12 August 2012

all eyes on london

With the 2012 Olympic Games drawing to an end, all eyes have been on the grand historic city that is London.  I have been fortunate enough to have called London “home” six long years ago.  Needless to say I was brimming with excitement to have the opportunity to visit London again pre-Olympic Games at a time where it was buzzing with electric atmosphere.  My first visit since I left, the time was spent with my favourite combination of great friends and delicious food.

An old favourite…

Gourmet Burger Kitchen on Urbanspoon
Gourmet Burger Kitchen is my favourite burger place in da world!  I am not sure if it is because I discovered it at a time when the food in London was more or less mediocre, or because it is a kiwi initiative, but I can honestly, hand on my heart say, I have never been disappointed by a GBK burger.  Six years on, it had felt like there was a GBK on every corner, having expanded greatly.   It confirms that Brits have embraced these burgers.  When arranging a catch up with some old colleagues, I put in the suggestion for a meal at GBK Canary Wharf.  As a spice lover, I opted for the ‘Habernaro’ – a beef burger with fiery tomato & habanero jam, mozzarella, salad & mayo.  It had the right amount of heat and was perfect washed down with a glass of New Zealand Pinot Gris.

Some new experiences…

Gaucho Grill on Urbanspoon
I had heard a lot about Gaucho Grill when I worked in London from colleagues who often frequented the local Gaucho for a Friday lunch.  Never having experienced these Argentinean steaks, it was on my list of things to try in my return visit to London.  Fortunately after arriving late in the evening, thanks to our wonderful host, we managed to have a late dinner at the infamous Gaucho Grill complete with a view of Tower Bridge!

The service was friendly and impeccable.  They brought out the steaks to show us the different cuts and provided recommendations for the cooking time variant to each cut.  We chose the 300g Rump cooked to medium rare with smoked garlic hollandaise sauce, chips finished with deep fried thyme and the ‘Gaucho Burger’ - A blend of all four cuts of beef with smoked bacon, cheddar, brioche bun and tomato  & chipotle chutney  - cooked to medium. 

 The Rump was unfortunately disappointing as it was tough and chewy.  I am talking a minimum requirement of fifty chews before being able to swallow – not the melt in your mouth variety of steak that I had high hopes for.  The Gaucho Burger on the other hand was mouth wateringly delicious.  The pattie was bursting with flavour, no doubt from the combination of four different cuts and made up for the disappointing steak.  I would visit Gaucho again if not for the burger but perhaps for a better choice of cut, not to mention the ambience, atmosphere and view from Gaucho Tower Bridge.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal www.dinnerbyheston.com
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal on Urbanspoon
After speaking to some friends who had recently been to ‘Dinner by Heston’, I thought I would use my London visit as an opportunity to dine at his Knightsbridge restaurant.  Again with the help of my wonderful host, we secured a table for six.  Not until I researched for this post did I realize that this restaurant has in fact one Michelin Star.  My intention for choosing to dine here was for the quirkiness of Mr Blumenthal himself and not for the accolades it has received albeit unknown by myself at the time.  Funnily enough this foodie wannabe has never dined at a Michelin Starred restaurant so I am pleasantly surprised to have ‘Dinner by Heston’ be my very first. 

The menu, besides obviously giving the options of dishes, also contained a section called “Sources of origin” that provided an explanation for the inspiration of the dish.

I started the meal with the infamous ‘Meat Fruit (c.1500)’, mandarin, chicken liver parfait and grilled bread.  It looks like a mandarin but is anything but.  The chicken liver parfait is deliciously light and creamy and went well with the opposing texture of the grilled bread.  The waiting staff luckily made the point that the stalk and leaf were not edible!  I wonder how many people have tried to eat it before they began warning patrons!  All in all, the perfect start to the meal that I had decided on before I stepped foot in London.

Another notable starter was the ‘Hay Smoked Mackerel (c.1730)’, lemon salad, gentleman’s relish & olive oil.  A perfect, refreshing combination to begin a three-course meal. 

I thought I was adventurous in my main course selection opting for ‘Spiced Pigeon (c.1780)’, Ale & artichokes.  To my knowledge, I have not tried pigeon before and I was pleasantly welcomed with the flavours and tenderness of the pigeon.  It was cooked medium rare and the warming spices were challenging to my taste buds.  The artichokes complemented the pigeon in texture and taste.  

After seeing this dessert on the menu, it only took me one second to decide this was the one for me ‘Brown Bread Ice Cream (c.1830)’, Salted butter caramel, pear & malted yeast syrup.  I am a huge fan of salted caramel hence the reason it did not take me long to choose this dessert.  Unfortunately it did not meet my expectations being more on the salty than sweet side.  The dessert confused my palate, perhaps as I expected something completely different to meet my taste buds, however this could be what Mr Blumenthal wanted to achieve.  Despite my disappointment, it was not enough to dampen the experience.

Another dessert, the simply named ‘Chocolate Bar (c.1730)’ with passion fruit jam and ginger ice cream was an exquisitely smooth and shiny chocolate bar.  It was so good; good enough to even lick the plate!  No joke – it did not stop one of our party of six from licking their plate in this fine dining restaurant, this person will remain nameless.
Upon returning to Melbourne, a timely article appeared in the Melbourne newspaper The Age that showed ‘Dinner by Heston’ ranked in the top ten restaurants in the world.  It was the highest new entry, coming in at number nine in San Pellegrino Worlds 50 Best Restaurant Awards 2012.  Mr Blumenthal’s infamous three Michelin Star restaurant ‘Fat Duck’ was notably missing from the top ten.  This affirmed that ‘Dinner by Heston’ was a great choice to highlight my London culinary experience.  The service was outstanding and unpretentious, the setting was stylish and sophisticated and ultimately a most delicious dining experience was had.

Ella’s Bakehouse
The Cupcake Bakehouse on Urbanspoon
When Lorraine Pascale known in the UK for her show “Baking Made Easy” appeared on Australian TV as a guest on Masterchef, I immediately wanted to visit her bakehouse in Covent Garden.  Unfortunately finding the little cupcake specialising store was not as easy as expected, but with the assistance of wi-fi from the Apple store I managed to locate it and indulged in a ‘Malteser’ cupcake.  It was everything I had hoped it to be and more and very much worth the half hour search!  I now place Lorraine Pascale in the same cooking heroine category as Nigella Lawson.

High Tea at the Langham www.palm-court.co.uk/#/afternoon-tea

Set in one of London’s oldest hotels, The Langham’s Palm Court, was the venue of choice for a highly anticipated high tea.  I love high tea and what better place to experience it than its birthplace.  The setting was beautiful, the décor was contemporary and stylish, the armchairs were comfortable and cleverly placed so that the experience felt private and intimate. 

But what about the food?  Unfortunately the best part of the food was its presentation.  This was one of the cases where the looks did not match the taste.  It didn’t even come close.  The bread was stale and there were no notable highlights.  Although it was not all bad, the few positives were unmemorable and definitely dominated by the negatives.  The service was not as polished as you would expect for a restaurant that is a part of a five-star hotel.  I would not hurry back to the Langham for high tea, however would definitely give a different venue another chance if I visited England again.

Spoilt by old friends…

And finally the time in London was completed with old friends treating us to wonderful hospitality and feeding us with local English fare.

My friend Ivonne’s husband Zubin who is conveniently a trained chef took the day off work to cook us a three-course lunch.  We had spiced chicken tenderloins with mango chutney to start.  Grilled Salmon fillet with roasted potatoes, tomatoes, onions and sautéed mushrooms.  And chocolate cake with strawberries to finish.  A meal that was most memorable for delicious flavours as well as invaluable time with most hospitable, lovely friends.

Our friends Dom and Greg treated us to a seafood feast, rising early for the infamous Billingsgate Market.  We had oysters to start, a flavoursome creamy mussel soup, garlicky pan-fried scallops and homemade battered fish.  What better way to catch up than over a great meal with great food and great company.

Lastly, forget Dinner by Heston, how about Dinner by Nutter, our host for the week.  One of my oldest friends put together a hearty meal for our last dinner in London.  It included roast lamb, roast chicken, delightfully crispy potatoes in goose fat, cheesy veggies and roasted veggies.  A perfect meal to end a perfect week in a city that will always hold a special place in my heart.

1 comment:

  1. It’s been a very long time since I visited London, 1990 I think. I remember nothing of food so it couldn’t have been as memorable as yours. I do remember the clock Tower and a few other places though. It looks like the time to revisit :)

    When I saw the height of the burger at GBK I thought who has the big mouth to open that wide! Then my mind rushed to that corner of my brain where I stored a picture of all crumbled up burger made by Gorge Calombaris in one of the early Master Chef Australia. I’d prefer one in whole like this and find another mean of attacking it :)
    The Gaucho burger sounds delicious. I never thought of mixing different cuts of meat in a burger before. In fact it may be good for any recipe requiring mince meat.

    As for dinner made by Heston Blumenthal, my goodness, the mandarin looks like it has just come out of a wax mould and it’s only good for display. I was watching his tv show last year and he does make many clever dishes, I guess no one would ever thought of such as using the rooster testicles to make something like jelly beans. One woman spewed it out when told what she had eaten :)
    I think the pigeon is very good choice as it is safe from the look of it. I’d love to try it too. And all the desert, they look so beautifully crafted and sound so delicious. I’m sure Heston wouldn’t mind for all the plate to be licked cleaned, it’s a great compliment for his dishes.

    The cup cakes! How they look so beautiful. Did they taste good all over or just the icing? :) I never heard of Loraine Pascale before, now I do and will try one of her recipes soon. Thanks.

    You are a very lucky person to have male friends who can cook like real master chefs.
    The chicken tenderloin with mango chutney sounds good. The scallops look so fresh and delicious. In fact they look like one of Heston’s dishes :)

    Once again, I enjoyed reading and learning about new foods and cooks/chefs you posted in your blog. You are also a great photographer. You definitely have all the attributes to be an excellent food critic or journalist.