I challenge anyone to step into the hallowed oak walls of the Great Hall at The LaLit London and not let out an involuntary ‘oooh’ because this is a truly splendid space. The high ceilings and windows let light bounce around the room, the distinctive blue chandeliers add the requisite level of grandeur. Once the dining room of the boarding school, it seems fitting that this is now home to Baluchi, The Lalit London’s fine dining Indian restaurant. Although I suspect that is where the similarities end; I am sure the food served then is a million miles apart from the delightful Indian delicacies served now. A room like this could serve as the backdrop to any special meal, but on this particularly evening we were in for a real treat… but that’s what you expect when you’re here to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of Indian Independence!
I know that for much of India and neighbouring Pakistan, the last seventy years may hold some bittersweet memories but many will now also agree it’s still a milestone worth toasting to. We certainly thought it was, and decided to raise our glasses to the occasion. The Indian-inspired cocktails served in the old Teacher’s Room were a fantastic way to ease our palates into the meal ahead. The delicate spice of my saffron gin martini to start was wonderful, but the Kashmir: Valley of Flowers with Earl Grey infused gin, lavender syrup and lime juice was definitely the cocktail of the day! With a drink in hand and the dulcet tones of the sitar floating through the room, it was hard not to get into a celebratory mood before moving back into the Great Hall for dinner.
After a quick scan of the menu, a certain someone and I collectively, and subconsciously, let out a little yelp of surprise. Here we were at a brand-spanking new restaurant and there were no freakazoid multi-patty burgers on offer, nothing that could magically turn into a made-for-instagram rainbow in a bowl, and we didn’t have to google any obscure ingredients from far flung corners of the world. We also didn’t have to strain our voices conversing with each other across the table or strain our eyes trying to read the menu in the first place. My dear friends, I cannot express enough what a luxury that was! That’s not to say that the new Tom Simmons in Tower Bridge isn’t chic; it’s quite a sleek affair, it’s just not foolishly trying too hard.
Perhaps the only on-trend aspect is that Simmons’ heritage, Welsh in this case, is brazenly displayed throughout the publicity and communications surrounding the restaurant – this seems to be a key element in marketing these days and it often works. Personally, I like a chef who knows their roots, and thankfully, Simmons also knows how to be subtle about it in the dishes. Welsh ingredients infiltrate the menu, but even so, at no point did it feel like a gimmick. In light of all the aforementioned food fads littering restaurant menus all over London, it was nice to see a new player executing some old tricks with their own flair for a change.
Most people make a special trip to Wimbledon, or indeed their first ever trip to Wimbledon, for the tennis. But not me. All that racquet-swinging and ball-slinging punctuated by the occasional grunt doesn’t particularly interest me, I waited until the tennis was over and went in search of a decent meal. This, I think, is a sport in itself and almost as hard as lifting that coveted trophy when you’re in certain well-heeled neighbourhoods… Despite their high-brow stores and their village-esque vibes, a quick wander down those high streets will uncover a chain… of chain restaurants, that is. Which makes The White Onion really stand out in more ways than one.
This contemporary French restaurant has made its home in Wimbledon village for the past two years, and judging by the steady stream of diners waltzing in on an ordinary Tuesday night, it’s got a loyal following amongst the locals. And why wouldn’t it; the dining room is charming but not pokey, modern but still homely, and the menu is neither daunting nor boring. The food is billed as French, but completely classic it is not with some more exotic influences sprinkled subtly throughout the dishes. Upon first impressions, The White Onion had all the makings of a good neighbourhood bistro.
Having a reputation can be a bit of an inconvenience, regardless of whether it’s good or bad. In fact, having now mulled over the perils of both, I am starting to think it’s better to have a bad one and just roll with it. Sure, people will smear your name but if you operate on the policy of not giving a toss, it’s actually much easier to manage than a good one. Having one of those requires far more effort… most people will want to maintain it, and in order to do so, you must live up to the expectations that pesky aforementioned reputations creates.
I’ve come across many restaurants with big reputations for being any number of things – overpriced, undervalued, one for the suits, suitable for the fanatics, and the list goes on, but rarely do I come across one that’s just very good. Picture, in both Fitzrovia and Marylebone, is a shining example of this rarity… everyone, no really, everyone I mention it to simply raves about just how good it is. So much so that I used to get embarrassed when I had to admit that I hadn’t yet been and got greeted by a look of surprise and pity in response. Yours truly has a bit of a reputation to uphold too, apparently.
London’s afternoon tea trade never ceases to amaze me with its reinvention and gimmicks, but recently I was reminded of the joy that a classic, properly put together afternoon tea can bring. Not a speck of novelty in sight, no quirky crockery, our afternoon tea at Flemings Mayfair Hotel with its menu crafted by Shaun Rankin of Ormer Mayfair was all about the fundamentals; fresh sandwiches, light scones, delicious cakes, and well-brewed tea. Pinkies out, ladies and gents, it was time to play make-believe and whisk ourselves back to those bygone eras where teas were always a commonplace and classy affair.
The decor of the Drawing Room in Flemings Mayfair is one worthy of a wide-eyed gaze, and I’m not even ashamed to admit that I may have let out a teeny tiny little gasp we as we stepped in. The walls of the Indian-inspired tea room are beautifully hand painted with scenes from ‘early India’ which contrasted nicely with striking teal seats which just envelope you as you sink into them. We settled snugly into our corner table, one of the best in the house in my opinion, with a glass of champagne and the extensive tea menu.
People seem to love to tell me their secrets. Is it something about my face or maybe I have one of those personas which compels people to tell me everything? I have absolutely no idea. What I do know is that having everyone unfurl their deepest, darkest, silliest, or most embarrassing secrets can be a bit of a burden. I’m a bit of a blabbermouth and prone to spilling the beans, usually only to a certain someone but still, spilt all the same. I’m not sure if the team at Eat Off The Menu knew this but I suspect they hoped I wouldn’t keep their secret, they actually wanted me to tell you all about it.
Eat Off The Menu are sort of in the business of secrets, but instead of trying to keep them under wraps, they are all about sharing them with as many people as possible. Their concept revolves around discovering secret dishes from restaurants all over London; these might be something near and dear to the chef or something completely new and experimental they’ve cooked up. Either way, the thing they all have in common is that they are not on the restaurant’s main menu, and the only way to try them is through Eat Off The Menu. Has that got your attention? It certainly got mine.
As a general rule, restaurants housed in any of London’s five star hotels are not for the tight-fisted Scrooges amongst us. If there also happens to be the name of a celebrity chef above the door or emblazoned across the menu, you and your debit card should enter at your own risk. These places are high-end and high-cost, as a general rule. However, sometimes the clever ones bend the rules a little and offer a more affordable alternative to lure in new guests. Why? Because high-end or not, restaurants need diners, and diners inevitably love a good deal.
I am one of these deal-loving diners, a label I’m not ashamed to wear because let’s be frank, my dining addiction has been quite onerous on my finances. So on numerous occasions I’ve happily (and sensibly) ditched the a la carte menu for a much more succinct set menu offering at a fraction of the price but still with all the restaurant’s usual bells and whistles! My latest deal-hunting triumph was a mid-week jolly to the gloriously elegant Roux at The Landau in The Langham.