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.
This was going to be the year I finally got to visit Japan, a country that I have been itching to get to since missing out on a school trip back when I was fourteen. Somewhere towards the end of 2016, we hatched a plan to spend three to six months in Japan, just eating, exploring and hopefully learning some Japanese. The length of time raised some eyebrows but we weren’t phased; we figured, if not now, then when?! Well it turns out, it won’t be now… and the when might actually be next year. Plans: some were made to be followed, while others were made to be broken. I’d like to think this one is just on hold.
The annoyingly sensible decision to put the brakes on this grand plan was made a couple of days before we ventured to Elizabeth Allen’s Shibui residency at Carousel, featuring her take on European and Japanese fusion cuisine. Ironic consolation or just rubbing salt in the wounds? I think if it had been bad, it would have been the latter but it wasn’t, so while we can’t yet experience the real deal, it was a good reminder than there are plenty of places in London where we can savour that taste of Japan in its many guises.
It took me almost two weeks into the new year before I had my first slice of pizza; a lot longer than I had expected if I’m being honest. It was one of those DIY jobs with a Sainsbury’s pre-made base (we gasp, but in my defence I was in a state of hanger) and topped with our favourites like ham, chorizo, mozzarella, fresh tomatoes and basil, and pineapple for me. They were good, nothing at all wrong with them but the pizzas you cook in your home oven with an upper temperature of 250ish degrees will never ever compare to one cooked in a wood fired oven which can get as hot as 400ish degrees within minutes. It did satisfy my pizza cravings then and there, but the next meeting of Pizza Club couldn’t come soon enough!
The girls and I got together early in February at Firebrand Pizza, a recent addition to the Marylebone neighbourhood and convened the first Pizza Club of the year with a glass of prosecco – it feels customary now! If you’ve kept tabs on our first and second meetings, then you know that cheese is also a must; the more varieties, the better. On this night we had about five… the first was a buffalo mozzarella with parma ham, pear and rocket which was such a light and fresh dish, it was something you’d imagine consuming al fresco with a glass of wine in hand! London in February is not al fresco weather but at least the wine situation was easy to arrange…
I have a love, hate, hate relationship with breakfast which manifests itself in a vicious cycle. It starts with a week of enthusiasm where I’m eating breakfast daily, religiously, and can’t even contemplate starting my day without it. Unfortunately that enthusiasm wanes as we enter week two; I realise I don’t actually need to eat it every day to survive, in fact, I can survive every day without it. After a week of that, the guilt sets in. I know it’s the most important meal of the day, I know it’s good for me, and so I resolve to make an effort the next week… and on and on it goes.
Every so often the cycle halts momentarily, usually coinciding with one of our weekend breaks or longer escapes. I’m always a breakfast fan then. I like nitpicking through bountiful breakfast buffets, I love having an excuse to eat pastries all morning long because it’s the done thing in France, Spain or Portugal, and more recently I rediscovered my love of eating rice and noodles for breakfast in Malaysia. Seems a tad unusual for those of us who grew up eating cereal and toast in the mornings, but heck, I love noodles and rice, why not eat them for breakfast as well as lunch and dinner.
When I see the words ‘Pan Asian’ in reference to a restaurant menu, I’m torn between hanging my head in despair and rolling my eyes at their laziness. Sometimes, if I’m feeling particularly self-righteous, I’ll do both. Anyone who’s ever laid eyes on a map will know that the continent of Asia is huge, so is it any surprise that it is also diverse in landscape, culture, and food styles. What makes a restaurant think it can pan across Asia, cherry pick a few famous dishes from each country, and do them justice?
That was strike one for Chi Kitchen and we hadn’t even set foot in the restaurant. The second strike came when I learnt the restaurant is housed in Debenhams; I found that slightly awkward as I don’t make a habit of dining where I buy my delicates, though they do have separate entrance. And the third strike? Well, there wasn’t one. Spoiler alert, it was good. Which was a bit of a disappointment to anti-pan-Asian-restaurant-rant Connie… but quite the relief to hungry Connie.
Now that I’ve been to a few cocktail masterclasses, I’ve come to the conclusion that making cocktails is quite an operation and the people who make them are quite the entertainers. Our teacher at Mint Leaf just oozed charm, the one at Rum & Sugar seemed to have endless energy, and not one to buck the trend, the resident mixologist at Reform Social at The Mandeville Hotel was cracking jokes all over the show. All three had their audience in raptures while mixing up delightful cocktails – I can barely pour a glass of wine while talking. Note to self, that needs some practice.
Actually, that’s not the only thing I need to work on. You might expect that after attending at least three of these so-called masterclasses I might be on my way to being a master at making my own cocktails. Well if that’s what you thought, I haven’t managed your expectations particularly well. I haven’t rushed out to buy any of the essential (and very cool) equipment required and I haven’t stocked my shelves with a wide range of spirits. In fact, I haven’t even come close to recreating any of the delicious concoctions I have been taught to make. Why?!
Try as I might, I’ve found it’s ridiculously difficult to avoid that popular made up meal time sandwiched between breakfast and lunch if you want to maintain any semblance of a social life. While I am generally not a fan of brunch, with a few exceptions here and there, it seems I am in the minority… well amongst my friends anyway. The girls like to gossip over brunch and since I do actually want to hang out with my lovely lady friends… off to brunch I must go!
Luckily for me, London has a million and one brunch options and some of them don’t just involve avocado and eggs – that’s right folks, you don’t always have to endure yolk-porn at that time of the day. So how did I brunch instead? Peruvian-style, that’s how. Imagine pancakes, porridge type dishes, and ceviche… ok, perhaps the ceviche is a stretch for some but I could eat that stuff anytime of the day! And if you dilly dally for another hour or so, we slide into lunch time and then anything goes…