Monday, 31 January 2011

Fennel & feta with pomegranate & sumac: Greedy Diva Happy Snaps #1

Yes, the Greedy Diva cooks! Don't expect me to start posting recipes from my kitchen any time soon. But this was my fennel & feta salad with pomegranate & sumac, courtesy of the Ottolenghi cookbook. It's zingy and fresh and gorgeous looking - and went well with a big, fleshy piece of baked seabass.

If you haven't used the Ottolenghi: The Cookbook before, then I highly recommend it - it's inspiring, and will help you discover the world that is the cluster of Lebanese grocers near Edgeware Road. I recently stocked up my cupboards with all sorts of exotic ingredients from Green Valley (36-37 Upper Berkeley Street).

Pomegranates, lemons & a big, pretty jar
of preserved lemons from Green Valley

This is the first in my new series of random snaps capturing food related moments that make me happy (Greedy Diva Happy Snaps). Awww...

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Timo, Kensington

I love being taken by friends to their neighbourhood restaurants that would otherwise escape me, just as they seem to escape the foodie airways.

Squid ink tagliolini with prawns, squid and clams

We have some very fun Dutch friends with whom we always end up having nights of hilarity. Last time, we started off at the Fernandez & Wells wine bar (a personal fav), then ate tapas at Tierra Brindisa (which was, frankly, disappointing, particularly as it was my pick - although we had a ball and got marvellously sloshed anyway), before stumbling across a doorway leading to some entertainingly bad club in Soho.

This time around, Mrs Dutchie is decidedly preggers so we were up for something far more serene and dignified. Our friends booked a table at one of their favourite local Italians, Timo in Kensington.

It looks cute from the outside, and inside things are all very inoffensive and Kensington - white walls, crisp linen tablecloths, polished service, a sophisticated clientele. It's small and elegant, and tables are spacious. We are the noisiest people in the room. But I like it immediately. One has to brush off the Soho cobwebs every now and then.

Manager Piero Amodio visits several times, oozing some old school Italian charm, and before long we've polished off our lovely, buttery chardonnay (you can take the Aussies out Australia but...) and we've moved on to the first of many excellent red wines (which was probably much to Mr Dutchie's relief).

The pasta dishes are all great. I absolutely love my special of the day - silky squid ink tagliolini with juicy prawns, squid and clams. Mrs Dutchie's ravioli filled with cream of aubergines, fresh goats cheese, butter and sage goes down well, and Mr Dutchie's humongous plate of risotto with porcini mushrooms and parmesan gets the thumbs up. TPG's lemony tagliolini with fresh crab meat, white wine, garlic, chilli, fennel is zingy and fresh - I like it a lot, but he's rather jealous of mine. Fork fights ensue.

My veal escalope is nice, but can't compete with the smashing veal chop I had at Tinello a few weeks earlier, and the boys' char grilled Scotch rib-eye steaks are slightly overcooked. But the vibe is good, we're drinking great wines and everyone's happy.

Expect to pay around £40 per head plus wine and service, or book before 8pm from Monday-Thursday and have 2 courses for £13.90 or 3 courses for £16.

We forgo dessert for Dutch biscuits and night caps at Chez Mr and Mrs Dutchie. But I'm left with an overall good impression of Timo and not just because they gave us free limoncellos and grappas to finish. If I was a local, I'd certainly be making a regular appearance to try out more. You can never have too many good, neighborhood Italian restaurants up your sleeve.

Timo, 343 Kensington High Street, Kensington, London, W8 6NW (Tel: 020 7603 3888)

Timo on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Pepito, Kings Cross

Bar Pepito has sherry flights. SHERRY FLIGHTS, people.

A small Andalusian bar across the courtyard from related Spanish restaurant, Camino, Pepito is fun, it's friendly and it's teeny weeny. Cram around a wine barrel with your mates and slug back delicious dry, nutty sherries, with a side of hand carved, creamy jamon, a selection of cheeses or some piggy chorizo. And it's all reasonably priced.

I've been a few times now and I love it every time. It's rare that I don't leave singing. And I'm not alone - Pepito won Time Out's Best New Bar in 2010. But I never get around to writing about it (sherry hangover perhaps). So, I'll keep it short and sweet. Pepito is one of my favourite bars. You need to go. Experiment with the sherries - be brave. Enjoy.

Bar Pepito, 3 Varnishers Yard, The Regent Quarter, Kings Cross, N1 9FD (Tel: 020 7481 7331)

Bar Pepito on Urbanspoon

Monday, 24 January 2011

J. Sheekey, Covent Garden

Raspberry ripple ice-cream with boozey cherries and shortbread

Despite there being so many new and interesting restaurants popping up in Covent Garden, it's also nice to visit one of the more old school establishments every now and then. Lunch at J Sheekey was just the ticket. The old timer at the table next to us remarked to the waiter that her mother had brought her to J Sheekey as a young girl - and it feels like that kind of place.

Black and photos of theatre starlets line the mahogany panelled walls. The long standing appeal of the place comes down to its history, effortless style, seamless (if a little stiff) service and well sourced ingredients executed properly.


As part of the Caprice Holdings group (which includes stalwart establishments, The Ivy and Scotts), J Sheekey is predominantly a fish and seafood restaurant, and the best of its offerings is probably not on the set lunch menu that we opted for. The plateau de fruits de mer for 2 people looks stunning.

However, the weekend lunch menu, at £26.50 per person for 3 courses, is probably the best means to get away lightly in what is otherwise a pricey restaurant. 

Grilled squid

Gravlax with marinated cucumber and a Swedish mustard dressing was a small but silky starter, while my fabulous, tender grilled squid perched atop a sweet, nutty red pepper sauce.

The Sheekey Fish Pie

J Sheekey has a reputation for its fish pie - and while it's not as unctuous as the one you'll find at Bentley's, it is creamy and comforting, and laden big chunks of salmon and prawns. There's a satisfyingly thick and crispy layer of potato on top, although my pie was lacking in white fish.

Since they had run out of salmon, TPG enjoyed the rich feast that was the grilled chicken with buttered cabbage and earthy wild mushrooms - a terrific, hearty option if you don't want fish.

Clementine pudding

The clementine sponge pudding with warm custard is gorgeous - the perfect wintry dessert. The pretty raspberry ripple ice-cream was not as impressive, but the boozey cherries gave it a lovely kick and it came with a fine, crisp shortbread.

J Sheekey also offers a fish and chips and glass of house wine deal for £16.50, and it's worth keeping in mind as a pre- or post theatre option, being in the heart of West End theatre land. You could also try the J Sheekey Oyster Bar next door, which is always bustling - reservations at either the bar or restaurant can be hard to come by, so plan ahead.

J Sheekey, 32034 St Martin's Court, Covent Garden, WC2N 4AL (Tel: 020 7240 2565)

J Sheekey on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Amsterdam: Gluttonous Travels

Amsterdam is not all about the seedy red light district and day trips to see the tulips. It's also about clogs. [Couldn't resist.] But, cliches aside, the city really is a charming maze of canals, stylish boutiques, cafes, bars, museums and people of such friendliness that you might genuinely be startled if you've been living in London for a while. So this is how the other half lives. You can easily navigate around by foot, or join the slip stream of locals by hiring a bike for the weekend.

Appeltaart at Winkel

We absolutely loved our weekend in Amsterdam last year, but I just never got around to writing about it. So, briefly, here are some highlights.

  1. Hire bikes. We went to Yellow Bike near Central Station and whizzed around all over the place - so much fun, and there's no better city for cycling. Yellow Bike also offer 3 hour city bike tours which I've heard are good.
  2. Vyne Bar - Recommended by our Dutch friend, Mireille, this was the perfect way to settle in to Amsterdam as soon as we had touched down and checked in to our hotel. We enjoyed late night wine flights and bitterballen in this smart little wine bar on the Prisengraacht, which is a fun, buzzy area at night. Service was helpful, friendly and knowledgeable - they picked out exactly the sort of wines we love from a long list of old and new world options. Great for sipping on excellent vino and basic snacks.
  3. Cafe Hoppe - One of the oldest bars in Amsterdam, this rickety and rammed, traditional Dutch cafe (pub) was founded in 1670. It has a rowdy late night crowd - perfect for topping up with some traditional, malty Dutch gin or Belgian beers. 
  4. On Saturday morning, check out the Noordermarkt (the flea market and farmers market), disgust your boyfriend with all the furry, leopard skin patterned berets you want to buy there, then...
  5. Take a rest at Cafe Winkel for some mint tea and a huge, mountainous chunk of the sweet appeltaart for which they seem to have gathered some fame.
  6. Wander around De Negen Straatjes (The Nine Streets) a 3 by 3 grid of small streets laden with vintage and fashion stores, boutiques, cafes, pubs, bars and trendy restaurants. Take a break for some smoked herring and a beer at one of the local pubs.
  7. Envy - From the same owners as Vyne Bar, comes Envy (the names are anagrams of each other) - a restaurant which has just been awarded a Bib Gourmand in the 2011 Michelin Guide. We had an excellent lunch, with gorgeous wines on our last day in Amsterdam. There's a great charcuterie and cheese selection, or go for delicacies like tuna with lime, garlic shoots and cream of lettuce hearts or Black Angus blade with fried sweetbread, beetroot and morel sauce. A la carte prices are reasonable (or there are tasting menus ranging from €45 - €59.50 per person) and the setting is relaxed. There's an open kitchen and the long narrow room is lined with tables, banquettes and high seating overlooking fridges stocked with attractive, fresh produce. 
  8. Find a good rijsttafel (rice table) - a traditional Dutch/Indonesian feast of around 25 little dishes of meats, seafood, vegetables, curries, sauces etc all placed on your table at once. We went to Sama Sebo near the Rijksmuseum, which was cheap, fun and busy (€29.50 per person), but I reckon you could do better in terms of quality with a bit of research.
  9. The best coffee we had was at a store selling swanky mens bags/accessories in the Nine Streets area - Property Of..... When the friendly shop guy saw us admiring the Stumptown coffee machine, he made us one and sat chatting away with us at the bar while we sipped. And it was free. (The bags are not).
  10. I haven't gone on about all the tourist sites in the guide books but you have to go to the Rijksmuseum to soak up some Dutch art. I've been before, but here's a tip (and the reason we didn't make it this time) - don't leave it until Sunday (like everyone else does) when the queues trail off for miles. Same applies to the excellent Van Gogh Museum.


Delicious prawn salad at Envy

We stayed at Citizen M, Amsterdam City, which was an ultra modern, very cool hotel on the fringes of the city. It's not one to stay in if you need privacy in the bathroom and our room was tiny, but it had a power rain shower, free WiFi, a large bed, a touch screen MoodPad which controlled the flat screen TV, music, blinds, etc. There's also a 24 hour cafe downstairs and a funky reception/lounge area. The only downside is that it's a 10 minute tram ride to where you want to be (in the city centre area). But excellent value at around €105 per night at the time we booked.

Rijstaffel at Sama Sebo

We flew to Amsterdam with KLM which took less than 1 hour 20 minutes, but you can also take the Eurostar - which takes around 5 hours.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Tinello, Chelsea

Tinello is sophisticated but fun, elegant but unstuffy. It serves quality food and wine at reasonable prices. London is certainly hitting its straps when it comes to Italian restaurants right now.

I like Tinello's ambience immediately - there's exposed brickwork, industrial lighting, wooden floorboards and well spaced tables with crisp, white tablecloths. The clientele are wealthy 30 plusers and, in case it gives you further confidence, there's many Italians among them on the night we visit.

To start, the mixed antipasto (£7.80) includes a selection of cheese, spicy salami and (my favourite) a silky, rich duck liver pate. Deep fried baby cuttlefish (£3.80) are coated in a crispy, light batter giving way to moist and inky pockets within. Wondrous fine shreds of fried courgettes (£2.60) look like fireworks in a bowl and are certainly moreish if slightly greasy. A creamy Pugliese burrata with tomato bread (£3) is served as a splodge on the plate, rather than whole, but loses nothing in taste for that.

A firm spaghettini with Cornish crab meat, chilli and garlic (£11) looks boring - you might go looking for the crab - but rest assured it's in there - and it tastes like sweet, spicy, al dente heaven.

Orecchiette with turnip tops, chilli, garlic and anchovies (£10.50 as a main course as above, £8.50 as entree) is one of our favourite dishes from Puglia. Here, it's not the greatest I've ever tasted, but it's good. It's salty and firm, with the kick of chilli giving it some lift. Taut pockets of pumpkin ravioli are nestled in a smooth smoked ricotta (£11.50 as a main course, £9.50 as entree). They're excellent - perfectly cooked with a terrific, robust smokiness. I'm certain you won't get flabby pasta at Tinello.

The roast veal cutlet is simply fabulous. It's juicy, fatty and tender, with the added bite of a braised fennel and lemon salad (£23.25).

They're out of tiramisu, so we take 2 serves of gelato and sorbet (£3.50 each) and a gorgeous white chocolate and pine kernel semifreddo with cocoa ice cream (£5) which I strongly recommend.

Service is attentive and friendly enough, but not overly fussy (which I count as a good thing).

With wine (a couple of bottles of fruity Valpolicella) and service, our meal tallies in at around £55 per head - excellent value for such great food and ambience. If you haven't been yet, put Tinello on your list.

Tinello, 87 Pimlico Road, Chelsea, London, Tel: 020 7730 3663

Tinello on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Vinoteca, Marylebone

Whole roasted partridge with lentils & green sauce

I love the original, and now I love the new one. Vinoteca has opened a new branch in Marylebone.

It's just off Edgeware Road near where, incidentally, I recently discovered the gastronomic joy that is shopping at Lebanese grocer, Green Valley. Everything you could ever need to work your way through the Ottolenghi cookbook is right there or, like me, you could buy lots of things you don't need (like a large jar of preserved lemons for just over £1) just because they look pretty. There's also a busy bakery for sweet pastries and cakes. Anyhoo...

The concept at Vinoteca Marylebone is the same as at Farringdon. Part wine bar, part restaurant, there's a great selection of wines at reasonable prices, and - if you have to wait for a table - you can browse the floor to ceiling shelves laden with temptation to drink in or take home.

The food is rustic and simple, but with a hearty oomph. Each course is matched to one of the 25 wines available by the glass, or you can choose from one of over 280 bottles. We stopped by for a bottle of wine and a one course meal, so we bypassed the tempting sounding starters (like smoked eel with celeriac and apple remoulade and wheaten toast (£8)) and got stuck into a big spicy South African (the Cape Chamonix Rouge for £19.75), while soaking up the buzz.

My whole roasted partridge with a wintry lentil stew was meaty and heartwarming, although I found the generous splodge of garlicky, herby green sauce just a little too overpowering (other minds might differ on this).

Bavette steak

TPG almost went for the lamb pie - a billowing pastry case packed full with finely minced lamb and vegetables. However, in the end he wavered in favour of the bavette steak, pink and juicy at medium rare, with thick cut, crispy chips and salad - a favourite from our visits to the Farringdon branch. The accompanying bread sauce was also excellent.

Vinoteca Marylebone is already busy. We had a short wait (about 10 minutes) for a table, but the friendly waiting staff (who still seem excited to be there) looked after us well. We simply sat by the window (or you can sit at the bar) and made a head start on the wine.

Main courses generally cost between £11 - £15 and our meal for 2 including wine and service was good value at £56.

The menu changes daily, so you're likely to see something new every time you go. Oh, yes - you will go again.

Vinoteca, 15 Seymour Place, Marylebone, London W1H 5BD, Tel: 020 7724 7288

Vinoteca on Urbanspoon

PS. I know it seems weird that we didn't have dessert, but we stopped by at Princi in Soho on the way home where they now have these gorgeous little "Italian kisses" - they're satisfyingly crisp on the outside, but lovely and chewy within. As usual for Princi's sweet stuff, they're a rip off at £1.20 for 3, but they're so good that we keep going back for them despite our principles.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Racine, Knightsbridge

Onglet a l'echallot

Not only is Racine terrific, but its set price lunch and dinner menu is a bargain at £15 for 2 courses or £17.50 for 3 courses. And, it feels exactly like being in Paris. What more do you need to hear?

In a lovely, busy little room with brown leather banquettes, mirrored walls and wooden floors, we eat classic Bourgeois French cooking as we watch the street crowds pass in droves on their way to Harrods. I know where I'd rather be.

Chef Henry Harris trained with Simon Hopkinson before setting up his "neighbourhood restaurant", Racine, where he has developed his traditional and robust style, with top quality cooking and ingredients at affordable prices. It's taken me too long to make it to Racine, but it may swiftly become a new favourite.

From the set price menu we enjoy a silky salad of duck confit in a mountainous, peppery jumble of mixed salad leaves, as well as a simple, salty creamed smoked cod's roe on toast with soft boiled egg and pickled cucumber.

Duck confit salad

Smoked cod's roe on toast

While the fillet of mullet, flageolete and fennel salad sounds appetising, we've heard good things about the steak at Racine (its famed Cote de Boeuf for 2 is sourced from O'Sheas) so we can't go past the onglet a l'echallot which is succulent and pungent with caramelised onions, creamy mash and a rich, beefy jus.

The creme caramel ice-cream is ok, but I still can't believe I didn't take up the option for the Pouligny Fermier (a firm, crumbly goat's cheese, carrying no supplement on the prix fixe menu).

Service is excellent, and the wine list extensive. There's really nothing else to say. If it's a short rendez-vous with good French cooking you're after, Racine is the ticket.

Racine, 239 Brompton Road, South Kensington, SW3 (Tel: 020 7584 4477)
Racine on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Kopapa, Covent Garden

Coconut sticky pork ribs

I absolutely love The Providores - its flat whites and sweet corn fritters have saved my life on many a (slightly hungover) Sunday morning. I love Peter Gordon's creativity and his skillful ability to show why "fusion" food, in the right hands, is anything but a dirty word. So I was sure I would be equally enamoured with his newest restaurant, Kopapa, in Covent Garden.

Kopapa is an all day cafe and restaurant, specialising in small dishes and sharing plates, but with some mains thrown in. And Kopapa is interesting and different. And good value. I quite liked it. But more in a slightly-luke-warm-and-lacking-in-the-expected-raptures way, at least for dinner. For me, Kopapa's brunches hold more appeal.

At dinner, I was certainly in fabulous company. I visited on a blisteringly cold winter's evening last month with Gourmet Chick and An American in London - both of whom have beaten me to the punch with their reviews. [Star Award for the biggest holiday period lazy-arse goes to the GD. On the other hand, I was extremely efficient at sleeping in and reading recipe books on the couch with a constant supply of chocolate at hand - thanks again, Mum for the Haighs.]

The menu is extensive - not only does each item sound exotic and enticing (sometimes more than it actually is), but there are so many pages of items to consider that it took us some time to focus our thoughts. 

The duck liver parfait - although
for some reason, I've focussed on the flat bread

Butternut squash

Duck breast

We start with a dense, creamy duck liver parfait, cleverly caramelised on top, with sweet and sour chutney and billowy sheets of grilled flat bread (£5.00). Wedges of butternut squash are crumbed in spices and cumin, deep fried and topped with a generous splodge of coconut cucumber raita (£4.20). A slightly bland smoked magret duck breast was saved by some tangy goats curd, beetroot confit and diced pickled pineapple (£6.50).

Exotic aubergine

If you weren't told what the above dish was, you'd never guess it was plain old aubergine. Here it's chargrilled and turned into exotica with tamarind caramel, coriander, pickled ginger & za'atar (£4.80). It looks the part, but the fact I can barely remember what it tasted like exemplifies some of my reservations about Kopapa - I love the sound of everything, but I'm not sure all the effort is coming through in the taste and textures in any memorable way.

Tuna tartare

Parmesan & bone marrow on toast

A delicate arrangement of sesame infused tuna tartare is livened up with soy wasabi tapioca, crispy lotus root and shiso (£6) - it's lovely. Parmesan and bone marrow sauce on toast with horseradish (£5.20) was also good - indulgent and rich, with a neat little punch. Glistening, tender coconut pork ribs are sticky and gloriously messy - one of my favourite dishes, and the most gluttonous.

Pork belly

Although our waiter wondered whether we'd get through it all (are you kidding?) we decided to share one main dish and, if you're only having one, of course you make it the crispy pork belly, right? (£15.80). It comes with a smooth, thick almond skordalia and buttered kale with salty moromi miso and a tarragon dressing. Keh? Never mind - the pork belly is pleasingly fatty with crispy - to the point of hard as marble - crackling, but nothing extraordinary.

Chocolate brownie

Orange and almond cake

The desserts were, for once, contenders for my favourite dishes of the evening. A warm chocolate brownie with "golden crunch" ice-cream is decadently creamy with crispy honeycomb bits (£5.80). And if you ever doubted our enthusiasm, see An American In London's fork diving for the pud before the photo shoot has commenced - a delectable, uber moist orange and almond cake with passionfruit custard is a cheeky mix of tart and sweet (£5.80).

Like at Providores, there's a good wine list to work through. With a bottle of red wine, our bill for 3 came to £109 (or £36 each) - a very reasonable price for the quality and volume consumed. And the "small plates" bear decent portion sizes too.

Soft boiled eggs with Vegemite soldiers

I felt the Kopapa love a lot more when I visited for a lazy Sunday brunch this weekend with friends Mr and Mrs P. The breakfast/brunch menus are very similar to those at The Providores - including such famed staples as the Turkish eggs from changa restaurant in Istanbul - 2 poached eggs with whipped yoghurt and hot chilli butter (£6.50), as well as the interesting sounding chorizo hash and rocket with fried egg and salsa verde (£7.80).  The fry ups look and smell terrific - and Mr P claimed it was some of the best scrambled eggs, bacon and tomato he's had in the UK.

My oozey, soft boiled eggs with long, buttery Vegemite soldiers (£5.20) were the perfect salty remedy for a big night previously. So simple, but they do it perfectly. However, TPG and Mrs P, who thought they were going for a healthy option with the porridge, blueberry compote and creme fraiche (£5.00) were disappointed. So creamy and sweet, this was more like a buttery pudding with all the creme fraiche already mixed in (and there was loads of it), and too much sugary compote on top. They would have preferred the compote and creme fraiche were on the side to add to taste.

While this could have been a downer, the Kopapa staff quickly turned the situation around completely by impressing with their perfect handling of the issue - when they noticed these dishes had barely been touched and enquired if all was ok, TPG and Mrs P explained politely why the dish wasn't what they had been expecting and the Kopapa staff promptly took it off our bill (which we didn't ask for) and said they really appreciated the feedback. Faultless customer service in a week when this has been a hot topic in restaurant circles (thanks to a thoughtful article by restauranteur Russell Norman, of Polpo and Polpetto) - and for that alone I feel all loved up and more likely to return. Oh, and for the terrific Monmouth coffees - my flat white was just as good as at The Providores (high praise) - and you don't have to queue for it! (yet).

The fit out at Kopapa is simple, but certainly held more charm when it was buzzing over our Sunday brunch than it was over dinner in earlier days when it was still drawing in customers and battling grizzly weather. Hopefully, Kopapa benefitted from being one of the few decent places open for a casual bite over the Christmas period and picked up some extra custom. I have a feeling it will be popular, and will probably only improve with time.

I love Providores and the work of Peter Gordon so much, that I lament writing anything that's not completely raving mad about this new venture. I may not be in a huge rush to go back for dinner just yet, but for breakfast or brunch, it's a great addition to the neighbourhood and I welcome another well made Monmouth coffee to fold.

Kopapa, 32 Monmouth Street, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9HA (Tel: 020 724 06076)

Kopapa on Urbanspoon

You can see my earlier review of Providores here.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Malmaison Hotel & Brasserie, Farringdon - & one of the best burgers in London

Donald Russell 35 day aged entrecote

During a week when snowfall in London brought flights to a painful standstill, our city weekend break at the Malmaison Hotel in Farringdon was a little piece of utterly relaxing bliss. The fact that it houses the largely undiscovered gem that is the Malmaison Brasserie was just another bonus along the way.

I love staying in hotels. I love the fact you can mess the bed up and someone makes it for you while you're off having breakfast. I love the big fluffy towels that I don't have to wash. I love any shower that isn't our crappy shower at home. Our night at Malmaison was just a brief change, but it felt like a rejuvenating holiday - without having to spend the night sleeping at Heathrow under space blankets wondering when we'd get on the next flight out of there.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...
The view from our room at Malmaison, overlooking Charterhouse Square

Best of all, the Malmaison Brasserie is just downstairs. The only thing I recalled about the brasserie before going there was that its burger made Young & Foodish's list of top 10 burgers in London (at number 4). Of course we had to have it.

The brasserie's location right by the Smithfield meat market is a clue to head chef, John Woodward's, passion for quality, local sourcing. All beef is sourced from Donald Russell who selects only grass fed, naturally reared beef, which is matured for a minimum of 28 days in Aberdeenshire. Cheeses are sourced from La Cave a Fromage and oysters are from Maldon Oysters. The list goes on.

Salmon & fried baby squid

Boudin noir with crispy poached egg

My seared, marinated salmon is perfectly cooked and moist, with ringlets of tender, fried baby squid and roasted hazelnuts (£7.25). TPG has the rich boudin noir with silky champ and crispy poached egg (£6.95). Both dishes are immensely enjoyable and the quality is clearly there.

The 250 gram entrecote is dry aged on the bone - tender, pink and sweet, it even came with some rich bone marrow on the side, and a smashing bearnaise (£20.95).

The excellent Mal burger

Which brings me to the excellent Mal burger - a 250 gram patty of ground beef with Gruyere, bacon, pickle, tomato and onion on a toasted sesame bun. It comes with homemade fries for £13.95. Lovely, pink and juicy on the inside, crunchy and well caramalised on the outside; it is indeed one of London's best burgers. Terrific stuff.

Creme brulee with a madeleine

Baked white chocolate cheesecake

To finish, a creamy vanilla creme brulee with a spiced madeleine combined 2 of my favourite sweets - both elements were quite lovely on their own, although putting them together doesn't really work as a combination. A very decent baked white chocolate cheese cake was sweet, smooth and dense. (Both desserts are £5.95).

The decor lacks some character. Despite that they've gone for dark tones and subdued lighting to create a slinky, stylish look, the brasserie has not quite shrugged off that feeling of being in the basement of a boutique hotel. But it's ok. And service is of a friendliness and quality to match the food. The private butcher's block room, with its exposed brickwork and long wooden table, would (I imagine) be a great nook for a large dinner party.

The brasserie also offers a set price menu - any 2 courses from the a la carte menu for £21 or any 3 such dishes for £25 (only very few dishes carrying a supplement).


From there, it was just a short toddle upstairs to our spacious room complete with fluffy carpet, chaise longue for reclining with a good book, dressing table (I totally want one), flat screen TV, wifi and a lovely, deep bath. The powerful shower with its big shower head is also great, and the toiletries at Malmaison deserve a special mention - they smell divine. Even better that the packaging requests that you take them home, so we happily obliged. There's also a decent little gym downstairs, which I tried for about 5 minutes and TPG for longer.

Any criticisms? There are no fluffy dressing gowns. This is a not a small thing for me - I love a big, fluffy dressing gown. If I had one, I'd be wearing it right now. And the mini bar is not amazing, but I never use it anyway. These quibbles are all I can think of - I loved the hotel, and the brasserie, and the location is terrific, with the Smithfield meat market, St Johns, Vinoteca and North Road Restaurant all within a few minutes walk. The short break has inspired me to do the whole city break thing more often - a change can be as good as a holiday, without all the travel hassles.

If you feel like some of the same, I recommend the Malmaison hotel, but I also recommend trying the brasserie for the steak and burger in particular, regardless of whether you're stumbling back to a bed upstairs.

Malmaison, 18-21 Charterhouse Square, Clerkenwell, London, EC1M 6AH (Tel: 020 7012 3700)

Greedy Diva was a guest of Malmaison, however room rates generally range from £205-£250 per night, with suites from £295-£475.

Malmaison Brasserie on Urbanspoon

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