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Archive for the ‘Restaurant Reviews’ Category

York and Albany

127-129 Parkway
London
NW1 7PS
T: 020 7388 3344
Map

We discovered this fantastic restaurant last night after visiting the zoo for Zoo Lates, a late night opening of the zoo where we saw beautiful lions and tigers and many other animals. There was some takeaway food available at the Zoo, but we decided we wanted a proper meal and pulled up Google Maps to search for a restaurant. Lucky for us, we found York and Albany right around the corner and decided to give it a try.

It didn’t look that busy as we approached it and we even briefly considered not going in because it looked too quiet, but when we got inside it became obvious that the restaurant was around the back and was quite busy. On arrival, the host made us feel a bit silly for not having a reservation and said he would see what he could do about a table. After what seemed like 5 minutes, he came back and said he had a table for two. When we sat down, there were a few free tables around us (some of which remained empty throughout our meal) and the host asked for our name so he could put it down for the reservation.. which seemed strange, given that we were already sitting down.

However, the evening only got better. The menu was fantastic and the service was perfect.. attentive but not overbearing. So many things on the menu looked enticing but we eventually chose the Quail breast ravioli with confit leg, spinach, truffle and shallot and the Salt and pepper squid with baby gem with anchovy and pepper relish, smoked paprika mayonnaise as our starters. Both were elegantly presented, perfectly proportioned and absolutely delicious! For the main course we had the Smoked squab pigeon with glazed cherries, cabbage,
horseradish spätzel, and toasted pecan nuts
and Roasted cannon of lamb with onion purée, rainbow chard, confit potatoes, green olives, and red peppers which were also heavenly. We chose the Atanasius (Blaufränkisch/Zweigelt) wine to go with the meal and it did not disappoint. It was light, fruity and very easy to drink. We didn’t pass on dessert either.. oh no.. there were too many temptations on offer. We chose the Roasted figs with iced lemon semifreddo and Chocolate and coffee pavé with coffee ice cream, both of which were amazing. The coffee ice cream was an espresso bean dream and the fresh figs were full of flavour and delicately spiced.

It was definitely the best meal we’d had in ages and was especially good since we happened on it accidentally. It wasn’t cheap but for a 3 course meal for two including wine and 2 gin & tonics, we felt it was really good value given the quality of the food and service. I think it’s worth a special trip to experience Angela Hartnett’s fabulous menu and if you’re in the neighbourhood, I definitely recommend popping in. I know I’ll be back!

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The Wells
The Wells - Hampstead

30 Well Walk
Hamsptead
London
NW3 1BX

Map

We discovered The Wells on our first visit to Hamsptead. It was a crisp December day and we were looking for a nice pub to have drink before dinner. We were pleasantly surprised to find The Wells on the corner of Christchurch Hill and Well Walk. I sampled a lovely white from their extensive wine list and got Rob a pint of Leffe. The atmosphere was lovely and the place had a good feel about it. After seeing their food menu and the awards for Best Gastro Pub on the wall, we decided to return someday and sample the food.

We came back for lunch on New Year’s Day. I was glad we had booked as it filled up quickly. We sat next to the fireplace and enjoyed a latte before our meal. It was another freezing cold day so we started with the soup, which was fabulous. We both had fish for our main courses and the apple and blueberry crumble for dessert. It was all very yummy! We wil definitely go back.

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The Crown

223 Grove Road
Victoria Park
London
E3 5NZ
Map

The Crown occupies an ideal location on the corner of Grove Road and Old Ford Road across from Victoria Park. Formerly the site of a Spanish Tapas restaurant and a previous pub also called the Crown, the newly reopened Crown is a fresh and welcome addition to the Victoria Park scene. Downstairs there are a variety of seating choices including comfy chairs, big tables with chairs and high tables with benches. Upstairs is a dining room with about 12 tables.

Our first visit to the Crown was during opening week in April 2008 and the place was bustling. We didn’t get a table in the dining room but instead we sat on stools at a bar-like area outside the dining room. The menu was limited but considering they had just opened we thought we should cut them some slack.  We have been back for a drink in the evening, but hadn’t returned to eat until recently.

This time we got a table in the dining room and the menu was considerably bigger, but we don’t feel the quality of the food lives up to the price. For starters we had the Beetroot Soup and Melon and Parma Ham. The soup wasn’t very hot (although it didn’t seem to be officially a cold soup) but the Melon and Ham was great. We both ordered the Rib Eye steak which came with a tin pot of chips for £17. The steak was definitely not good enough quality to be charging that much for and the chips were a bit hard. To spare our waistlines and pocketbooks, we passed on dessert.

I’m not sure I’d go back for food, but its definitely a nice place to go for a drink. The bar service is prompt and the cider is cold.

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Vildsvin

Ferran, 38
Barri Gotic
08002 Barcelona
93 317 94 07
Map

Where we should have gone for dinner….

We happened upon Vildsvin after our experience at Ateneu Gastronomic. We were looking for some dessert and a drink to recover from our unpleasant meal. Vildsvin has a clean modern style and looked to be much more our sort of place. There probably would have been a wait for a table for supper earlier, but this is the place we should have gone for dinner. We ordered the Chocolate Mousse, which was dreamy, and the Biscuit a la Creme, which was also exquisite. We enjoyed the selection of foreign beers upstairs in the less formal eating area, but there is also a quieter more formal dining room downstairs. And perhaps best of all, one of the tapas on the menu is a slice from a 120kg Bologna sausage which stands just inside the door.

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La Fonda del Port Olimpic

Moll de Gregal, 7-8-9
Port Olimpic
08005 Barcelona
93 221 22 10
Map

This restaurant was recommended to us by our hotel. Having been to similar places in Madeira, I should have known that a seafood restaurant on the waterfront was probably not what we were looking for having asked for a “nice” place for dinner.

The hotel had made a reservation for us and on arrival we were taken to a tiny table for two at what turned out to be a major crossroads. La Ronda is probably best described as a zoo. The waiters were literally running around with whole fish and crustaceans showing them to the patrons who would later be eating them bumping into our table as they went. The place was bustling with the F1 crowd and outbursts of cheering and singing were not uncommon.

We ordered Fishermen’s Soup and Fried Calamari for starters, both of which were okay. We had a Seafood Paella for main course which was also good, but nothing special. Having spent enough time in this chaotic scene, we declined dessert and made a quick exit.

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Ateneu Gastronomic

Pas de l’Ensenyanca, 2 bis
Barri Gotic
08002 Barcelona
93 302 13 57
Map

Based on previous experiences with “traditional” Spanish and Portuguese food, my first instinct was to avoid this place. But with the Formula 1 race this weekend, Barcelona was very full and there was at least an hour’s wait at better looking places. We should have left before the waiter carried an aluminum table from the outdoor patio into the restaurant and over the heads of unsuspecting patrons. Our table was placed about six inches from two other tables and was right in the middle of the main thoroughfare, as well as directly in front of the toilets.

We ordered the Fishermen’s Soup and Melon with Iberian Ham for starters. Although well over-priced at €15.50, the ham and melon looked to be one of the safest choices on the menu and was in fact very good. (However I think it is difficult to mess up a dish that consists of a piece of fruit and some cured meat). The soup was average and contained both recognizable and unrecognizable pieces of seafood.

For the main course we chose the Fillet Steak and Grilled Sole. The steak was ordered medium but when it arrived it was almost raw and wobbled on the plate. After we reiterated the request for it to be cooked “medium”, the plate was whisked away and returned about twenty minutes later. The steak now looked more seared on the outside and slightly less wobbly on the inside. Meanwhile I wrestled with the Sole which had been grilled to the point of being suitable for use as a weapon. Using both my knife and fork, I attempted to pry the hard rubbery flesh away from the bones while avoiding the drab over-boiled vegetables. As it turned out, it was lucky that my Sole adventure was almost over by the time the steak reappeared. The aluminum patio table was not up to the task of supporting the forces incurred by the cutting of the steak and wobbled almost enough to spill the wine out of our glasses.

When we sat down the couple next to us had just paid their bill and didn’t look very happy. Now we know why… When the bill came we were absolutely shocked. We have never been charged so much for such terrible food. Combined with the dismal table location and nearly being clipped in the head with a chair being carried across the restaurant, there isn’t anything positive to say about this place.

On our way out we heard another couple say to the waiter “Excuse me. This steak is not cooked!” Although tempted to tell them to leave now before it was too late we selfishly left the restaurant as fast as we could. As we were walking away we realized that not once had they asked if everything was okay with the food. I guess they they’ve learned over the years that it’s best not to ask!

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Hotel du Vin Bistro – Cambridge

Trumpington Street
Cambridge
CB2 1QA
01223 227330

A week ago today Tim and I went to the newly opened Hotel du Vin Bistro for our last lunch before he left Cambridge. Having cycled by the Hotel du Vin almost every day during its construction we were both eager to try it out and having recently heard about their lunch specials, we decided to give it a go.

The lunch specials are £15.50 for two courses or £17.50 for three, which is clearly the better deal, but we were stuffed after the first two courses. As a starter Tim had the Caesar salad that came with an egg that appeared to have been poached and went with the salad beautifully. He had the bangers and mash for the main course and said, and I quote, “the bangers had a lovely rich taste”. I started with the Cauliflower soup which was very creamy and filling and then had a sweet pea risotto for my main course. I enjoyed the risotto even though the rice didn’t seem to be arborio rice, which I use for risottos. I probably would have had the bangers and mash if I hadn’t already taken some sausages out for supper.

We thought the service was great, even though we were a bit under dressed with our rucksacks and trainers, and the food the excellent too. We were a bit disappointed by the 10% service charge that was automatically added to the bill, but maybe that is just for the lunch specials. It seems more and more restaurants are adding service charge. Having been a waitress for a few years I know the value of tips and gladly tip 10% for average service (in the Europe, 15% in North America) and up to 20% if the service is particularly good. But when I see that 10% has just been added to my bill, I get a bit offended. It’s almost like they don’t trust me to tip well enough. However, the service charge has not put me off returning to the Hotel du Vin Bistro and I am looking forward to trying their dinner menu.

Update:

Saturday night Rob and I went to Hotel du Vin for dinner. Once again this week I was unsuccessful in securing a reservation but we decided to take our chances and turn up anyway. Just before we arrived they had a cancellation and we were seated immediately. As with lunch, the food for dinner was excellent.  Rob had a smoked duck starter and the venison main and I had a goat cheese crottin for starter and the double-baked cheese souffle for a main course. Dessert was also yummy.. Rob had the apple tart and I had a selection of ice creams. After dinner we went downstairs to the bar, where we drank another bottle of red wine. It wasn’t a cheap evening, but as our taxi driver said “it’s worth it!”.  Overall a great night out.

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Stazione Restaurant

1&3a Market Hill
Cambridge
CB2 3NJ
01223 352607

This Italian restaurant had been shut down for renovations for much of my time in Cambridge but reopened sometime in the spring of 2007. When I rang to book a table I was told they take cash only.. no cards, no cheques! which I thought was a bit strange for an upscale restaurant, but at least we were warned to visit the cash point before dining. The restaurant is below ground and upon climbing down the stairs we were quite pleasantly surprised by the nice decor and ambience.

For starters I ordered the calamari, which was strips rather than the rings I was expecting, but was tasty. On the waiter’s recommendation Rob ordered the baked mushrooms in some sort of creamy sauce. He find them to be overly good, but admittedly it wasn’t the sort of dish he would normally order. For the main course, I had the spinach and marscapone lasagne which was very thin and exceedingly cheesy. I typically find lasagne portions are far too big, but this one was just right. My dessert was champagne sorbet and was amazing. Rob’s chocolate fudge cake however looked like it had seen better days. It was served toppled over and falling apart.

The whole experience left us with the feeling that they were trying but just didn’t quite get it. The service staff were a bit disorganized. I think we were waited on by 5 different people and they came to take our drink order twice. We never got the feeling that anyone was looking after us, more that we were served by whoever happened to be passing by.

The live jazz, by a female vocalist and pianist and a male guitarist, was great and definitely made the evening. At one point the musicians and the rest of the diners were summoned to sign Happy Birthday to someone, which in general I don’t have a problem with, but if you having an expensive meal at an upscale restaurant, this is not the kind of thing you are expecting or looking for. Although the atmosphere was good for a Saturday night and we were inspired to go out afterwards, I wouldn’t say we are in a rush to go back.

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D’Arrys Wine Shop

2-4 King Street
Cambridge
CB1 1LN
01223 505015

Situated where the old Cambridge Arms Pub used to be, D’Arrys is a relatively new entrant to the Cambridge scene. I’m not sure when they opened (I would say at least six months ago), but since most of our taxi drivers haven’t heard of it, I would still classify it as a new restaurant.

Rob and I have been to D’Arrys for dinner several times and it has always been busy but good. I don’t think they take bookings but Rob and I like to have a drink at the bar while waiting for a table anyway. We’ve had a variety of things off the menu on other visits but this visit Rob had the Chicken stuffed with Chorizo on Rosti Potatoes and Salad and I had the Fish Pie with Roasted Potatoes and Garden Veg, both of which were yummy. Rob has also had the fish and chips a few times (and probably would have again if I hadn’t persuaded him to try something new).

We go back to D’Arrys because we like the buzzing atmosphere and the friendly staff. We tend to go late (9 or 9:30ish) and by having a drink before dinner, we can turn a meal into a nice night out. The menu does seem to be small though (but don’t forget to check the specials board) and the tables we get seated at are quite tiny. The tables for four people seem to be larger but cozy seems to be a theme. The wine menu is extensive although we usually get a bottle of our favourite, the Stump Jump red.

I definitely recommend D’Arrys for a nice meal with friends or a romantic dinner for two.

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Alimentum

Restaurant Alimentum

152 – 154 Hills Road
Cambridge
CB2 8PB
01223 413000

Last Saturday night Rob and I went to Alimentum, the new restaurant on the Cambridge scene. I had had been wanting to try it since I first saw the sign go up a few months ago. It is so great to see another independent restaurant in chain-riden Cambridge. Their website, which is mainly a blog by the owner, describes it as “modern French food with some Spanish and Italian influences”. The blog idea makes the website different from most other restaurant sites, but it is a really personal touch. Reading the blog entries made me feel I had a connection to the place and made me want to try the restaurant even more.

The service was great, which impressed me as often the nicer restaurants don’t pay much attention to younger people, who I guess they assume won’t tip well or can’t afford to pay the bill. We started with a drink at the bar, and because we had a late sitting (9:30), we were asked if we would like to order before being seated at the table to speed things up. At first I didn’t like this idea, but in hindsight it was brilliant. It meant that by the time we sat down, our starters were ready.

I found it very difficult to select only one starter as they all looked amazing. In the end I chose the Watercress & Endive with Pear, Roquefort & Caramelised Walnuts and Rob had the Ravioli of Chicken, Girolles with Iberico Ham both of which were fabulous. I had more difficulty choosing a main course, and although I’m sure they are all delicious, I went for the Sea Bass, Cannelloni of Crab, Fennel purée & Shellfish cappuccino. I wasn’t a big fan of the cappuccino, which was a foam on top, but the sea bass was perfectly cooked. Rob tried the Rump of Lamb, Confit of Shoulder Moussaka & Lambs Sweetbreads which he also really enjoyed.

I liked the decor, which is very modern, but Rob wasn’t a big fan. Most of the tables were nicely spaced but where we sat on the banquette I found it a bit too easy to eavesdrop on our neighbours who were very close to us. The menu was small but I hope it will get larger with time. I guess it’s safer to start out with a few dishes and do them really well than to try too many. There are some pics of the food at Kake Pugh’s flickr site.

I would definitely go back to Alimentum. It was more expensive than most of our Saturday night dinners around Cambridge but I thought it was worth it. The whole experience exuded attention to detail and a passion for food and service that you just don’t get in many other restaurants.

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