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Experience The New French Wave At Bibendum

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EXPERIENCE THE FRENCH NEW WAVE AT BIBENDUM

At Bibendum, the wine list is as big as the Michelin Man depictions dotting the room. Housed in the former country headquarters of famed tyre company Michelin, the recently revamped restaurant takes fine dining one level higher with Claude Bosi’s reimagined French classics.
Bibendum, Michelin House, 81 Fulham Road, London SW3 6RD. Phone: 020 7581 5817

READ TOMOÉ HILL’S STORY

The first thing you notice on going through the glass doors at the top of the marble staircase leading to the dining room at Bibendum are the fat men – everywhere. You see fat men on posters, in sculpture, immortalised and resplendent in deep blue stained-glass windows. Or rather, one fat man – the Michelin Man – Bibendum himself. He is the mascot of the famous French tyre company, and the building housing the restaurant was the first UK headquarters of the company.
Bibendum, recently revamped under chef Claude Bosi, terrified me slightly when I thought I might write about it. After all, this is the man who, according to Wikipedia, went on Twitter to call a restaurant reviewer a “c___”. Precisely, “You’re a c___ and this is personal” over a remark that the crab was overcooked. Crab was on the lunch menu. I shivered. Claude Bosi was visible in the kitchen.
bibendum french restaurant chelsea london claude bosi
There are some things that I gravitate to, food-wise, that I am not able to get in UK restaurants very often. Sweetbreads are one of these. A staple of any good French menu – as with other offal – that does not make frequent appearances here. I understand. Offal is, well … offal. I recently asked for offal at a meat stand at my local farmer’s market. The young, bearded man smiled uncomprehendingly. What are those? he asked. I smiled and said never mind, but France must have collectively shuddered at that moment, feeling a disturbance in the culinary force. But whenever I see it, I will order it. Veal sweetbread was there, with black garlic. On the other side of the menu, tripe and cuttlefish gratin with pig’s ear and ham cake caught my eye. Of course it would.
But before that, two amuse-bouches arrived: a miniature (real) olive tree in a pot was placed on the table, with two silver spoons that held a black olive each. Black olive ratatouille, we were told. Eaten whole – not an olive at all, but cleverly created – they broke open in the mouth, spilling out, yes, a herb-fragrant liquid ratatouille. A silver basket of bread arrived with a white butter dish shaped like a tyre, complete with small Michelin Man sitting on the edge. I wondered if I could steal it, the way the famous Stork Club’s ashtrays were once frequently stolen as souvenirs in New York. Two egg cups were set in front of us, each holding a halved eggshell full of a lightly curried pea velouté, with al dente peas, firm and sweet, contrasting with the lightness of spice.
bibendum french restaurant chelsea london claude bosi
My sweetbread arrived, beautifully caramelised with dots of black garlic and yuzu gel, topped with lavender edible flowers on the plate – rich and melting, with lightness from the citrus. My companion had scallops, almost raw, sliced thinly with a strawberry sauce vierge. The berries were barely sweet, the tartness offsetting the scallop’s natural sweetness instead. He also had the Cornish turbot Grenobloise, a thick, snow-white piece surrounded by a butter and caper foam, again, the precision cooking here understanding that it should be done in a way that suggests just under, so as to properly taste the fish. Never mind that the online menu says “My mum’s…”, I suspect the tripe and cuttlefish gratin is also Bosi’s idea of a joke about the Bibendum building’s history. If so, I approve thoroughly; those two ingredients can be – and often are – mishandled, resulting in something that tastes like…tyres. Here, they are au gratin, caramelised and tasting like roasted pork, with an undertone of the sea. Accompanying this were the pig’s head cake, two thick, savoury slices with crisped edges that frankly, I would eat any time of day, and a small dish of dressed parsley salad, the super-green bitterness balancing the robustness of the others.
Dessert beckoned. I don’t want any, said my companion. I glared. We ordered chocolate soufflé with basil ice cream and the wild strawberry vacherin with aged balsamic. The soufflé arrived with the Michelin Man in white on the top, holding a cigar. A cross was swiftly cut through him, a spoon of basil ice cream dropped in. His was a ball of spiky meringue, dusted lavishly with dried strawberry powder. The vacherin inside treated almost like a frozen custard, tangy-sour and flecked with vanilla. As we left, I looked up at Bibendum, perched on a bicycle, enormous and happy. I knew exactly how he felt.
Photographs by Steven Joyce (courtesy Bibendum) 
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Duck-and-Waffle-band

Duck and Waffle Offers Enviable Food And Views

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DUCK AND WAFFLE OFFERS ENVIABLE FOOD AND VIEWS

Duck and Waffle is a 24-hour restaurant on the 40th floor of Heron Tower in Bishopsgate. It offers stunning views of London and both sweet and savoury waffles, eggs, savoury meals, cocktails, wine, and dessert.
Duck and Waffle, 110 Bishopsgate, London EC2N 4AY

READ TOMOÉ HILL’S STORY

If you suffer from vertigo, I advise you to read no further. But it would be a shame, because you’d be missing out on some of the best waffles in London. So perhaps you could do what I do—being mildly afflicted with vertigo myself—and simply concentrate very, very hard on those waffles. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Arrive at 110 Bishopsgate, Heron Tower, to be precise, and stand at the little roped-off door while someone confirms your reservation. They will tell you to turn right, to the glass double-glazed elevators, and press the button—there is only one place to go, once you enter that elevator. No stops—straight to the business of eating with a view. This is the bit where I firmly advise you to press yourself against the wall, grip the handrail, close your eyes, and concentrate. But if you love the little stomach-rush of excitement of an ultra-fast elevator, open them and marvel at speeding above London (the two run at 5mps, according to the website, fit 16 people each, and take 40 seconds to reach the top). You will hear the exclamations from your dining companions—don’t worry, you’re almost there. Feel the smooth halt, open your eyes, take a breath and exit.
Once you do, follow a little corridor to the first room where you will be greeted by someone who leads you to your table—this always takes longer than it should, because the floor-to-ceiling glass windows guarantee you will be looking out at the sight of London below you. Even for me, this is a must—despite being practically in clouds, it’s a sight that suspends all that queasy vertigo, since the floor is firm under your feet, and there’s so much else to take in. The décor is ultramodern glass, marble, and steel with soft touches of dark wood. The main dining room is surrounded with those windows, and there is an open kitchen to watch chefs at work.

The offerings here do not disappoint. Are you a sweet or savoury person? They accommodate both.

Unless you’re a completely jaded diner, you will be taking pictures of London before you or keep looking out of the window while you’re seated. Did I mention Duck and Waffle is open 24/7? Go at the most beautiful hours: the middle of the night (you’ll have to call for those reservations) or first thing in the morning (book for 6 a.m. onwards online). No urbanite is immune to the beauty of the city at either time. But down to business. Depending on what time you come, there is an appropriate menu: breakfast, brunch, late night, all day, not to mention separate ones for dessert and drinks.
But waffles: this is what you come for, day or night. All this may, I admit, be driven by the longings of an American who sometimes dreams of pancakes and waffles. But the offerings here do not disappoint. Are you a sweet or savoury person? They accommodate both. The house special is the namesake Duck and Waffle, with duck leg confit, mustard maple syrup, and duck egg—rich and crispy, with a touch of sweet from the syrup. For those who want a heftier waffle, there is the Ox Cheek Benedict waffle, with regular egg, braised ox cheek, and Sriracha sauce. And if you like the sound of that, don’t miss the brunch menu’s Spicy Ox Cheek Doughnut with apricot jam and smoked paprika sugar—I love these even more than the waffle, I confess.
Waffles should never be anything but sweet, I hear you say? Very well. Then satisfy your sweet tooth with the luscious Toffee Apple waffle: Granny Smith apples with maple sauce and praline ice cream—best eaten watching the sun rise over London—or the wildly indulgent Full Elvis: that’ll be peanut butter and jelly, banana brulee, and Chantilly cream. Try to stop yourself mumbling “uh-huh”, King-style, between bites, while your companions dissolve with laughter. If you can’t quite handle that kind of glory, then opt for the milder but no less delicious Caramelised Banana waffle, with a homemade Nutella-like spread, peanut crunch, and vanilla ice cream. But you know you want the Elvis, if for nothing else, to do the sound effects.
But what will I drink? you cry plaintively. Start with a Breakfast Fizz—orange Grey Goose, pink grapefruit and burnt toast infusion. Then have another while you contemplate London from on high, and just maybe, consider another waffle. Do it for me. And don’t forget to uh-huh
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Fortnum-band

Indulge In Easter Sweets From Fortnum & Mason

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INDULGE IN EASTER SWEETS FROM FORTNUM & MASON

WORDS BY TOMOÉ HILL

There are gold-foil wrapped eggs filled with violet and rose creams, and others with sea-salted caramel truffles.

There are many variations on the chocolate Easter egg: the ubiquitous Cadbury Crème, mini pastel sugar shelled, the endless parade of those produced by other branded confectionary: Maltesers, Lindt, Smarties, and if you’re in the market for something, well, unique … there’s the very limited Buckfast egg with mini bottle of said beverage. And a lighter. You just need to order it from an off-license in Northern Ireland.

But if you’re looking for something elegant and edible, come to Fortnum & Mason. At any time of year, when you walk through the polished brass doors off Piccadilly, there are numerous piles of Marc de Champagne and gin and tonic truffles, mixed fruit and nut chocolates, violet and rose fondants, and the most intense high cocoa content bars—the latter, in some mysterious packaging brainstorm, all seemingly named by a goth philosophy major with a penchant for horror movies: Into the Shadows, The Descent To Darkness, and Beyond The Abyss (100 per cent—so presumably Nietzsche was an 80 per cent kind of guy).

Fortnum & Mason
Fortnum & Mason Decorated Milk Chocolate Egg £65.00

But back to Easter: the first thing you see on adjusting to the mass of shoppers is a giant rabbit. Not the one from Harvey (unless you’ve been drinking at lunch), but a smiling chocolate one, two feet tall, maybe more. Several of them line a curved display shelf, next to dark, milk, and white chocolate eggs, framed in Fortnum’s green-tinged blue boxes bound with pale gold ribbon—the most famous blue next to Tiffany’s. There are small, medium, and large versions, the smallest packaged three to a box, each one decorated with coloured sugar flowers. The medium-sized are identical to the small, but each filled with chocolates matching their shells. There are gold-foil wrapped eggs filled with violet and rose creams, and others with sea-salted caramel truffles.

If you’re looking for a family-sized egg (we won’t ask if it’s for one person or five), there is still something for you: a 1.2kg egg, filled with almost every kind of chocolate Fortnum’s sell, plus mini rabbits and chicks. There are speckled hollow “goose” eggs, six to an open tray, like you’d get from a farmer’s market, and a “Splendid” egg, the inside covered in edible gold leaf and filled with strawberry and champagne truffles. If you didn’t want goose eggs, there are six praline-filled ones in an authentic egg box, or fruity coulis eggs, arranged in a larger shape, each filled with raspberry, strawberry, lychee, and passion fruit. There are even plain chocolate eggs that come in real white china and gilt cups.

fortnum and mason
Fortnum & Mason Marzipan Hot Cross Buns £7.50

But for variation, there are other, equally delightful sweets: marzipan shaped and decorated to look like mini hot cross buns, homemade marshmallow pops covered in brightly coloured candy sprinkles, fruit rock candy in the shape of eggs, instead of the usual stick. In the cakes and biscuits section, highly polished wooden shelves are full of cylindrical mustard-yellow tins holding cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg spiced biscuits with currant and almond, round and rectangular boxes showing others in the shape of rabbits, flowers, eggs, sheep, and carrots, beautifully hand decorated and iced. Each shelf is stacked and arranged to overflowing, and even though all around you shoppers are filling their baskets, amounts appear never to grow less, being constantly and discreetly restocked in the blink of an eye.

fortnum and mason
Fortnum & Mason Easter Tea £9.95

For the Fortnum purist, there is of course a special edition Easter tea: in a pale blue patterned tin, it holds a Ceylon blend with marigold and cornflower, scented with orange blossom. On the high jam and preserve shelves, alongside the regular offerings of numerous marmalades, there are peach and mint preserve, Amaretto butter, and cherry and almond curd, for eating on toast, with roast meats, or simply with a spoon, on one’s own. There are even, for the very luxury-minded, a Champagne and chocolate box, holding a customised bottle reading “Happy Easter”, hidden drawers pulling out to reveal 32 gold-foil wrapped solid chocolate eggs, and an “F&M” stamped wicker hamper, full of alcohol, an Amaretto sponge pudding—and naturally, lots of chocolate. You could, of course, being creative, create your own Easter gift: purchase one of the teapot-printed blue Bags for Life and go round to each counter, choosing bars and eggs, truffles and enormous rabbits, not stopping until the bag is full to bursting. Don’t forget a chilled bottle of Champagne from the wine section downstairs, then take a walk to nearby Green Park, find the shade of a tree and proceed to spend a very delightful afternoon of indulgence.

Fortnum & Mason, 181 Piccadilly, St. James’s, London W1A 1ER. Phone: 020 7734 8040

 
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The-Nightjar-band

Nightjar Bar Could Be From Another Age

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NIGHTJAR BAR COULD BE FROM ANOTHER AGE

WORDS BY TOMOÉ HILL

The elaborate cocktails have ingredients like fermented oolong tea and ylang-ylang.

A barely signposted bar or restaurant in London is either a source of delight or frustration; does one really want to spend time walking back and forth a street, trying to discern where the entrance is? It’s enough to make you give up and find somewhere that doesn’t require a challenge to find the door. Unless, of course, you’re trying to locate Nightjar. Its sign is a simple etched plate bearing its name and a small bird, the one the bar is named after – who happens to be nocturnal. Descending the steep (it will at least feel so if you happen to be, like I am, wearing heels over 4 inches) steps to the subterranean depths, you are greeted with dark wood, large etched glass panel décor, and low lighting. It could be from another age and is a beautiful change from the overly sparse urban style of many other London bars.

nightjar bar london shoreditch hackney
Photo by Paul Storrie

It is fairly early in the evening, but there are still a good number of people already fully enjoying fantastic – by which I mean elaborate, almost unreal – looking cocktails: the woman I am seated next to is sipping from a large seashell; the group of young men further down have an even larger owl-shaped pitcher between them and progress swiftly from the male banter stage of drinking to singing, and then to the semi-tearful declarations of eternal bro-hood. The tables are small, very small, but it’s charming: my companion and I lean forward more intimately, and this is the kind of conspiratorial pose that makes for delightful talk. The menu of cocktails is immense and divided into sections: Pre-Prohibition, Prohibition, Post-War, Nightjar Signatures, and Sharing. There is also food: forgive me for not remembering a single bite beyond the taste of pimentón in the Spanish tapas-style dishes. The focus here, as my memory concurs, is the abundance of imagination in each glass.

My companion is not a drinker of elaborate cocktails, being more of a purist, so he opts to drink Champagne the entire night; it is just as well, for I don’t think I could recall an evening’s worth of drinks for two people in detail. After much deliberating, I opt for The Winter Queen as my first drink, which comes in a large Mason-style jar, sealed with a metal straw emerging from it, a singed piece of wheat sticking out, and decorated with a likewise flame-treated slice of orange, cacao nibs and spice, adhered with some sort of sugar syrup that I lick off my fingers – not in the interest of titillating writing but of necessity. It is a punch-like concoction, but not achingly sweet (all Nightjar cocktails are well-judged in terms of sweetness and alcohol in spite of the complexity of ingredients), which I drink with some rapidity. Next comes the Laverstoke Julep, with gin, geranium and rose syrup, fermented oolong tea, Champagne, Muscat and lemon. It comes in a pewter mug and looks for all the world like a grownup snow cone, topped with pine nuts, a giant piece of rosewater Turkish Delight and fresh mint.

nightjar bar shoreditch hackney london
Photo by Addie Chinn

A Boulevardier follows, with rye, Courvoisier, absinthe bitters, Dubonnet, Amaro and, alarmingly, the ears of what was christened the “dog-bear”, a chocolate animal secured to the bottom of the glass that emerges slowly as the drink disappears: according to someone on Twitter who saw a photo like “Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now”. By this time, the two-hour pre-live music slot we reserved has expired, so we are kindly moved to an alcove table, hidden away from the rest of the bar – secretive and full of possibility. I decide on a final drink before we leave: the Moulin Rouge, a deep coupe glass filled with a frothy raspberry-coloured blend of vodka, gin spice infusion, Ratafia de Bourgogne, Maraschino, lemon, egg white, and the most wonderful thing of all, ylang-ylang, perfuming the cocktail with a heady floral scent. I sip slowly as we listen to the night’s act warming up (there is different live music each evening, and you can book tables for music or prior). By the time we get up to leave, the bar is completely full, buzzing with chatter and each table full of drinks. It only remains for me to navigate the precarious wooden stairs again – I leave to your imagination, the grace and ease in which I ascend back into the night.

Nightjar, 129 City Road, London EC1V 1JB. Phone: 020 7253 4101

Feature photo by Jerome Courtial. All photos courtesy Nightjar.

 
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The-Wolseley-band

High Tea And Hobnobbing At The Wolseley

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HIGH TEA AND HOBNOBBING AT THE WOLSELEY

WORDS BY TOMOÉ HILL

The hum of a place such as The Wolseley is both detached and intimate, says Tomoé Hill.

“I would always sit in 1A,” darling, said the woman at the table next to us in the battered fur and tiara, was-it-fake-or-not? Hermès Birkin bag by her side. She was regaling her two American (L.A., bien sûr) dining companions about the now defunct Concorde, before launching into an anecdote about Jude Law, perhaps the most mentioned celebrity in such talk – and they were lapping it up, gasping – every time they said really, I imagined it floating out of their mouths followed by several exclamation and question marks. Is it that Mr. Law is especially chatty, or is he the most reliably believable star one could say they have met? I sat there wondering as I sipped my Pommery in the black and white tiled and pillared grandness of The Wolseley, haunt of the famous, aristocratic, and those just pretending to be one or the other.

Such places are curious, in that they always attract the eccentric; the ones so eccentric that they will even turn heads here, where if you throw a cork, it will probably hit someone with a story about Lord Lucan (our tiara-wearing neighbour had one of those, too) or a relative who squandered the ancestral fortune on a pet parrot, leaving the rest of the family to scrape a generous living by writing gossip columns for Tatler.

the wolseley high tea lunch dinner london piccadilly

Post-Christmas, the décor was still laden with holiday touches; namely, a gigantic tree decked in silver ornaments that was somehow attached to a high wall. Underneath, an immaculately groomed woman stood in the highest of heels and a fur that probably cost more than the black market value of all my internal organs combined, taking pictures on her phone. A scan of the menu revealed a mix of Grand Café, haute comfort – the kind of food that reminds some people of the nursery or simpler days – and the fare of those who lunch professionally: schnitzel, kedgeree, soufflé, chopped liver, caviar, chopped salads, soups with elaborate French names, lobster and chips. High tea is on offer, as well as a separate selection of patisserie and ice creams, and there is a small enclosed bar section should you wish to drop in for an espresso or a glass of wine. A chess set lay nearby, and I have no doubt it was not there simply for decoration.

The service here is impeccable – I’m sure they must be used to the exacting whims of some of their clientele. A starter of chopped liver arrived on a plate in a generous ball, aromatic with spring onion and thin crackers on the side. A silver container of thin-cut, extra crispy and perfectly salted frites and one of their specialities, the soufflé Suisse, which seems to be a double-baked soufflé in rich cheese sauce.

the wolseley high tea london lunch dinner piccadilly

The woman at the next table took out a lorgnette, a gesture that caused heads not-so-discreetly turning at other tables, and my companion to whisper excitedly, “Look! A lorgnette in the wild!” We eavesdropped on their conversation again, this time revolving around her reeling off the shops and clubs on and near St. James’s Street as if she were a tour guide. All this time, a steady stream of customers came through the door, some with reservations, but most without, hopefully waiting for a table, probably fresh from shopping on nearby Bond Street (it must be said that I, alas, had not come from there, only across the street where we had been at the Royal Academy). We ordered coffee and cake in order to linger in the atmosphere; a generous slice of Sachertorte arrived, almost too chocolatey-rich to finish (almost).

The hum of a place such as this is both detached and intimate: you can pick out random statements, listen in on entire dramas, or ignore everyone but your companion(s) completely. The trio at the next table got up to leave, full of loud faux-teary goodbyes, group selfies, and exchanging of contact information, hunched over iPhones. The woman cut a strange figure in her ’90s club-aristo outfit and dishevelled hair, and I wondered if she indeed lived above an exclusive club like she said, if she was in fact a true monied eccentric now living on the peripheries of a once-grand lifestyle, or something else completely, perhaps a Hollywood script-worthy con woman taking in wide-eyed advertising executives from L.A. – it’s the kind of scene that could only happen in a place like this, and just as satisfying to the keen observer as the food on offer.

The Wolseley, 160 Piccadilly, St. James’s, London W1J 9EB. Phone: 020 7499 6996

 

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Balthazar-Boulangerie-band

Visit Balthazar Boulangerie For Flaky, Buttery Croissants

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VISIT BALTHAZAR BOULANGERIE FOR FLAKY, BUTTERY CROISSANTS

WORDS BY TOMOÉ HILL

You won’t find the so-called “low-fat” variety at Balthazar Boulangerie.
There is much ado about the croissant: should it be straight or curved, crisp or chewy, eaten plain (naturellement), with jam (perhaps), or butter (absolutely not, you heathen)? These questions do not arise in France, because the croissant, in almost all its various small village and large city iterations is near perfect: crisp and flaking on the outside from the high butter content, slightly chewy on the inside. Everything changes outside of its natural home, however. They are rarely as they should be, and sometimes you even have the horror of a “low-fat” croissant. Any purist would agree none is better in this case. But where do you go in London to find the real thing? Balthazar Boulangerie, of course.
Tucked just outside the Market of Covent Garden, the tiny bakery sits next door to Balthazar brasserie. You might be able to fit about six people inside tightly, along with a handful more if seated at the two short counters along the window and wall. It is no-nonsense; almost every other bit of free space is dedicated to its wares: large rounds of house sourdough and grain loaves, freshly made sandwiches, pain de raisin, almond and regular croissants. Glass cases show off tarte tropézienne, a golden brioche and cream filled sandwich cake topped with crystal pebbles of sugar; caramelised canelé, a tiny rum-flavoured pastry, cooked to a crisp chewiness on the outside with an almost custard-like inside. I know from sad experience that these delights are near impossible for the amateur to make; I once had a canelé tin with which I spent hours attempting to recreate what I’d eaten, every batch resulting in tears and burnt cakes. I have wisely given up and gone straight to the experts since. There are small fruit crumbles and tarts, only sweetened by tree-ripe fruits and the barest hint of sugar; financier, a bite-sized almond loaf cake, also in a pale-green pistachio variation, just right with an espresso.
balthazar boulangerie covent garden london
They also provide a London delivery and pick-up service for advance ordering; you may look on this as both a blessing and a curse. Thankfully I am out of central London range for delivery. Unfortunately, I am only a Tube ride away from pickup. Their celebration cakes for ordering are a wonder: tarte au citron with or without meringue; coconut and yuzu cake with passion fruit curd; chocolate and raspberry mousse cake; a macaron topped red velvet cake frosted with vanilla and mascarpone frosting; chocolate praline mousse cake, topped with homemade marshmallows, or guimauve; salted chocolate caramel tart; fraisier, a strawberry, sponge, and vanilla cream cake, and tarte au pommes, which I have ordered a couple of times, and which I think must be one of the nicest sweets one could possibly consume: their version is described as “a short pastry tart filled with almond frangipane, apple compote and finished with slices of Pink Lady apple”. On opening the heavy yellow cardboard box, the waft of baked, caramelised apple hits you, along with the nuttiness of almond, both paste and toasted slivers that cover the top generously, and what seems like the spicy tang of Calvados; I am still unsure if this is part of it, but on eating, that flavour comes out more—it could well be a trick of mind played by the taste buds, overwhelmed with earthy, nutty, orchard flavours. The apples themselves are halves sliced paper-thin, fanned elegantly over the frangipane, delicately baked so they brown ever so slightly where they are exposed.
balthazar boulangerie covent garden london
This offering comes in two sizes, 20 and 25 cm: I would be remiss if I did not tell you to always order the larger, for the joy of having leftovers is to open the box at unsociable hours of the night and be caught, sticky-fingered and full-mouthed by a sleepy-eyed partner who then joins you. It of course goes without saying that if any were to survive the night, it goes well with both breakfast tea or coffee, being an accommodating kind of patisserie. This is what the gourmand would refer to, pleased, as economy.
But what of the croissants? I hear you exclaim. They are what I buy when I miss Paris badly; because I know the first twist and crackle of the crisp, buttery roll will satisfy my memory of holidays past. The first bite—and every one after—until it is gone, will satisfy the rest of me.
Balthazar Brasserie and Boulangerie, 4-6 Russell Street, Covent Garden, WC2B 5HZ 
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Afternoon Tea At Brown’s Hotel Is An Elegant Delight

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AFTERNOON TEA AT BROWN’S HOTEL IS AN ELEGANT DELIGHT

WORDS BY TOMOÉ HILL

Sandwiches, hot tiny scones and yellow clotted cream and strawberry jam accompany the wonderful teas at Brown’s Hotel.

It was only upon meeting my two young nieces for the first time that I realised what it must feel like for the amateur juggler—that queasy sensation of keeping multiple balls in the air—in trying to keep them amused and occupied. On the day of their arrival, I spent what seemed an infinite amount of time internally panicking, minding them as their grandmother shopped for cups in the china department of Fortnum and Mason, the small pair gaily (and literally) dancing around the high-stacked tables. I returned home that evening as exhausted as if I had run a marathon, and with a renewed awe of parents. Then I worried not a little into the night at what a disaster the following afternoon would bring: a real English afternoon tea! I thought. Of course they’ll love it! Now, I just considered every little thing that could go wrong—spilled hot drinks, trampled cakes, too-formal surroundings, and the inevitable broken china.

The next day found us in another institution, the black cab (in the rain), complete with swearing East End driver (Bloody construction—pardon my French, ladies. Giggles from the girls, who had no idea what bloody in that context was, but the ability to recognise a swear word is innate in all children). The first sign things might at least start well came on exiting the cab. We pulled up at Brown’s Hotel on Albemarle Street, where a liveried doorman, holding an umbrella, opened the doors. We walked through to a carpeted room scattered with small pristine covered tables and comfortable winged chairs, some sofas and a piano, elegant but unfussy, formal with no pretension. Uniformed waitstaff silently moved from table to table, bearing large silver teapots, delicate flowered china cups, triple-layered stands holding sandwiches. A large case was filled with rainbow coloured cakes and patisserie, each transferred with care onto plates.

afternoon tea brown's hotel albemarle street mayfair london

We settled ourselves into a couple of chairs, the girls into a corner sofa, observing the other guests in the room: tourists, schoolchildren taken for a special treat, friends getting together. I ordered afternoon tea for four, and although we had sheer perfumed Darjeeling and bergamot-fragrant Earl Grey, I requested hot chocolates for the girls. Cocoa? They enquired. Not quite, I said. They melt real chocolate down; it isn’t powder. Two large china cups were placed in front of them, a third full of thick, glossy dark chocolate. The waiter leaned over slightly, in his hand a tall, thin silver pot with a long spout. What poured into the cups was a hot, rich, cream-heavy milk. The children watched with open mouths, impressed at the height and the spectacle of it. Then they stirred, and tasted, wide-eyed, sip after sip, until cups were drained, another two were brought, and the ritual repeated. Then the first of the tea trays arrived, finger sandwiches with crusts off, naturally: smoked salmon and cucumber, beef brisket and gherkin, egg and cress. The middle tray held puff pastry rounds with prawn and avocado, lightly curried Coronation chicken, and whipped goat’s curd and chili jam. As soon as a plate was empty, it was quietly removed, and returned again full.

After its eventual removal, it was replaced with a plate of hot tiny scones and dishes of yellow clotted cream and strawberry jam, the children shown how to split and fill them. It always amazes me, the childhood stomach’s capacity to protest at and consume what does and does not please it; two bites of broccoli and no more is a familiar lament, but here it seemed the eat as much as you like policy was going to be tested to its limits. But there was a degree of moderation, although of naturally selfish purpose: there were cakes yet to be had— tiny bites of them, a couple of mouthfuls each, almost petit fours. Lime and kumbawa cheesecake; strawberry and basil tart; a triple-stacked pastel-coloured macaron tower: orange, lemon, and lime; carrot and walnut cake; dark, flourless chocolate and raspberry—something—it didn’t matter what, just that it melted unctuously and satisfied thoroughly. The children, completely relaxed, impeccably mannered at being in such a place, chattered quietly as they ate and watched everyone, insisting on saying thank you to everyone as we left, and as a crowning touch to a wonderful afternoon (with no broken china), got back into another black cab, door held open again by the doorman as we drove off into the evening London rain.

Afternoon Tea at Brown’s Hotel, 33 Albemarle Street, Mayfair, London W1S 4BP. Phone: 020 7493 6020

 
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jugged hare restaurant city of london

The Game Is On At The Jugged Hare

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THE GAME IS ON AT THE JUGGED HARE

WORDS BY TOMOÉ HILL

City of London restaurant The Jugged Hare is heavy on game, with nuanced flavours.
Looking for a last-minute restaurant to book in London at the weekend is a bit like Patrick Bateman and friends doing the same in fictional NYC in American Psycho: armed with the Good Food Guide, and a laptop with tabs open to various OpenTable calendars, one feverishly skips from one to the other, cursing every time the only available table options are at 6 or 11 p.m. When you see the magic spot of 8 to 9 p.m. free, you immediately start wondering what on earth is wrong with the place for it not to be booked, and then pore over all known reviews to find out why.
I found The Jugged Hare through a small article on game restaurants. Miraculously, there were tables for Saturday night—but this may have been due to the menu. I can understand a heavy game selection, almost no vegetarian options, and a starring eponymous dish of jugged hare (predictably cooked in a large jug, not so predictably, in its own blood) will put off quite a few diners. But I am a huge fan of game, and so is my dining companion. So without much hesitation, a reservation was made.
The restaurant itself is right across from the back of the Barbican and is a cosy but large pub/gastropub, all dark old wood and décor consisting of stuffed heads of things, and non-stuffed things … just hanging around, literally—that’s the game being aged, or “hung”. When I was there, a mallard, hare, and something else—possibly woodcock—were decoratively, if a bit gruesomely, hanging. It was interesting enough that the husband of the distinguished academic-looking older couple seated across from us went to take a picture after their meal. When we arrived, it was hot and buzzing with conversation, tables packed close together, bottles of ale and wine teetering on edges, waitstaff rushing back and forth with iron skillets, thick wooden boards covered in roast meats, and those cream coloured, tall jugs that held the hare.
Seated, we perused the menu, but the thing that leapt out (is this a bad game pun? I assure you it is unintentional) at me was the game board under specials of the day. Whole mallard, red grouse, partridge, along with black pudding croquettes, some sort of liver parfait, game chips, gravy and bread sauce. I surreptitiously eyed the remains of the board of the table next to us. This must have been it, although not much remained besides a lone croquette and some anonymous claws attached to a carcass. Say what you want about the bloodthirsty nature of the carnivore, there is also something undeniable about the primal pleasure of eating such things from the wild rather than farmed into tastelessness. When it comes to food, I find the sight of a table covered in the remains of a roast bird of some sort, a fresh loaf bread, and a bottle of wine or Champagne intensely satisfactory, not just from the eating, but the rather still-life aspect of it. Dining well is akin to good sex. You snapshot random moments in your memory, and each has a beauty of its own.

Say what you want about the bloodthirsty nature of the carnivore, there is also something undeniable about the primal pleasure of eating such things from the wild rather than farmed into tastelessness.

A bottle of Château Puy Blanquet arrived, left to breathe while we waited for the board to arrive, and when it did, it seemed to fill the small table: roasts piled atop one another, a stack of breaded croquettes, another of waffled chips, two whipped and piled high mounds of parfait atop what might have been a crumbly, savoury oat biscuit. Small copper pots with long handles came separately with the sauces. There is a line in The Bell Jar where Esther goes to a Greek restaurant and says she doesn’t know what she ate, but from the first mouthful, she says she felt immensely better. We knew what it was we set ourselves upon, and it was all the more satisfying for it. The flavours of game are nuanced, each roast slightly different. There is a deep taste to game that you either understand as a taste sensation immediately, or simply despise. It speaks to that gustatory primitiveness in us. Crisp croquettes melted on the tongue, creamy potato flecked with savoury, salty black pudding. What one starts to eat with knife and fork soon is picked up with fingers with pleasure, washed down with long swallows of dark wine: spicy, fruity, full of oak, until the last drop is gone, and all that is left on the board is that still life of wood and bones.
The Jugged Hare, 49 Chiswell Street, London EC1Y 4SA. Phone: 020 7614 0134 
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The Essential Guide To Combating A Hangover In London

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THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO COMBATING A HANGOVER IN LONDON

WORDS BY TOMOÉ HILL

A great night out doesn’t mean you have to suffer the next day. Our guide to surviving an epic hangover has you covered. You’re welcome.

Shh, not so loud, I hear you mumble in agony, sprawled face-down in a pile of empty champagne bottles, crumpled gilt-paper party favours, and clothes that definitely do not belong to you. Here we are, almost into a fresh (term to be used loosely) new day, and already presented with a problem: The Crazy-Night-Out London Hangover.

Legend has it that, up until a few years ago, D.R. Harris in St. James Street would whip you up a concoction called the “pick-me-up” – a mixture of herbal tinctures and alcohol originally created for gentlemen who may have made a bit too merry in their clubs the evening before. You could, of course, drag your half-corpse there and beg piteously for said elixir, but why not take your medicine via a more pleasurable and no less restorative medium – food?

You can start eating healthy from tomorrow.

Duck and Waffle

For the hungover who definitely do not suffer from vertigo, the only place to go is Duck and Waffle, Heron Tower (take the outside-view fast lift to the 40th floor – perhaps best not to look down), where they kindly do an all-day menu, besides ones for breakfast and brunch. You could start the New Year full of healthy resolution and order the Colombian eggs with salmon and avocado on toast, but let’s not kid ourselves: you’re here for the Full Elvis waffle or the house Duck and Waffle, the former a peanut butter and jelly, banana brûlee and Chantilly cream-loaded affair, or the latter, a sweet-savoury with confit duck leg, fried duck egg (ask for it fried on side only, lightly), and mustard maple syrup. If they’re still serving the holiday edition Milky Bar Snowball cocktail (vodka, Milky Bar advocaat, distilled lemon and Bubbles), there’s not much better to soothe the morning after. Devour everything in sight and blink painfully at the spectacle of the London skyline below your window.

Duck and Waffle, 110 Bishopsgate (Heron Tower) EC2N 4AY. Phone: 020 3640 7310

La Fromagerie

If you prefer to crawl into a place that is attached reassuringly to terra firma, head to La Fromagerie, Marylebone branch. This tiny food shop (with a large walk-in cheese room – get some truffled goat’s cheese to take away and try not to fall asleep in its cool, Zen-like quiet) has a section of communal benches (caveat: it’s always loud in that friendly, packed-together way) and a very casual but sophisticated menu: French farmhouse fruit yogurts along with the usual pastries and croissants; Normandy Suisse (like cream cheese but nicer) and Maldon smoked salmon; oven-baked kippers; and a bacon (thin and crispy) sandwich on thick unsalted buttered sourdough with homemade ketchup. Specials turn up delights like American-style buttermilk pancakes with herby pancetta, and if you turn up for lunch, share the fish, cheese, and charcuterie platters with a couple of bottles of refreshing elderflower-scented The Kernel pale ale (strictly medicinal).

La Fromagerie, 2-6 Moxon Street, Marylebone W1U 4EW. Phone: 020 7935 0341

Devour everything in sight and blink painfully at the spectacle of the London skyline below your window.

The Wolseley/The Delaunay

Care to gaze upon the rich and famous over your sunglasses while hungover? Book yourself a table at The Wolseley, a Grand Café style restaurant in Mayfair, ahead of time, then get as dressed up as best as you can with elephants dancing on your head. Swan in to your table without falling over, and proceed to eat your omelette Arnold Bennett (smoked haddock and hollandaise sauce) – alternatively the caviar omelette if you’re (a) still drunk and (b) not paying – as if you were to the manor born. If you’re like me, you’ll just eat the Cumberland sausage sandwich (or two) but go big on the drink, or fancy and comforting, at least – The Wolseley Imperial: mandarin napoleon and cognac, long espresso, hot milk topped with chocolate and whipped cream. Then follow it up with an affogato, because if espresso poured over vanilla ice cream doesn’t make you feel better, quit 2017 immediately. If the thought of the Tatler crowd is making you even more queasy but you still like the idea of Grand Hangover – I mean Café – style dining, book your table at The Delaunay, their sister restaurant in Covent Garden. It’s every bit as grand but won’t make you, in the words of a P. G. Wodehouse character, yearn for the Revolution.

The Wolseley, 160 Piccadilly W1J 9EB. Phone: 020 7499 6996

The Delaunay, 55 Aldwych, London WC2B 4BB. Phone: 020 7499 8558

Bird

Finally, if all you want (and very reasonably, too) is salt and sugar and the option to not even get off the floor, but instead have your food brought to you, Bird (Shoreditch, Islington, Camden) is your place. Fried chicken. Fried chicken and waffles. Fried chicken burgers. Waffle burgers. Fresh doughnuts. Korean fries. You can start eating healthy from tomorrow. I see you there, stirring on the floor, reaching for your phone to make your order. Excellent choice.

Bird, 81 Holloway Road, Islington N7 8LT. Phone: 020 3195 8788; 21-22 Chalk Farm Road, London NW1 8BF. Phone: 020 3195 4245; 42-44 Kingsland Road, London E2 8DA. Phone: 020 7613 5168
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Donostia-band

An Evening At Donostia

SPACE EXPERIENCE PEOPLE FOOD + DRINK VIDEO

Slide background

AN EVENING AT DONOSTIA

WORDS BY TOMOÉ HILL

The Basque tapas bar offers an intimate meal of small plates and merry, communal dining experience. When you like food as I do, while you are always happy to have your favourite comfort dishes or restaurants as standbys, you sometimes wish to find something different, to be pleasantly surprised. Even with a plethora of reviews to hand, ultimately, one never knows until they have sat down and had the experience themselves. How could it be any other way? I was having one of those “I’d like to have X, but it should be in Y setting” moments in choosing a restaurant: I wanted something casual but elegant, fun but not in a place that plays music at a level guaranteed to make conversation an impossibility and leaving minus your eardrums. Oh, and it needed to be close to where we were coming out of an evening talk on Beckett. After the usual agitated deliberating, I came across Donostia, a Basque tapas place. Now, one of the signs of a good restaurant is if you happen to turn up much earlier than your booking, instead of scowling at you and telling you to kill time elsewhere, they try to accommodate the surprise gracefully. And so when we happened to arrive over 30 minutes early, they graciously sat us down at the bar (where we originally had the reservation), overlooking an open kitchen. Donostia_003 One of the things I love about places like this is the sharing – you can’t help but become intimate over a shared meal of small plates. Add a constant but not excessive accompaniment of Cava, beer, or wine, and your voices become part of the merry, communal hum. The order is placed, and after that, a steady stream of dishes arrive: pale yellow-green Padrón peppers piled high on a small wooden board, hot from blistering and with a sprinkle of sea salt, more addictive than any bowl of cocktail nuts or crisps; prawns in garlic butter that force you to laugh and dig in with your fingers as you must peel the shells (discreet bowls of lemon water are brought, but a surreptitious licking of the fingers is inevitable); a perfect tortilla, a simple golden round of egg, onion and potato; Ibérico pork shoulder, sliced and still pink, in a Romanesco sauce so good that the bread basket empties rapidly; a ripe and high-scented goat’s cheese with fig and drizzled with lavender honey – creamy and sweet. Sitting at the bar, one can watch the ordered chaos of the kitchen at work, a small space with many chefs and staff all dancing past one another, calling out, cooking one thing, prepping another. It is theatre as much as the food that is presented. We watch a wealthy American couple marvel to each other, the wife teasingly asking the husband to open a branch in “Jersey”; two young Japanese businessmen who make it their evening’s goal to order every item on the menu; a couple behind us exclaiming at the whole hams swinging in the windows. Donostia_002 Dessert can only be ice cream for me. My companion demurs; he is full but always enjoys watching me delight in whatever I have chosen, regardless. The choices are Dulce de leche, rose petal, or Turrón (nougat). I choose rose petal – not just for the perfume connotations, but because it is hard to get rose-flavoured anything right. So often a drop too much rosewater turns something light into the most cloying of sweets. “How many?” asks the waiter. “How many can I have?” I reply gleefully. “As many as you like!” is the answer. “Two”, I say. A small white bowl appears with two pale pink scoops. The ice cream is light but creamy, fragrant with a transparent rose flavour, the sheerness of blossoms in the crisp summer morning air. But as I savour my treat, I glimpse unmarked decanters with dark liquids. I cannot resist asking, of course. The answer is two kinds of brandy. “Would you like a taste?” There is only one correct response. Two small glasses are filled, and we both taste, nod and order one of each. Brandy glasses are rinsed under hot water to warm them then carefully wiped before being filled. We swirl and sniff, the rich toffee and fruit scents wafting up, almost content doing nothing more, only reluctantly raising the glasses to our lips and letting the slight burn trickle down until there is only heat and the specific pleasure of spirits that permeate our bodies. The kitchen is closing, and so we leave, standing just outside, still warmed through, satisfied. Donostia, 10 Seymour Place, Marylebone, London W1H 7ND. Phone: 020 3620 1845

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