Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Le Chalet, Selfridges

We were supposed to be meeting at the Savoy for drinks at 6.30pm. I got caught up in the shops. Then he got delayed at work. Then there was no 3G. I passed the time by ambling around Selfridges food and beauty halls buying things I shouldn't have with my arms getting ever wearier with each bag added to the fray then I remembered the new "Le Chalet" bar on the roof. He agreed to hotfoot it from the City and I prepared to settle in with a cocktail list.

There is a lift near the main entrance dedicated to getting to the fifth floor and when you emerge its to a Narnia like tunnel of trees and fairy lights. 

A honeycomb Old Fashioned was exactly what I needed post-shopping. The bar staff make them properly; swirling in a bit of whisky then a bit of ice then a bit more whisky until the glass is full. If I'm honest I couldn't identify any distinct honey flavour but didn't care as it hit the spot magnificently. At the moment its still fairly warm so with the heaters and flames so I was in dire need of a cold drink but the alcoholic hot chocolates look obscenely good and I can't wait to drink one outside on the roof another time.  How good does a Cuban sound- Rum, Cinnamon & Chocolate? Or Hazelnut almond liqueur, dark chocolate and hot chocolate. 

The dining area is decked out in fairy lights, lanterns and mini alpine trees all adding to the low lit glow.

Granted, the name is far from imaginative but I suppose you know what you're getting. Yes, there's also a strong risk that Arabella and Jasper will be knocking back hot chocolate and braying about apres ski in Courcheval/St Anton/Klosters and the time that Squibby once skiied down a black run topless after one too many schnapps. Yes, its also a bit early for Alpine scenes but come Christmas it will be fabulous, I promise - stop fighting it and go with it, you just need to get into the mood. 

Run by the people from Q Grill in Camden, the kitchen offers a varied menu both in terms of style of food and prices- mains range from £13-40. It is a bit of an exercise in crowdpleasing with some dishes veering from the theme (not sure how 'Alpine chalet' a  but I'd expect that Selfridges get a good deal of input into making sure it fits every demographic. 

Barked Shortrib with caramelised parsnip mash was a no brainer sitting squarely in the mid price bracket at £19. I'm not entirely sure what made the shortrib "barked" but whatever it is I hereby decree that all shortrib from henceforth and forever more should be "barked" because it tasted bloody delicious. As delicate and prone to falling apart as Kerry Katona on a reality tv show, its held together only by a charred outer crust and something unidentifably sticky but sweet. Just to make you feel like you're not a complete carniverous neanderthal there's also a sprig of something green and utterly superfluous, excellent. 

Buttermilk chicken schnitzel was an absolute triumph. Hammered thin, coated in a light, crisp coating it still managed to be really succulent. The accompanying blue cheese fondue was one of nicest things I've eaten in ages; smooth and creamy with a subtle blue cheese tang - not in the least bit overpowering. 

A side order of broccoli and chilli may not have been the most exciting dish Ive eaten this year but it was great with the schnitzel and made me feel a modicum towards healthy.

Dessert was skipped in favour of a bag of macarons and chocolates that I'd accidentally acquired from Pierre Herme, Pierre Marcolini and Artisan du Chocolat downstairs in the foodhall (so many good things in one place!) but the fabulous sounding "Apple Struesel with Lashings of Custard" did make my mouth water. "Egg Nog Snow Egg" still has me baffled...

There was some confusion over the wine, I thought I'd ordered a Chilean Cab Sauv and wasn't paying attention properly and before I knew it the Waterford version from Stellenbosch had been poured. At £60 a bottle its overpriced but a cook hearty cab sauv rich in ripe blackcurrants. 

If you're a cigar fiend they also have a decent humidor and lots of outdoor seating and blankets to enjoy it.  Like all the rooftop pop up restaurants, it won't be around forever is bound to get busier towards Christmas so get down there as soon as possible.

Would I go back? Yes definitely, I've been dreaming of the food all week since I ate there!

Highlights: the location (helped by the fireworks, granted) and that Schnitzel and blue cheese fondue

Summary:  The overall effect is even cheesier than my blue cheese fondue but its a lot of fun. Go and do it. 


I eat out far too much for my own good and as a result its pretty rare that I get fixated on a dish but that schnitzel and blue fondue kept sticking in my mind so I found myself back there only a week later mid shopping trip begging for a table for one. It was just as good the second time and even better when accompanied by boozy hot chocolate. Its gone up half a point as a result....


Le Chalet
Selfridges, Oxford Street

Tuesday, 11 November 2014


Fighting our way past a rag-tag group of Guanabara carnival dancers (some of whom might want to rethink a sequinned g-string in a breezy overcast Covent Garden - and I'm not just talking about the women) was not how I had imagined my arrival at Rules. 

This was not my first visit to Rules, the last time being almost a decade ago and as a host for a work dinner back in the days when entertainment budgets had several zeros.  I had one of those 'cultural sensitivity' incidents that those who work in a corporate environment with an avid HR team will be painfully conscious of.  Smoked salmon arrived. A table of colleagues of around 10 different nationalities all looked in bemusement at the beige fabric parcel on their plates. After seeing me pick it up prod it with a fork and squeeze liquid out onto the salmon tentative questions were asked - the main one being "but why?". Nil points for British Cuisine so far then. Things carried on in the same vein with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. It didn't occur to me to warn them that the innocuous creamy sauce on their plates concealed fire in the form of horseradish the result being a United Nations worth of lawyers joined in their common hatred of British food through tears streaming down their faces. I recall an Indian gentleman spluttering "I like spices, I eat a lot of chilli, but this? This is evil!!!" Oops, no job offers in diplomacy for me in the near future. 

The positives that I do remember from that evening were both the attentive service and the beautifully decorated private room we were squirrelled away in so it would prove interesting to see if the experience was the same for common or garden diners. I also learnt that very few people of any nationality can find treacle tart offensive and thank goodness for that. 

Rules has a significant history to it not least for having been one of various central London destinations where the then Prince of Wales ('Bertie' to his friends) carried on his secret - or not so secret - assignations with mistress Lillie Langtry. Even now regulars can enter via a private door reputed to have been used by Langtry. Stories of this ilk combined with the chockload of antiques and pictures and a Covent Garden location makes it a mecca for tourists. Indeed, on this visit Japanese and Americans made up a majority of the diners.

So, fast forward ten years or so and is Rules still the same place? This time we were sat downstairs in the main room nestled under an unusual painting of Maggie Thatcher - see what I mean?

The impressive reputation of "London's Oldest Restaurant" brings with it a certain level of expectation and cachet. This assumption of cachet seems to be directly reflected in the attitude and demeanour of various of the serving staff who treat guests with a certain froideur usually reserved for the snootiest of Parisian brasseries which is unfortunate as the food is very decent. Our waiter was distinctly unhelpful, seemingly adopting an attitude designed to make you feel as though you should be grateful to be there.

The menu is understandably very traditional and very British. You're never going to come here looking for culinary wizardry or foams, savoury snows and anything sous vide. A starter of smoked duck salad with stilton was good but largely down to the quality of the ingredients rather than any level of culinary expertise.

A dressed crab with a delicately flavoured aioli was plentiful and, again, of excellent quality. 

Smoked salmon (£15) was served with that pesky lemon muslin again with the option of chopped egg or not. personally I find the addition of egg a little too breakfast but nice touch nonetheless. 

I was abroad for the glorious twelfth so this was my first occasion of the year to eat grouse. A whole grouse no less (£32). In hindsight I should probably have taken up the option of the bird being pre carved and served ready to eat but I got all cocky (see what I did there?) and decided I could do it on my own. So a carcass arrived at the table, feather strewn legs and all and I got to work with a rather large knife. Not a very sharp knife incidentally so it did all rather descend into a Neanderthal display of tearing meat from fowl.  The Americans sat at the table next to me looked slightly horrified. The flavour was good though- just the right side of gamey and still moist- and although I might have regretted how I'd opted to have it served I was glad I went for it. I somehow always manage to forget that "game chips" aren't chips at all in the British sense but crisps. I know its tradition but it still feels weird having a plate of meat, veg, gravy and the best part of a packet of crisps. 

Steak and kidney suet pudding (£18) was hearty with a suet pastry so full of grease it was almost translucent. Breaking it open revealed a rich, meaty filling surpassing all of our expectations. Vegetables and sides are well cooked if unexciting.

Desserts are of the rich and comforting variety; sticky toffee puddings, lemon meringue pies and almond tarts. All nursery favourites that never grow old. 

Would I go back? I'm sure that I will, although not on a regular basis, its rather too pricey for that. If you want to experience the place without the almighty price tag then pop into the upstairs bar for a cocktail. 

Highlights: The crab, the pomp of the surroundings and all the desserts.

Summary: It feels like its become a little touristy but can still be relied on to provide well executed British food albeit at an eyebrow raising price and will undoubtedly remain as part of London's dining Establishment for years to come.


35 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London. WC2E 7LB
0207 8365314

Rules on Urbanspoon

Friday, 7 November 2014

Berners Tavern

We had a little time to kill before our dinner reservation so popped into the Sanderson purple bar for a cocktail. Some years ago the height of cool, the Sanderson was feeling tired around the edges. That impression only intensified on crossing the road and strolling down to the London Edition Hotel, a collaboration between Marriott and Ian Schrager- its clear that he long ago gave up on his former baby at the Sanderson. Schrager's influence is keenly felt as this is like no Marriott I've ever been to before.  Berners Tavern opened in the middle of 2013 with Jason Atherton as restaurateur. Yes, yet  another of the almost amoebic spread of Atherton restaurants across London, Berners Tavern is located on the ground floor of the London Edition Hotel. 

In this case "Tavern" is possibly the greatest misnomer for a restaurant that I have come across. Its tantamount to living in a ten bed mansion at the end of an oak lined drive and calling it "Acorn Cottage".  Picturing a "tavern" in my minds eye conjures up images of a low ceilinged Dickensian drinking house with blowsy bar maids attending to red nosed men. This couldn't be further from the reality on Berners Street.  My pictures don't do the dining room justice, you need the widest angle lens possible to take it all in. Its massive. Its gorgeous.  Toweringly high ceilings with beautifully lit plasterwork and architraves sit atop wooden panelled walls covered in an eclectic patchwork of framed prints and paintings. It is the perfect blend of contemporary chic in a classic setting (that sounds sickeningly estate agent but you know what I mean). Caged chandeliers left me thinking of the scene in Moulin Rouge where Satine descends singing 'Diamonds are a girl's best friend'. Its the kind of place that just makes you want to misbehave in the most decadent way possible. 

Its also enough to make most of us feel under dressed. This is somewhere that people are instinctively dressing for dinner even without there being a formal dress code. Despite it being a Sunday evening I'd worn a dress and was glad I did, jeans just wouldn't cut it here. There was also a certain 'type' of clientele. Lots of West London mediahhhhh and creative types in their late forties and early fifties with much younger girlfriends. Yep, its that kind of place. 

As the lights dim in the evening to a golden glow, the cocktail bar is the perfect place for not so illicit dalliances over potent and novel blends, definitely get there early and drink it all in provided price is no object. So over to our table and let the fun begin.....

Pea, ham and eggs is anything but the plain, simple fare it sounds like. A pea risotto is served in a separate saucepan and zings with freshness. A hen's egg is lightly breaded and fried. Ham hock is tender and salty. Classic ingredients that can never marry badly together.

A dressed crab with coriander, apple and lemon juice is perfectly seasoned and not a shard of shell in sight. At £20 it may well be the most expensive starter I've ever ordered but is really good (and felt pretty virtuous compared to my usual creamy sauce and foie gras based starters - the skinny blondes must be having an effect on me!)

The skinny effect wore off pretty quickly with the onset of the main course, a giant slab bearing a sizeable chunk of rare cow; chateaubriand and roast artichoke (£80 for two). A decent char on the outside gave way to tender and flavoursome flesh on the inside.

Truffle macaroni cheese was something of a disappointment. Not enough sauce and, despite the slices of summer truffle on the top, not a very deep truffle flavour to the overall dish sadly.  Could do better Berners Tavern!

Some of the wines are priced a little on the hyper inflated side. £170 for a 2000 Chateau Gloria compared to just under £50 retail. The third wine from Chateau Margaux 2009 was £120 compared to £63 in Mission. Granted the overheads are higher here and they are tied by hotel pricing but its still the same bottle of wine…. We let the sommelier go freestyle on a maximum budget of £60 and he came up with a biodynamic red from the Languedoc. I think I've got some way to go on my wine tasting odyssey before I'm going to truly appreciate the merits of organic/biodynamic. Too often I find them a little musty and the haze you frequently find is unappealing (let alone all this "you mustn't drink it on a root or leaf day" nonsense). This may make me a philistine granted but there you have it. I found this particular Roussillon a little thin and lacking the substance to stand up to beef and macaroni. It certainly wasn't a bad wine but I wouldn't rush to order it again.

I was waaaaaay too full for dessert. Sorry. An Uber whisked me off into the night to dream of food. 

Would I go back?: If you are really trying to impress or its a special occasion, yes definitely, do it! I might suggest it to someone on expenses.

Highlights: The venue, its just gorgeous. 

Summary: A pricey night out but a reliably delicious one that does make you feel special. 


Berners Tavern

10 Berners Street, London, W1T 3NP
0207 9087979

Berners Tavern on Urbanspoon
© Sybaricious. All rights reserved.