimming in oil, and as for the dhal? I defy anyone who’s ever had a bad experience with lentils to come here and be amazed as your perception of the humble legume is changed. It’s rich, creamy, and gives the meat courses a run for their money. With this, you have ample amounts of tri-coloured basmati rice, an enormous naan bread to mop up with, and a cucumber raita to cool things down a little – refreshing and well-made, it’s a welcome addition to the spices of the curries.

We chased all this down with iced tap water, and we were reassured to see Indian locals also visiting this restaurant, paying testament to the age-old rule that going where the locals go usually pays off. The meal was so filling, and of such high-quality ingredients for the price paid, that we felt we didn’t need dessert (which was a shame in a way, as among the authentic dishes on offer were the incredibly tempting sweet ginger cheesecake and chilli chocolate indulgence). Toilet facilities were clean and luxurious, and took you through the cavernous downstairs floor, which is full of mirrors and highly decorated in an authentic style.

In short, this is a brilliant find, and we were surprised that it did not become busier. Would recommend and revisit.

Itihaas, 18 Fleet Street, Birmingham B3 1JL

0121 212 3383

http://www.itihaas.co.uk

Chain Review: Ping Pong Sunday, May 6 2012 

Staying in the Dupont Circle area of Washington DC meant we had a huge choice of restaurants within the immediate vicinity of our hotel (including Kramers literary café, which is set inside a bookshop…yep, it kills me that we didn’t end up eating here, discovering its existence only right at the very end of our stay).

Nonetheless, we were glad to discover Ping Pong, which, while it has locations in locations as far afield as Washington DC, Sao Paulo and Dubai, is in fact a chain originating in London (where it has by far the most sites). It proved a perfect pit stop for amazing dim sum, speedy yet friendly service, and a chilled-out yet buzzing atmosphere. It is evidently popular, and not without good reason.

The DC branch offers sunny views of the neighbourhood (well, it did on the day we were there at least) and was keen to advertise its many deals, including happy hours and all you can eat. We were never once left wanting for iced water and yet service was not at all intrusive. During our time in DC, we were constantly surprised at what good value for money locals can get in restaurants, and Ping Pong was no exception to this. We both plumped for the Dumpling Collection, which retails at $18 in the DC branch and is not available at the London branches. While we were waiting, we dived into their non-alcoholic cocktail collection, choosing a mouthwatering goji, mango and mint drink, which was refreshing yet vibrant – just the ticket for a warm sunny day in DC after a three-hour train ride.

The Dumpling Collection then arrived – and it was well worth the short wait. Consisting of two hoi sin vegetable puffs, 2 shrimp rolls, 1 vegetable and tofu roll, and 6 dumplings (chive, beef, scallop and shiitake, seafood, crab, and shrimp). It sounds hard to believe, but in the face of the dinky steamed pouches of goodness, we were totally full afterwards and couldn’t bring ourselves to sample dessert (a shame, as the roasted pineapple and coconut spring roll looked lush!).

There is really something here for every customer, from sharing platters to vegetarian collections, and the staff are always happy to help those who are beginners to Chinese food. Even if you’re a regular at your local takeaway, chances are you’ll experience something totally different here – it’s a fresh take on traditional food, done simply and with high quality ingredients, in a totally satisfying way.

In total, this came to $49.50 including tax (€37, or €18.50 a head; £30, or £15 a head) – and as mentioned, we were totally full and satisfied by the end of the meal. Frankly, you could spend that in McDonalds and not come out with anything near as healthy or delicious. I urge you to visit; put it this way, it’s a good job a loyalty card is among their offerings.

http://www.pingpongdimsum.us/ (US site)

http://www.pingpongdimsum.com/ (UK site)

Restaurant Review: Watatsumi Tuesday, Aug 30 2011 

We came to Watatsumi on a Sunday evening in July wanting just a light meal to complement our stay at the Club Quarters Hotel on London’s Northumberland Avenue. There are two entrances – one through the hotel, and one from the street, and we were impressed to note the towers of fire greeting guests at the street entrance. We entered through the hotel, though, and with some trepidation, as most of the other establishments in the hotel (primarily a business destination) appeared to be closed. Nevertheless, even though there were no diners inside, I spied members of staff and laid tables, so went in and asked if they were doing dinner. The waiter I approached was quite sarcastic in his response (something along the lines of “errr….yeeeees, this IS a restaurant *rolleyes*”), which arguably doesn’t give a very good impression of the place. So we went in, took our seats, and started combing the menu for something that would just hit the spot in the evening, having had a gut-busting lunch at L’Autre Pied in Marylebone (more of which another time). Inside, the restaurant is elegantly and opulently decorated without being vulgar, and definitely has a sense of place.

The menu veers between standard British choices with a Japanese twist (such as miso Gressingham duck breast with kumquat compote) to truly traditional Fuji burgers, tempura and kushiyaki. I personally plumped for the tempura prawns, which came in crispy batter to die for, although I was hoping that the tempura sauce would have a little bit more zing. My husband went for sashimi, and having eaten out at Japanese establishments on multiple occasions in Paris (where the cuisine is very popular), I had the impression that he was a little underwhelmed. Nevertheless, there seems to be something to cater to every taste, whether you are part of a large party and want an adventurous tasting menu, or whether you are a conservative type who is inexperienced in the way of Japanese cuisine.

Watatsumi promises to go ‘beyond sushi and sashimi’, but while I certainly saw plenty of things on the menu that I didn’t recognise, the dessert menu was disappointingly entirely recognisable – with its choices of ice cream, chocolate fondant, and cheesecake, the only even remotely Japanese thing hiding in the list was mini mochi (a sticky rice, ice cream and lychee liquor concoction). If I’d wanted dessert that evening, I probably would have tried this, but if you’re hoping for a more extensive range of Japanese desserts, don’t come here. Things fare better on the beverage front, with more traditional Japanese teas being offered alongside more familiar coffees, which we did sample. The Japanese teas offered a nutty, rice-like flavour that was a little strange at first, but strangely did seem to round off the meal nicely, acting as a sort of cleanser.

We did not sample any alcoholic beverages, but it seems that the mix is about right, with sake and rice wine sitting on the menu alongside champagne and rosé. Japanese beers and whiskies are available, too, as is a string of exotic fruit juices.

While arguably a little on the expensive side (£9.50 for 5 tempura prawns), the restaurant’s beautiful Zen-like setting and premium central London location certainly go some way to making up for it. A great place to go where all of the family – whether Volcano virgins (a Volcano, to you and me, is a salmon, avocado and tempura mix) or sure about sashimi – can definitely find something to like.

7 Northumberland Avenue, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5BY

reception@watatsumi.co.uk

020 7036 8520