Hix Mafair, 33 Albemarle Street, W1
Old school values are very much at home at Mark Hix’s funky Mayfair incarnation of traditional British cuisine. A silver trolley service nestles against wooden panelling, as Ionic columns jut up behind a traditional bar, yet the upholstery’s colour scheme is a bold purple and green, and Tracy Emin declares in pink neon ‘I love you more than I can love’ from her canvas above the fireplace. Diners might echo that same sentiment of love for Hix, after joyously feasting on his traditional menu that retains a playful touch of cool Britannia…
Read my full review for View London, including HIX’s dense slices of Albemarle smoked salmon, tender Scottish Kingairloch red deer with chanterelle mushrooms, and classic treacle tart.
Cafe Oto, Ashwin Street, E8
The concrete floor is reminiscent of an East London warehouse, while a collection of unusual cacti and plants line the window sill. A row of vintage lounge chairs and a well sat-on sofa look out onto the quiet street, and old-school tables and chairs cluster together on the pavement outside when weather permits. The murmur of traffic and soft clunk of the East London Line roadworks remind you how well connected the cafe is – but city life still feels far away from the lingering smell of freshly brewed coffee.
My View London review gives you all the juicy details.
Dinings, 22 Harcourt Street W1H
Whites walls, almost no windows – but it doesn’t matter. Dinings is the best sushi I’ve had in London; where else would you consume seared tuna that makes you question the boundaries of your own body, or crab tar-tar tacos that bring you back to reality with a wasabi-kicking crunch. Read my View London review here.
Located on Clink Street, this informal eatery is minutes from Tate Modern and Borough Market. The wide angle windows are great for people watching and give the restaurant plenty of natural light, even with the historical market buildings that tower around it. The decor is quite conventional – bold colours, nondescript urban prints on the wall and the ubiquitous leather sofas – but it’s tastefully done if ya like that generic kinda thing. Pick your seat wisely though, as some of them are as comfortable as sitting on cobbled stones. See my View London page for a complete review.
Village East, Bermondsey
We didn’t speak all night. I hadn’t seen the friend opposite me for eight years – but the food was too delicious to talk of anything else. Beyond the sighs and comparisons of whose dish was more incredible, or wondering just how did they make this potato taste so good – I learnt nothing about my dining companion’s current life or interests.
Village East is an understated establishment that would be easy to miss passing down the quiet back streets of Bermondsey. The service is quick and subtle – it’s always a good sign when the waiter notices that your wine glass is empty before you do. When we walked in, there was a relaxed but reverent hush to the place. Wooden floors set the tone, with an old fashioned butcher’s roll of heavy brown paper hanging from the wall to advertise the specials, an open kitchen, and over sized but softly lit lampshades hanging from the tall ceiling. On the right side of pretentious, the minimalist décor has oblique references to Greek myths and maps locate you in the imaginary Village East near Sudden Leap and Cuckoo Maze. With a touch of the contemporary, it points to a New York warehouse style brasserie, where the tables are thoughtfully arranged with small square tables for twos, round tables with sculpted chairs for four, and a snug booth for larger groups.
I had seared scallops and caramelised pork belly with a teriyaki glaze to start. The salty flesh of the scallop perfectly complimented the sweet complexity of the pork; like the classic scallops and bacon, but with cojones. I would cut each mouthful smaller and smaller to make it last – desperately trying to figure out how each forkful could be more delicious than the previous one. I couldn’t concentrate on anything other than what was going on in my mouth. I did try my partner’s black truffle soufflé which was heady and dense – but had to swap back to find refuge in the sticky satisfaction of my own dish. I was afraid that the main course wouldn’t live up to the starter, but the slightly pink Gressingham duck breast in Madeira jus, tumbling over Jerusalem artichokes did not disappoint. The moist meat had a delicate hint of orange, underscored by the earthy taste of the potato and artichoke. My friend’s pan fried sea trout with pea and leak risotto cake was cooked to perfection, but the skin had a strong taste that neither of us enjoyed. The dessert was good – a timeless oozing chocolate fondant – but it just did its job. I was so exhausted by the delight of my first and second course – I couldn’t have handled anything else.
Outstanding food, professional service and relaxed décor: this is sure to become my new favourite restaurant. But if I want an evening where I can actually talk about anything other than the food – I’ll have to go somewhere else.
Dinner for two (excluding wine): £60
171 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3UW
Tel: 020 7357 6082
Mon-Thu 12-11.30pm, Fri 12pm-1.30am, Sat 11am-01.30am, and Sun 11am-11pm
Rasa Travancore, Stoke Newington
When an establishment has two restaurants on the same road – both of which are full – you know you’re on to a good thing. I have tried to get into the vegetarian Rasa on two occasions now, and long queue has meant that I’ve ended up at the carnivores’ Rasa across the road. I say ‘ended up’ like it was second best, but I soon forget my disappointment as the kind waiters bring out an assortment of fantastical crunchy rice flour and black sesame snacks and pickles whilst I peruse the menu.
The service is quick and most people don’t take long to order as they are all happy returning customers. You need to order less than you think at Rasa’s; the dishes are rich and fragrant, and you fill up surprisingly quickly. The Moru Kachiathu has to be one of my favourites; sweet mango and green banana cooked in yoghurt with green chillies, ginger and fresh curry leaves. The creamy banana cut through with mango never fails to surprise me and it provides a sweet relief from the other lively curries. Chicken, lamb, duck, prawns, fish or crab each get their chance to shine in a variety of subtly spiced sauces. Each dish has a story, and Rasa’s passion is an important part of the taste.
You can choose from an accompaniment of coconut, lemon or plain rice – but be sure to try the delicious paratha bread. Since it’s not polite to lick plates in public, I find the soft flakes of dough particularly useful for mopping up the last traces of sauce on my plate!
There are a whole host of Rasa restaurants, each with their own speciality: Rasa Travancore is inspired by the Syrian-Christian tradition; the express version in Euston will give you curry satisfaction in minutes; Rasa Samudra offers seafood specialities near Tottenham Court Road; and there are also outlets in Leytonstone, Newcastle and Bond Street. Rasa is also starting up a social enterprise group for aspiring chefs and has a culinary school in Kerala, India.
Rasa is a philosophical term which includes concepts of taste, flavour, beauty, pathos or simply ‘delight in existence’. It is the divine essence that humans feel in all manifestations of food and life. Painted bright pink and filled with the crunch of twice-fried poppadoms and the glug of cool Kingfisher beer, the restaurant has a jovial and relaxed atmosphere that is ‘rasa’ in action.
Meat: 55 Stoke Newington Church Street, N16 ONB. Tel: 020 7249 1340
Vegetarian: 55 Stoke Newington Church Street, N16 OAR. Tel: 020 7249 0344
Chimes Restaurant, Pimlico
If I was a pie, I’d like to draw my last flaky breath at Chimes. I would spend my final days in the company of portly British sausages and steamed puddings; my passing would be marked with a smooth glug of cider; light, peachy and with a gentle intoxication that creeps up on you like death itself.
It’s surprising that this little place hasn’t already been sucked dry in the zealous ‘rediscovery’ of British fayre. Near Victoria station, Chimes has been serving up a reliable menu of pies, roasts, proper puddings and first class cider since 1983, long before the current trend of bringing British back.
The crust on my Fidget Pie was so fresh and flaky it literally jumped off the plate as I sunk my knife into the succulent filling of gammon, potato and cider sauce beneath. The slow roasted lamb shank fell off the bone and had such delicious redcurrant and rosemary gravy that I had to stop my dining partner from licking her plate. On the sweet side, her spoon reached for a second helping of the gooey banoffee pie. The treacle tart was also rather good, although the pastry in the lemon meringue pie was much too thick and savoury for my taste.
The cider comes in hearty two-pint jugs that need sharing; as I left the restaurant I stumbled over the truth of my Grandfather’s warning that cider goes to your legs rather than your head. Chimes serves its own brew by Westons, as well as the refreshingly dry Biddenden’s cider and Old Rosie, a still, cloudy cider with a perky apple aftertaste.
The service is fast, professional, and adds to the warm atmosphere created by the wooden panelled dining room and the leafy plants hanging from the ceiling. If you’re looking for a reliable, affordable way to get your British food fix and a good old fashioned cider, Chimes sounds like the place to go.
26 Churton Street, SW1V 2LP
Tel: 020 7821 7456
Mon-Sat Lunch 12 – 3pm and Supper 5.30 – 10.15pm. Sunday all day from 12 – 9.15pm