Dinner with Gaz – Rhodes W1

Once we knew we’d be in London town, the first thing to do was to decide on where to go for  dinner.  Whilst London is full to the brim of fabulous eateries,  flashy bars and even a combination of both complete with burlesque fire-eaters,  we only had 1 night to dine out,  so we had to make it count. 

Having long been a fan of Mr Gary Rhodes and his seasonal cooking approach, and especially his book ‘The Cookery Way’  which allows the budding home-chef to impress the pants off  dinner guests without getting a migraine trying to follow the recipes, we felt it was time to pay homage and visit the very grown-up Rhodes W1 at the Cumberland Hotel at Marble Arch.

We arrived in posh frocks for dinner at 7pm and were shown straight into the Patron bar for a quick pre-dinner cocktail.  The service was slick and efficient, the cocktails were icy cold, strong and well-presented, with some interesting flavour combinations on offer including Cointreau and maple syrup, Sloe gin with apple and rosemary, and Chivas Regal with thyme and honey, amongst other delights.

Slurping the last of our drinks, we were led into the beige, carpeted restaurant adorned with chandeliers.   

After being greeted by the impossibly polite and attentive waiting staff, we were presented with a delightful plate of salmon croque-monsiuer and croquettes, to nibble whilst we perused the menu. This was the first of many intriguing, welcome little extras that made the evening extra-special.  Other surprises included small glasses of comsomme, as well as palate cleansing refreshers in between courses, not to mention 3 different types of butter to go with your 3 types of bread .

We finally managed to decide on our meals, and between us ordered for entree the salt-cured fois gras with peach, ginger parkin puree and spiced bread, the roast Scottish scallops with braised oxtail carpaccio and blood orange, and  crisp pork belly with steamed langoustine, sweetcorn, beurre noisette and spiced popcorn.

Our mains included the blackened sirloin of beef, with watercress risotto, wild mushrooms, and peppered red wine jus, the tapenade glazed monkfish with lobster, aubergine puree, fennel and shellfish emulsion, and the slow-cooked fillet of seabass with king prawn tortellini, coconut and coriander.

You could have heard a pin drop whilst we ate, save for the appreciative murmurs as each mouthful was savoured.

I would have to rate this as one of my tastebuds’ most enjoyable outings to date, and I was in seventh heaven for pretty much our entire meal.

By dessert I delirious with happiness, and buoyed with champagne confidence,  I foolishly ordered a magnificent chocolate extravaganza that blew my mind, and that I was devastatingly unable to finish.  My dear old dad refers to that as  ‘eyes bigger than your stomach’.

 http://garyrhodes.com/main.html

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London lunch – The Thomas Cubitt

We arrived in London to lashings of sunshine, and wasted no time getting in amongst it. We had a special Bank Holiday lunch planned in Belgravia, but that was hours away and we were hungry now! We sauntered from Westminster to St James Park, and into the sunlight-filled space of Inn the Park, overlooking the duck-filled pond.

My first foray into London coffee in some time was cause for trepidation, especially considering we had just left Italy, however I need not have worried – we were in good hands.

Inn the Park, together with a number of other eateries around London, was conceived by Oliver Peyton, veteran restauranteur and judge on the BBC’s ‘Great British Menu’ and it turns out he rather knows what he is doing. Hoorah
http://innthepark.com

Amongst us we sampled the baked mushrooms with goat’s cheese, streaky bacon, poached eggs, smoked bacon and sage sausage, and pancakes with caramelised apple. And the verdict: ALL GOOD! The coffee was great, the service was lovely and friendly, and the location was pretty as a picture.

We then needed to work off our breakfast, by way of a jolly good walk, feeding some ducks and geese along the way.

Before we knew it, it was time for lunch, so into a couple of black cabs and across to Belgravia, piling out amongst the roadworks which are part of the revamp of various pipeworks etc for the Olympics in 2012 and which seem to feature in every second street around London at present. Into the white-washed, bright and breezy interior of the Thomas Cubitt, named for one of London’s greatest master builders, and down we sat at a huge sunny table and quickly ordered some Pimms cocktails to start the ball rolling.

For the second time that day we were met with smiling, friendly service, paper and crayons for the kiddos, and an extensive menu which promised great things, and most joyously delivered. Our meals were as delicious as they were pretty, and we ordered the fried calamari with lime aioli, grilled prawns, chicken breast with sauteed potatoes and glazed vegetables, a side of cauliflower cheese with toasted almonds and cheddar, beer battered fish and chips with mushy peas and tartare sauce, a cheese souffle with roasted fig and walnuts, and the Lancashire sausages with potato mash, pearl onions, and a mustard and cider apple sauce, washed down with a lovely Bordeaux, and finished off with Guiness Chocolate cake. We voted both the fish and chips and the bangers and mash the best we’ve ever had. Toodle pip!

http://www.thethomascubitt.co.uk/

And last but by no means least, a very honourable mention goes to a very special chef in Richmond who kindly and most magnificently recreated Delia’s chocolate torte for our visit to his leafy borough, which we enjoyed with a cup of tea whilst his heavily pregnant goddess and I conversed freely on matters of state and otherwise, and the childer-beasts channelled Luke Skywalker in the garden. Magnificent!

Ciao, Venezia

Ah Venice! There is no place on earth like it. Magical, welcoming, achingly beautiful, with her arching bridges, black shiny gondolas, and endless, meandering laneways filled with the most beautiful lighted window displays of vividly-coloured glass birds, chandeliers, jewellery, diamond studded shoes, Venetian paper, masks, costumes, souvenirs…and the glorious waft of cooking smells as you wander past each trattoria.

We had a full 24 hours in Venice, and whilst I could have easily stayed longer (and will next time), we still managed to find enough time to chase the pigeons in Piazza San Marco, have a full hour’s water taxi ride around the city, go up in the Bell tower for heart-stopping 360 degree views, visit a Murano glass factory and watch a master glass-blower at work, and have lunch canal-side; an outstanding yet simple lasagne.

A highlight was stopping by at Harry’s Bar for a Bellini, and some divine (and complimentary) chocolate cake. Understated, simple yet stylish decor, with barmen in white dinner jackets complete with bow ties, looking exactly as you would expect and in a uniform probably unchanged from the time when Ernest Hemmingway used to frequent the place, it is easy to see why Harry’s has been declared a national treasure. Everyone is welcomed like a special guest, regardless of the language you speak, and their signature drink, the Bellini, is unfailingly and consistently lovely. Sigh. The chocolate cake was a knock-out too. http://www.cipriani.com/locations/venice/restaurants/harrys-bar.php

At the suggestion of our concierge at the Duodo Palace Hotel (which I recommend for somewhere central, without being ridiculously expensive, full of friendly, helpful staff who are keen to help you get the most out of your stay in their gorgeous city http://www.duodopalacehotel.com/ ) we dined at Beccafico in Campo Santo Stefano, sampling their fried vegetable fritters, Mediterranean eggplant, tuna with sesame and citrus, and calamari cooked 3 ways, washed down with an Italian Sauvignon. A lovely warm evening, plenty of cause to celebrate, with just the right amount of well-dressed passers-by to make for some good people watching. The service was excellent, and after dinner they brought out a Venetian version of Vin Santo, as well as limoncello to finish with. No complaints there! Buona sera!

http://www.abeccafico.com/lang1/

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