Monday 28 February 2011

Spice Market, Covent Garden

Jean-Georges Vongerichten has brought the concept behind his fantabulously fitted out Spice Market in New York's trendy Meatpacking district to London's new W Hotel. It's all there, albeit on a less jaw dropping scale. Think less soaring ceilings, more views across the back streets of Leicester Square.

There's a geographically diverse array of spicy South-East Asian dishes - not so much authentic as interesting - in a setting that has an appealing blend of swanky modern and exotica - colourful spice jars line the walls, and there's a long, funky sushi bar, striking fittings and dark wooden furnishings. Something about it still feels a little bit clinical (that lurking London "chain" feel that never seems to be a problem for New York restaurants), but perhaps it depends on where you're sitting and how much it's buzzing.

A group of 6 of us with much to celebrate found ourselves working through the "family style" sharing plates this weekend. There were hits, there were misses.

One thing Spice Market does well is its sauces. An endless onslaught of light and crispy papadoms is brought to our table and continuously refreshed as we dip enthusiastically into a seriously addictive kasundi - the sweet chilli jam giving serious oomph to the light tomatoey sauce.

We splatter charred chilli rubbed minced beef, tender and rare, with the accompanying lime before dipping into a mildly tangy Thai basil dipping sauce (£11).

Warm salmon spring rolls taste overly fishy but there's a generous piece of salmon in each bite and the accompanying 5 spice emulsion is a treat (£9.50). The lobster summer roll with a light Thai sriracha emulsion is bland for your £15 (I wouldn't bother with it again), even if the tart lime jelly gave it some lift.

My favourite of the starters is the refreshing and spicy Thai slaw, with Asian pear, crispy shallots and mint (£8).

The presence of pineapple in the sweet duck curry divided the troops, like all Hawaiian pizzas before it, but the plentiful strips of moist and meaty duck were excellent (£19).

Crispy salt and pepper brill with Thai basil and lime is like an exotic fish and chips, but is lacking some zing (£18). Pork vindaloo is terrific - a dry and spicy mix of satisfyingly juicy, porky chunks with fragrant basil and garlic (£14). However, best of the lot is the char grilled chicken, wonderously tender and moist, with a zesty Kumquat lemongrass dressing (£19).

Service is friendly and aims to please.

At the end, there was some confusion over the tip. The receipt had a 12.5% service charge in the usual place, which we paid, only to be informed later by our waiter that the charge does not go to the waiters as a tip - it covers the fee for the room, the use of the credit card facilities and all the other stuff that you presume is covered by the not insubstantial price of the food. A tip, we were informed, would be extra.

We left thinking this was outrageous, although the PR for the the restaurant has since informed me that 85% of the service charge does go to the front of house staff (an amount which they say is standard across the industry). Seems some communication wrinkles to the staff are still being ironed out in these early days.

Spice Market is good, although at these prices it does feel a little bit like style over substance (with the exception of the pork vindaloo and the char grilled chicken). Being at least £35 per head (with minimal drinks) + service, I want to be just that little bit more impressed.

Spice Market, W London, 10 Wardour St, W1D 6QF (Tel: 020 7588 1088)

Spice Market on Urbanspoon

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Hotel du Vin & Bistro, Cheltenham - Gluttonous Travels in the Cotswolds

It's still winter. STILL!! It feels like we've been wearing half a dozen layers of wool, 3 jackets and Uniclo's finest HeatTech for at least 9 months and yet here we are, surrounded by grey skies and drizzle (STILL!), and a second round of head colds is starting to make its way around the office. Will it ever END?? (*clutches forehead*)

Fortunately, I'm off to Australia in a few days (*hearty evil cackle*, see ya later) but sometimes it's easy to blow off the winter blues a little closer to home. I am a summer person (with the freckles to prove it), and so I am, by necessity, a big believer at laughing in the face of winter by treating oneself to a little bit of luxury just when the chill is starting to get you down. That would be right about the time the Tube stops running leaving you standing in the rain with a newspaper on your head for the 2nd week running. I want an escape to the countryside, a long, boozey pub lunch and - if you're lucky - a bath like this in your bedroom...IN YOUR FACE, WINTER!

Aaah, that bath. I actually fell asleep in it.

We were recently invited to stay at the Hotel Du Vin in Cheltenham. A hotel with a reference to wine in the title had me intrigued from the outset, as did the location in a Regency spa town, in the beautiful region that is the Cotswolds.

First, our room. So spacious and stylish, with the bestest, most comfortable bath I've ever been in, hands down. It's like the thing has been bespoke tailored to fit your body then injected with relaxation fluid. It's in the bedroom, rather than the bathroom, so don't be shy.

Only the first half hour of WiFi is free and the TV is quite small. But the bed and the shower head are massive - so it easily balances out favourably. I also loved the huge windows which maximised the sunny spells.

The wine theme is evident throughout the hotel - each room is named after a wine maker, there are black and white wine themed photographs lining the hallways and even a chandelier made of wine glasses (I want).

The bistro is cosy and romantic - eat great quality, rustic fare by candlelight, surrounded by wine bottles. The style is classic French bistro but, aside from a few staples, the chef at each Hotel du Vin has the freedom to put his own stamp on the menu, while following a local and home grown philosophy.

There's a lovely seafood sharing platter, packed with fish, calamari, whitebait and pickled vegetables for £14.95. The tartiflette is a gorgeously creamy mix of reblochon cheese, cream, potato and lardons - perfect for dipping the thick cut slices of fresh, white baguette (£6.50).

The battered fish and chips are fine (£11.95), but nothing special - although I do love the cute little wire rack holding the crispy thick cut chips. However, my wondrously tender and rich coq au vin was superb - up there with the coq au vin I had at Pastis in best ever league. Oomph!

Another highlight is the fabulous platter of desserts - romance on a plate. There's a champagne jelly with strawberries, a tart passionfruit semi freddo, meringue with cream and strawberries and a heavenly chocolate mousse encased in a white chocolate casing, topped with fresh raspberries.

The food is excellent value, but the bistro also offers special deals - like a 2 course meal for 2 with a bottle of wine and coffee for £35.

There's even a sleek looking tasting/wine pairing room for small groups, and a heated cigar shack out the back.

And there's no way I was leaving without checking out the hotel's spa - try the steam room, or book a massage to really get that winter detox happening.

The Hotel du Vin is located in the Montpelier district of Cheltenham. It would be a great base for exploring the countryside, Bath and Stratford Upon Avon. IN YOUR FACE WINTER!

Hotel du Vin & Bistro Cheltenham, Parabola Road, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL50 3AQ (Tel: 01242 588 450)

Greedy Diva was a guest of the Hotel Du Vin & Bistro, but our beautiful room would have cost approx £165 per night during February 2011.

Thursday 17 February 2011

Les Deux Salons, Covent Garden

Paris brest

Despite being a food blogger with acute restaurant obsession disorder, my friends always pick better restaurants than me. I'll spend hours researching the perfect place, invite a gaggle of friends and brace myself for the imminent praise of my unbelievable, sleuth-like knowledge of all that is hot on the London restaurant scene. Without a doubt, said restaurant will serve up a mole that looks and tastes like a festering cow pat or the waiter will call someone's new girlfriend "sir" - and the dream goes crashing out the window.

Determined to bring this to an end, I booked a table for 4 at Les Deux Salons - a new French brasserie by the brains behind Arbutus and Wild Honey, which has been welcomed to the fold with near universal praise.

Sadly, it turned out to be amateur hour.

First of all, they lost our booking that I had made weeks before and confirmed a few days earlier. But they sat us up at the bar, where we swilled on martinis while overlooking the hubbub in the atmospheric dining room - so all was easily forgiven.

Then an unsmiling maitre d' led us to our table. And led us, and led us.... Until we found ourselves in the cheap seats in a slightly separate, empty room overlooking the good bit. Strike 2.

Fortunately, our partners in crime are always a party on legs, so the occassional passing of tumbleweed didn't matter nearly as much as it could have done. We moved on and ordered our wine.

Unfortunately, LDS no longer sells the 2005 Savigny-les-Beaunes advertised on the menu. Our waiter suggested swapping for the 2006 which, as he pulled the cork (I kid you not) he assured us was not nearly as good as the 2005 but was just about a pass...*trails off, shrugs*. The commentary had all the effect of adding vinegar to the glass - nothing like starting a bottle of wine with the feeling that you should be drinking something better.

The food was (overall) ok, but nothing more. Best of the bunch among our starters was a warm, sweet onion tart with crumbled goats cheese and beetroot (£6.95) - it was beautifully caramelised, with a fabulous goats cheese and just the right amount of softness and crunch.

We couldn't really see the point of the bland quinoa salad (which we'd only ordered on the back of an earlier review) - the mix of broccoli, preserved lemon, italian sweet and bitter leaves and grilled rapeseed oil (£6.95) made little impact.

The foie gras terrine (£13.95) was all a bit "meh", but redeemed by a gorgeous ravioli of tender rose veal, fresh goats curd and cavolo nero (£8.95).

Our USDA rib eye for 2 (at just under £48) - was an average piece of meat, with no sides. When it arrived looking rather lonely, we ordered a lovely creamy, gratin which was quickly delivered. But it would have made sense for the waiter to point out the need for greens or potatoes earlier. And while I don't object to spending a small fortune on a magnificent steak at Hawksmoor or Goodman, the only respect in which this one was in the same league was the price. Nice enough but not really good enough.

The burgers were much better, but even these were not without a hitch. The chef cooks them medium-rare (which would suit me), but our waiter declined to allow our friends to order theirs well done. They did ask, and I suppose they could have forced it if they really insisted, but should people really need to fight with a waiter for their preference? Over a burger?

Anyhoo, the burgers were excellent (juicy and flavourful) and came with thin fries and a generous green salad for £12.

We finished with an enjoyable Paris brest and a very vanilla-ey creme brulee which was a bit sloppy and ho hum.

My excitement about Les Deux Salons didn't match up to reality - what was all the hoo-haa was about? Perhaps they were having a bad night, but life is short - I'll take my chances elsewhere next time I'm picking the venue.

Les Deux Salons, 40-42 William IV Street, London, WCN2 4DD (Tel: 020 7420 2050)

Les Deux Salons on Urbanspoon

Monday 14 February 2011

Greek feasting - Greedy Diva Happy Snaps #2

Any truly greedy person appreciates the sight of oodles of plates spread out on the table before them. One can convince oneself that one is merely pecking, when in fact one is consuming quantities that would put a sumo wrestler to shame.

This is just layer number 1 of the first course of starters that you get at the simple Greek taverna, Vrisaki. Yes, another layer of plates is piled on top. And that's before you move on to the fish and meat courses. It's about quantity rather than quality, and all served up by a bevvy of heavily moustached waiters with leather vests, which adds to the charm.

Another thing that makes me happy is baklava. Vrisaki's is good. Really good. But not nearly as good as TPG's Mum's or TPG's Yia Yia's. I know what side my bread is buttered on. (And it's true).

Vrisaki, 73 Myddleton Road, Wood Green, London N22 8LZ (Tel: 020 8889 8760)

Vrisaki on Urbanspoon

Thursday 10 February 2011

Kyashii, Covent Garden

Dragon roll (left) and spicy tuna roll (right)

When you're invited to review a restaurant, one of the dangers is that you might not like it and will wind up feeling like the rude guest at a dinner party: "Thanks for everything, Madge, but the steak was overcooked and what's with the Gravox?". Another nightmare is that one of your favourite restaurant critics comes out and slams the place shortly before your dinner date. If you don't agree, you risk looking like you've sold out for a free dragon roll.

And then that little voice that is the calming inner TPG in my head tells me not to think so much - just go, eat, write what you think. Oh. But of course.

Kyashii is like a space ship. A space ship with fish tanks. It's ultra modern and white and smooth and shiny and bright. You would be forgiven for wearing sunglasses at the table - and it's the kind of place where people probably do. Some will love the design, others will hate it. It's not really my thing, but it might be yours.

Marina O'Loughlin was scathing about the service last month. And her report clearly did the job - someone at Kyashii has issued some seriously stern orders to get the troops into line. As soon as I enter (2 hours ahead of when I am expected due to a mix up about the booking time) I am greeted by big smiles and warm welcomes. This is a different planet from the treatment Marina received earlier.

Pork gyoza

As invited guests, The London Foodie and I are given excellent, knowledgeable service all night - as you would expect. However, everyone seems to get a friendly greeting and waiters are evenly stationed around the place to watch for attention needing moments. There's still a weak link or two among the assortment of service staff, but things have clearly stepped up quite a few notches. The barman upstairs is genuinely friendly and fun - and makes a mighty fine lychee martini (and yes, I can also vouch for the watermelon and raspberry champagne cocktail), if you're in the market for a frilly drink on your way in.

Seafood tartare with truffle oil

Down in the restaurant, minced pork gyoza (4 pcs, £4.80) are plump and juicy, and the enticing smell of the truffle oil on a mixed seafood tartare (£9) wafts gloriously towards us before we see it coming. I am wary that the truffleyness might overpower the seafood, but the silky texture and creamy luxuriousness of the fish works well with the sensual pleasures of the heady truffle oil.

Scallop carpaccio

Next up, the scallop carpaccio with fresh mango and strawberry and yuzu dressing (£11) - it looks like Jackson Pollack has been at work, but I love fresh, raw scallops and these beauties are hard to criticise. The dish works well with the tangy yuzu.

Kushiyaki skewers

A selection of kushiyaki skewers (ranging from £4 - £5.50 for 2) includes salmon, unagi eel, yakitori chicken and, my favourite, the shiitake mushrooms. Most are fairly average, but the smoky shiitake mushrooms are the highlight.

Lobster tail tempura

The long 8 piece dragon roll (£13.50) contains a tempura prawn wrapped in thinly sliced avocado. I have been disappointed by dragon roll before (everywhere that has it always recommends it as their "must have" dish, and Kyashii is no different, but they usually leave me wondering what all the fuss was about). This one, however, hits the mark - it's elegant with a lovely deep savouriness that reminds me of a smoky green tea. It does have a bit of an X factor. The spicy tuna roll (8pcs, £11) with minced tuna, spring onion and spicy mayonnaise is also good.

Kyashii tempura

The Kyashii tempura (£16) is a bountiful selection of light and crispy king prawn, squid, white fish, aubergine, shiitake mushroom and sweet potato. It's light and crisp, with good quality fillings cooked adeptly. Same goes for the luxurious lobster tail tempura with green tea powder (£18.50).

Beef fillet with dynamite sauce

From the main course selection, we share the grilled black cod fillet with saikyo miso marinade (£22) and the pan fried beef fillet steak strips with "dynamite" mustard sauce, served with shredded dried chilli and lotus root chips (£18). I really enjoy the cod, but find the steak completely overpowered by the blast of dense, hot mustard sauce.

Banana and chocolate spring roll
Cheese cake

For dessert, the banana and chocolate spring roll is disappointing - doesn't ring my bell at all, despite reading like the perfect combo of sake-soaking fare. But the zingy, creamy passionfruit cheesecake is absolutely lovely. I didn't really peruse the wine list, sticking to some excellent sakes (including a cloudy, unfermented one) which, from memory, seemed reasonably priced.

Make no mistake - Kyashii is not cheap. However, you could eat amply for around £40-£50 per head plus drinks/service. Some of the more fru fru embellishments don't always work out, but other dishes are right on the money. Just don't forget your shades.

Kyashii, 4a Upper St Martins Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9NY  (Tel: 020 7836 5211)

Kyashii on Urbanspoon

Greedy Diva was a guest of Kyashii.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Passage 53, Paris

Bresse chicken coated in Perigord truffle

Aaah, Paris, je t'adore!

And so begins and ends my command of the French language. Although I am also very good at ordering a baguette.

Recently, TPG and I escaped the harsh, grey English winter, for the harsh, grey French winter in the big city of bistros, brasseries, cafes and croissants. We embarked on an apartment exchange with a Parisian couple who have a place right in our all time favourite part of Paris - in a street off the pedestrian market strip that is Rue Montorgueil - and about 100 metres from the cafe where we eat breakfast each time we go to Paris. We do like our rituals. So, with free accommodation, we found ourselves with all the more to splurge on a big night of fine dining. Bonjooooouuuur Paris.

When Le Chateaubriand cruelly shut its doors for private functions on the very weekend of our visit, there were big frowns in Chez Greedy. Tears were almost shed. (It was, afterall, source of one of my favourite meals of 2010.) However, the blogging world put on its big red cape and came to the rescue with a plethora of suggestions, which led to us investigating Restaurant Passage 53 courtesy of a tip from Gourmet Traveller.

Passage 53 is not a place you're going to notice in the ordinary course of your romantic strolls through the city of love. It's tucked away in the oldest covered passage in Paris, and is a tiny, unassuming narrow strip of a restaurant with only a handful of small tables. Having opened in April 2009, it has already accumulated a Michelin Star (with surely another one on the way), and it's absolutely magnifique in every way.

Nothing about the simple, neat decor belies the ravishing nature of the food. We opted for the 8 course €85 menu degustation, although there's a less pricey menu dejeuner for €45 (be warned that the price will still stack up once you factor in wines). Personable manager Guillaume Guedj guided us through our wine selection, hitting on a sublime bottle of Henri Boillot Meursault to start, and later shifting us seamlessly on to a glass of something big and red and beautiful (no notes, no idea but very happy) to complement the main course.

Everything about this visit was a complete delight - the joyful food, the friendly service, the fabulous wines, the delicious surprises on every plate.

Chef Shinichi Sato (formerly of 3 Michelin starred Pierre Gagnaire and L'Astrance) offers whatever is fresh and seasonal at the daily market - there's no menu. You surrender to wonderment and the chef's creativity.

The place is so small and intimate, I decided not to take photos of everything, and I'm not going to describe it all in minute detail. To do so would spoil the unexpectedness of everything you need to experience for yourself at Passage 53.


Little things like Cevennes onion with thin slices of the best melt in the mouth chorizo I've ever eaten, gorgeous droplet-like oysters in a creamy bed of smoked haddock, apple and caviar, and a perfectly cooked piece of turbot with sweetly caramalised endive and melt in the mouth foam. (It wasn't the best looking of the dishes, but perhaps that's why I spared a second to photograph before diving in.)

Bresse chicken

One highlight (of many) had to be the Bresse Chicken with such satisfying depth of flavour, and so moist and succulent, that the memory, the taste, is imprinted in my taste buds weeks later. TPG, never one to deprive himself, paid a €50 supplement for 2 truffle courses and his chicken came coated with thin, pungent slices of Perigord truffle, the prized "black diamond" of the truffle world. It was perfection.

The amazing fillet mignon could only be explained if it had been injected in delectable cream before being served up before us. If you had a care in the world, you would feel it melt away with each luscious bite. I desperately never wanted it to end.

The elegant assortment of desserts were scrumptious, but perhaps the only disappointment of the night was that TPG's second course of Perigord truffles came plastered over one of the sweet dishes - a combination which we already knew from our truffle hunting and wine trip to Crillon le Brave was not for us. But by then, we were already smitten.

I absolutely loved every minute of Passage 53. I can't wait to go back. Bien sur.

53 passage des Panoramas, 75002, Paris (Tel: 01 42 33 04 35, closed Sundays and Mondays)

Sunday 6 February 2011

Barbican Lounge, Moorgate

I once backpacked around Europe for 9 months, in between finishing university in Australia and joining the grey suited rat race. It took me to all sorts of weird and wonderful places, and taught me much about the world and about myself. Like that I will travel 3 days out of my way to have bolognese in Bologna. Or that I will not sleep if there is an unsmiling dwarf with a glass eye manning the hotel reception at night. Most of all, I learned how much I love my own bed and a decent shower. And that girls get fatter when travelling and boys get skinnier. (At the time I blamed the olive oil, but there are enough photos of me tucking into Pavarotti sized bowls of pasta to suggest otherwise.)

Walking into the Barbican Lounge brought all these memories flooding back. Because the room looks almost exactly like a German youth hostel I stayed in once. It has some cool bits - like the funky round light fittings (which I believe is a "light installation" from Beirut designers PS Lab) and retro Scandinavian chairs. But the harsh linoleum floors and canteen like tables keep conjuring up images in my mind of scary, stony faced backpackers chain smoking in the corridors of a YHA in Berlin. I was going to have to remind myself not to stuff breakfast rolls up my t-shirt on the way out.

It is, however, in keeping with the architectural design of the Barbican Centre (sometimes described as a "concrete ziggurat") - there's not much you can do about aluminium framed windows. However, it kind of grows on you - a bit like the building itself - and there's a fabulous big balcony with seating outside which will be tremendous for al fresco eating and drinking in summer.


I was invited down to try the Barbican Lounge right about the time TPG and I were planning a mid week visit to the cinema (The Black Swan - weird but I liked it). The cinema at the Barbican is excellent - it's big with lots of leg room and the row in front of you is low down enough that it really wouldn't compromise your view if Marge Simpson sat in front of you and put a hat on top of her beehive.

The Barbican Lounge, it turns out, is a really good place to share a bottle of wine and a few small plates before you hit the movies or the theatre or whatever other cultural enlightenment you're there for. TPG and I reminisced about Australian wineries over a bottle of The Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne (McLaren Vale, £26), while sharing 5 small plates and desserts.

Braised oxtail with pappardelle

The rarebit cheese fondue (£6) was excellent, with thick chunks of toasted bread to be dunked into the smooth, gloriously cheesy mix. The rich and succulent five hour braised oxtail with hand cut pappardelle (£5) was my favourite dish, while potato dumplings with roasted garlic aioli and smoked paprika (£3), sweet cinnamon infused lamb meatballs with spiced squash (£5) and plump and crispy devilled whitebait with aioli (£3) were also tasty and great for sharing (even if the cinnamon in the meatballs was just a tad heavy handed). I'm only sorry they were out of the sausage rolls with cauliflower pickle (£4), which would have been my first choice.

Chocolate fondue

We finished with the fantastic Victoria plum and almond tart with vanilla bean ice-cream (£5) - a perfect balance of tart and sweet, and seriously addictive. A lovely, rich chocolate fondue (£5) came with an assortment of marshmallows, brownie chunks, lemon cake, fresh pear and strawberries for dipping. Yummo.

Chocolate fondue

Ok, it's not a romantic date place (at least until summer heats up the balcony), nor is it likely to blow your culinary senses. But it's really tasty, simple, easy going food, with a decent wine list and it's great value. If you work nearby, or are doing something artsy at the Barbican Centre, you'll find something to tempt you over a nice bottle of wine at the Barbican Lounge.

Barbican Lounge, 1st floor Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London, EC2Y 8DS, (Tel: 020 7382 6180)

Greedy Diva was a guest of the Barbican Lounge.

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Le Boudin Blanc, Mayfair

Dover sole meuniere

I've always wanted to eat in that cute little pocket of Mayfair that is Shepherds Market. There's a hubbub of pubs and bistros and arty looking boutiques, and it's perfectly positioned near the Curzon Mayfair for a drink or a bite before a movie. It's one of those places I often walk past on my way to somewhere else, thinking "I must come back here" and then I promptly forget all about it.

And then the lovely R popped the question to my amazing friend A, A said "yes", and there was serious champagne to be drunk. They chose Le Boudin Blanc, a favourite little restaurant of theirs in the heart of Shepherds Market, which promised to provide a touch of Paris in London - with ex-Le Gavroche head chef, Nicolas Laridan, at the stove to boot. Yes please.

Le Boudin Blanc is all very cosy and romantic inside. The downstairs room is probably the most atmospheric, but there are 2 rooms upstairs, looking down onto the surrounding laneways, with wooden tables, candlelight and stone floors. It's warm and wintry and quaint. The place has character. And its nice to be spoken to in French for a bit - even if you don't know what it means, it sounds good and you can pretend you are Audrey Tatou.

They see the way to my heart early on - I agree to switch tables before my friends have arrived and am rewarded with a bubbly kir royale. Magnifique.

From a classic selection of starters like moules marinieres, escargots and duck egg with Morteau sausage, I choose the excellent salmon tartar (£8.50) with lemon oil, dill, white radish and a mustard mayonnaise - it's silky and GORGEOUS. TPG's fish soup (£6.10) is cheesy and lusciously rich - another hit. Perhaps owing to the enthusiastic consumption of champagne up to this point, I can't remember what the other starters were, but I do recall the general sentiment of approval and that the boys were talking about Star Wars. Or Return of the Jedi. Or one of those other crap movies that all boys like.

A big, fleshy Dover sole meuniere (£20.50) is swimming in butter, although beautifully moist, and it's the most filling thing I've eaten in a while. The 10 oz rib eye steaks (£19.50) are big and juicy, although TPG's looks like its more fat than meat, which loses points, but the flavour and execution is otherwise good.

So full are we, that TPG and I share (share!) the scrummy tart tatin with vanilla ice cream - a little sloppy, but by now, so are we.

If you don't have the time or the budget to whisk your beloved off to Paris for the weekend, take him/her for a candlit meal at Le Boudin Blanc. It's rustic and informal, but with just the right amount of French finesse and champagne to make you feel like you're sitting in a bistro in the Marais watching the sun set over the corner patisserie.

Expect to pay about £35-£40 per head for 3 courses, plus wine and service.

Le Boudin Blanc, 5 Trebeck Street, Shepherds Market, Mayfair, London, W1J 7LT (Tel: 020 7499 3292)

Le Boudin Blanc on Urbanspoon

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