Friday, 27 August 2010


Braving yet another rainstorm, I made my way to Knightbridge for a meal I had been looking forward to for sometime: Bar Boulud at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. With its own entrance from the street, the feeling is sheer luxury, but in a relaxed way. It's just so good to be welcomed by people who seem genuinely pleased to see you. Pre- bank holiday, and the bar was buzzing, full to the brim, with people eating at the bar from the bar menu and at the informal bar tables. I loved the bar, which is a spectacle per se. A spray perfume bottle contains vermouth, with which the glass is sprayed to make the driest martini, and there is also a jar of olive brine for a dirty martini, and all sorts of other little containers. The barman is a mine of information too. House champagne is Ayala, delightfully dry and crisp. Simple nuts are served, but the mixture is the best, salty and sweet, for a great flavour. Moving onto the restaurant, this is everything I would want from a dining room. The kitchen in full view, so that I see what's going on but I dont hear anything. Tables large enough not to have to push the salt and pepper on the edge. Chairs and banquettes which are actually comfortable. Then in walks the lovely Brian Turner OBE, one of my favourite chefs, probably just back from South Africa, with a great tan and looking very fit - the new slimmer line figures really suits him. He is here too, good sign. We say hello, so nice to see him. The menu is very well conceived, with sharing dishes, hot and cold appetizers, and the famous cured meat board. Good to see a meat slicer, meaning that everything is freshly sliced for the best flavour. The board offers not just sliced meats, but press' of rabbit, and a sausage tasting. We opt for the small portion of seafood and share that: delicately blanched cauliflower, carrot and haricot verts, accompany a plump scallop, mussels and cockles. Freshly steamed, served with aioli, a perfect start to the meal, and we have a glass of Picpoul de Pinet to accompany this. Wonderful to see some of the more unusual regional French wines on a wine list, which incidentally is very extensive and I love it. Shame that my favourite Washington State Pinot Noir is no longer on the list,there is only the one from Oregon, so we opt for something else to go with the rest of the meal. Attention-grabbing is the Givry, at £66, but in the we opt for the complex and delicious Rasteau 2006 at around £39. The wonderful spiciness of the Mourvedre comes through, mitigated by the richness of the Syrah aged in oak, giving the wine a slight woody sweetness. A good choice. My Beetroot salad starter with mixed leaves and blanched fennel, with Sardinian caprino, tossed in a flavoursome dressing, is so complex and interesting that I relish every mouthful. My companion's sausage starter - there is a whole sausage section on the menu, in true Daniel Boulud style - looks great and smells divine. Mains see my favourite lamb arrive, saddle and leg, cooked to perfection and beautifully assembled. The other starter is the most massive pot of moules marinieres I have ever seen. I taste one. Plump, juicy, delicately flavoured, a real treat. The signature chips, served in paper and presented in a silver pot, also arrive. We share a simple bitter chocolate torte with caramel ice cream for dessert (which we dont really need but we cannot resist) is bitter-sweet and almost digestive. Another good choice. I give this restaurant 99 out of 100, and although I have been fortunate enough to eat in some splendid establishments (Capital Hotel and Waterside Inn will forever be imbedded in my mind) this one is a place I would like to return sooner than later. I absolutely loved it and I do recommed it. The food is quite affordable and they also have a set menu at around £22.50 I think, but the wine is quite expensive. But many wines come by the glass, so if you choose carefully, you dont have to go overbudget. Thank you for coming to London, Daniel Boulud!

Sunday, 22 August 2010


It's Kräftskiva time...Right now the Kräftskiva/Crayfish party season is in full swing in Sweden. The crayfish menu starts on Thursday, August 26 and runs to Saturday, September 18. They will be stocking lots of Swedish Nils Oscar beer, OP Anderson and Skåne Akvavits. The crayfish menu can be ordered for parties down to 4 people, as long as you give them minimum 48 hours notice.
This year the menu features both dill and cumin marinated crayfish, herring with potatoes, smoked salmon canapes, Västebotten cheese with Peter's yard crisp bread and mushroom quiche. You can find the full menu on their website.
To book please write an email to - remember to mention you are interested in the crayfish party.

Thursday, 19 August 2010


Annual Ken Hom Lecture 2010
organised by
Ken Hom in conversation with Cherie Blair
The value of social entrepreneurship
Thursday 16th September 2010 at 6:30pm
There is no charge to attend the lecture
Main Lecture Theatre - Oxford Brookes University
Headington Campus, Gypsy Lane
Oxford OX3 0BP
Lecture will be followed by a drinks and canapés
reception in Brookes Restaurant in aid of the Cherie
Blair Foundation for Women.
£20 per head - entry by ticket only
It is our pleasure to invite you to this
year’s Ken Hom Lecture on the
evening of Thursday 16th September.
Cherie Blair, founder of the Cherie
Blair Foundation for Women, will
reflect on the power of social
entrepreneurship to transform the lives
of those in developing nations.
We have no doubt that this will be a
very special occasion; one that we
hope you will be part of.
There is no charge to attend the
lecture, but it is essential to book in
advance. Please contact Razia Nabi
tel. 01865 483813) to reserve your
We hope to see you on 16th September 2010.
With best wishes
Ken Hom
Patron, Oxford Gastronomica
Donald Sloan
Chair, Oxford Gastronomica
To book contact Razia Nabi
tel. 01865 483813


Just back from Piedmont,where people were not really celebrating Ferragosto (15 August) this year. This is a tradition not just in Piedmont but all over Italy, it's the biggest Bank Holiday when everyone who is not on holiday already will leave town (as it's usually too hot to do anything) and go to the nearest open space, whether that be the cooler hills, the mountains, a beach or, in Piedmont, by a river. By the way, the trouts are just gorgeous, and we have a neighbour who is a keen fisherman who often shares the catch with my mother and I when I go home. Anyway, this is a story for another time maybe. Back to Ferragosto, and this year the weather went from 35 degrees one day to 15 degrees the next, with torrential rains, monsoons, hail and high winds. And it lasted for four days. Grape picking is only two weeks away, and I have heard some horror stories already, in how some of the best grapes, Nebbiolo and Dolcetto, have been damanged, up to 50% will be lost. Prices are likely to soar next year so stock up on this year's wines from Piedmont (and Lombardy) as next year they will not be so abundant. But it's not all doom and gloom. Bonarda was less affected, and this lesser known wine, which often develops a natural second fermantion in bottle, making it very attractive to drink and beautiful with strong cheeses such as Castelmagno DOP or Gorgonzola Dolce DOP, is still available. The grape has also found a new home in Argentina, where it makes a much 'stronger' and stiller version of the original wine produced in Piedmont, and you will find some very decent Bonarda at Gaucho Grill. But it has nothing to do with the equally heady, but rounder, Bonarda from Piedmont. I do remain concerned about Nebbiolo though.

Friday, 6 August 2010


One of the joys of travelling to Italy is shopping at the many local food markets, and finding all those gorgeous foods hard to get over here. One of them is courgette flowers. Occasionally you can find them at Harrods or at some of the best farmers markets, I think I once bought a few at La Fromagerie in Moxon Street. But at what price! So I always buy them in summer, when I am in Italy, where they are plentiful, cheap and available from mos farmers' market stalls.

You never wash them, you just gently clean them with kitchen paper, and then make a light batter of beaten egg, milk, flour and sea salt (just a pinch). You fry them gently in sunflower oil and that's it, angels dance on your tongue.

If the flowers are just ever so slightly past their peek, you gently cut them and use them in an omelette, either on their own or with sliced baby courgettes previously cooked. I cook the courgettes in the microwave for just a couple of minutes for best results when used to make an omelette.

A courgette flower omelette is the ultimate FERRAGOSTO dish, to take on a picnic. Because 15 August is FERRAGOSTO, the day that everyone eats al fresco in Italy. Bit like a Bank Holiday, but with lots of food!

Thursday, 5 August 2010


Oh what a night! I dont really know how to describe the opening night (for us mortals) at Shaka Zulu, tipped as London's hottest restaurant - hot, it was. Or sometimes extremely cold, depending on whether you caught a blast of air conditioning or not. The queues around the block reminded me of the queues at the Seashell in Lisson Grove - oops, perhaps I should be more trendy and say the queues outside the Hard Rock Cafe'. But when I was young(er) and used to go to the Seashell, the waiters used to come out and give tastings of chips, morsels of fish and other goodies to those in the queues, who would continue to faithfully queue until a table became available. That was PR! Shaka Zulu, you missed trick No. 1! Maybe peanuts are not very typical of South Africa, but a few peanuts at the free (for a time) bar would have helped a lot. Interior wise, this place is absolutely stunning and well worth all the delays they faced when waiting for the statues, the carvings, the walls, to arrive. It is amazing. Should I say this? But it reminded me of central part of Westfield London, where you are on the floor above and you look down into the atrium if you know what I mean. This architectural feature makes the most of the natural height of the building, and there is even an up and down escalator, shopping centre style! Cant wait to go back and see the whole thing in daylight - if there is any daylight, I presume so as the facade is all glass. Really, would love to see it in daylight.
The drinks were gorgeous, very good sparkling South African wine, decent still white wine, and the cocktails looked very interesting. But the queues were far too long. A journalist friend of mine gave up after queuing for half an hour and eventually left without having had a single drink or anything to eat at all. Missed trick No. 2: if you invite 800 people to fill the place, limit the drinks to sparkling and still wine, beer and maybe ONE cocktail (prepared in big batches) if you really want to showcase the cocktail making skill of the barmen (gorgeous staff by the way, and very skilled). But because they did things so well and so properly, every cocktail took 15 minutes to make and this is not on at an opening of this scale. Wish I could tell you about the food dear friends, but I can't - they didnt feed me, or any of the mortals upstairs. The super-mortals who got to do downstairs and share a meal with King Goodwill will have to tell me all about it. At midnight though, some little canapes came out, and I could not help by wonder, are these the left overs? But by that time I was too hungry to care, so I had one deep fried prawn (tail, shell, eyes and all, like a whitebait but it was a fully fledged prawn - not the prettiest of sights) and a skewer of what could have been ostrich meat - very tasty, but on the sweet side, maybe brushed with a honey marinade? South African cuisine is not a cuisine I am very familiar with as yet, but I intend to rectify that sooner than later.
The highlight? Seeing King Goodwill and his wife, what an absolutely charming man, very regal in every sense. And the zulu players, these guys played non-stop for hours, it was mesmerising rather than boring, they must have a hidden code of how one can take a quiet break whilst the other two make more noise, so that it still sounds like three people are drumming and singing. Because it is simply not humanly possible to keep up the beat and the singing for two hours solid. Great bodies too, by the way!
The downlight? For a first night, and of such a scale, I think Shaka Zulu did very well. And maybe they were right to serve nothing to the mere mortals. To serve morsels to the masses may not have achieved the purpose of showcasing Zulu cuisine, which is still largely unknown over here, people may not have understood it.

I am interested in the food. So, anyone willing to join me for food at Shaka Zulu?

I remain unsure of which crowd they are aiming at. Camden party people? Will they spend the money or will they just dance? Will Amy Winehouse become a regular? This place is practically on her doorstep.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010


Located in Central London near many theatres, Spaghetti House is a great family choice this summer, and food is free for the kids between 13 August and 3 September

If you are spending summer in the City, enjoying the many London theatres during the action-packed Kids’ Week with all its theatrical fun, you will also need to feed the little ones as well as keeping them entertained.

Family-friendly, informal and welcoming, Spaghetti House makes everyone happy around the table. Mums and dads can enjoy a glass of wine and a plate of pasta, a summer main course salad or a sharing platter, and kids have their own special menu – for free. For every paying adult eating from the a-la-carte menu one child up to the age of 10 eats free from the children’s menu between 13 August and 3 September lunch and dinner, at Spaghetti House 30, St Martin’s Lane WC2 near Trafalgar Square and Spaghetti House 3, Bressenden Place, Victoria SW1.

In Italy it is traditional for children to choose their meal from the ‘grown ups’ menu. Spaghetti House encourages children to eat healthily, developing their taste and their eating experiences as they grow. Children’s menu dishes have been selected form the main menu, they taste the same, but are served in smaller portions. Children love Ceci Calabresi – chickpeas with spicy Italian sausage, Bruschetta with tomato and fresh basil, Chicken Caesar Salad and Brodo di Pollo, shredded smoked chicken with fettuccine, basil oil and peas in a chicken broth. Differently delicious from the chicken and chips too often found on children’s menus, and very healthy too.

So if you are going to the Criterion Theatre close to St Martin’s Lane and showing the 39 Steps, or catching a Billy Elliot matinee at the Victoria Palace Theatre in Victoria, take a refreshing break as there is a Spaghetti House nearby.

Summer in the City has never tasted so good and at an average of £20 for an adult three course meal with wine, school holidays and theatre outings are easy on your pocket too.

Visist for other offers and for a full list of restaurants.


Just thought I would post this little preview, as I am holding a wine tasting dinner on MOnday 20 September, with the theme 'Antinor's Italy'. The Antinori family, original from Tuscany, are spreading their wings (or better, their wine roots) to the rest of Italy. With an established reputation for quality Tuscan wines, they are now the 'company' behind many other quality Italian wines, whose winemakers may not have had the money to invest. Antinori have come in, have provided the financial backing to allow many good wines to blossom and prevent other precious ones from disappearing, and cleverly have ensured that the name was not changed. So in Piemonte you now find the delicous Dolcetto from Prunotto backed by Antinori, and in Veneto you find Prosecco from the Antinori's 'estate'. I am not unhappy about this, as I would rather see these autochtonos vines doing well and making good wines than seeing them disappear. I will also present a three course dinner of Italian specialities. Please make a note in your diary now.


There is this bottle of Barolo which has been staring at me for sometime. It's here, in my office, and the excuse for keeping it there is that, at the moment, it's too hot to drink it. It's not superlative as Barolo goes, it's made by Terredavino (which in Italy is a supermarket brand) but here in England is considered quite OK. ANd it's a 1999, Paesi Tuoi, so can't be that bad! I am thinking of home, of my cellar where my late father stored his prized wines so lovingly for so many years. I am thinking of the unlabelled bottles of Barolo, Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo, beautifully lined up like soldiers, with just 'Barolo, 1966' written on it. I also remember opening a bottle once, which must have been 1959 if not older, and putting it on the sink in disgust as it smelt like pure vinegar. I forgot about that bottle, until the morning after I went in the kitchen and thought that angels were having breakfast. The most amazing aroma pervaded the place, it was like being in the middle of a violet field. That wine took 12 hours or more to open up, and no, I did not drink it for breakfast, (although I did have a quick slurp, for tasting purposes of course), and corked it. Later on that morning I decanted it because there was a lot of sediment, and although it was starting to fade, I thought I died and gone to heaven. I can still smell and taste that wine. For those of you who want to me 'friends', I still have a bottle of that wine, as well as that looking at me in the office.....