Savouring Basque delights at Lurra

Today we’re heading into Marylebone in central London. It’s kind of behind Marble Arch (north of Oxford Street) and an easy place to get lost with its labyrinthine streets lined with some of the Capital’s trendiest eateries and bars. Also a good place to get lost – you certainly won’t go hungry or thirsty here.

When I first moved to London I lived very close to the Marylebone Road and soon learned of the trickeries the English language throws at you when it comes to correct pronounciation. And the importance on getting it right! How they laughed when I told new friends I lived off the Mary-la-bone road. It’s nothing to do with Mary – despite the spelling – or la either. I was soon murmuring Mar-lee-bone under my breath until it settled for good in my grey matter. Don’t get me started on the hilarity I caused on telling people I worked in Grosvenor Square (even trickier to pronounce), but that’s another story.

Anyway, back to our actual destination for today, set in the lively streets of Mar-lee-bone. Lurra (which means land in Basque) is the second restaurant from Melody and Nemanja and opened in 2015. Their first was Donostia (which is the Basque word for San Sebastian), which opened in 2012 and is just down the road.

The legend goes that the pair were inspired after an unplanned stop in San Sebastian to leave their City careers and go into the restaurant business, opening establishments offering traditional Basque-style cuisine properly done. Must say I’ve had plenty of similar revelations myself but have never actually got down and done anything about it – so good for them…and for making a success of it.

Lurra is bright and modern with lots of pale wood and glass – and a lovely courtyard off to the side. Love a courtyard – straight on my list for next year’s summer eating.

The menu has happy Spanish familiarity about it, though I’ve never been to San Sebastian – something of a culinary hole for a Spainophile like me. Oh well, I’ve put that on one another of my many lists populating my many notebooks.

Gordal olives have happily become a regular fixture in my foodie life recently. Gordal means fat in Spanish and these plump babies are firm and juicy. Truly the king of olives.

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Fat olives make the perfect start to any meal

And then there’s anchovies, another Spanish star. This dish is called Matrimonio which, fairly obviously, means marriage in Spanish – and a great one it is too, with a mix of salted anchovies and boquerones which are marinated in vinegar, olive oil and garlic. Served up with mango vinaigrette and a pile of the sweetest marinated peppers. The flavours hit your taste buds with a real zing, and the different textures complete a joyful dish.

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Two types of anchovies in a pretty row

There’s a range of tapas dishes and a section called Large Sharing Plates, which includes a yummy-sounding slow-cooked suckling lamb shoulder. Feeling like a good meaty hit we went for the 14-year Rubia Gallega – Galician Blond steak dry aged on the bone. It was served on very medium-rare on a hot iron platter with a sprinkling of salt. Plenty for two to share, it’s rich and served with the bone on the side – a bone I wanted to take home to chew on. And somewhat appropriate that I was eating a bone in Mar-lee-bone. Sorry, couldn’t resist that.

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The aromas leap off this beautiful steak, making your mouth water

Steak and tomato is a dream combo for me. And the Spanish know their tomatoes. This is called peeled Pata Negra tomato salad and is marinated in some kind of magic. Sweet, soft and tangy.

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A tomato salad that brings happiness

We started off with a glass of bubbles. Cava is one of my favourite drinks and looks especially tempting in this stylish glass. Oh and there’s the courtyard in the background.

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Cava to go with the Gordal olives…yum

Another happy Spanish lunch in London Town. So happy I can enjoy those irresistible Basque flavours without the need for EasyJet.

Today’s price point

Lunch for two cost £85.50 without wine. Most of that went on the stunning steak which is £65.

White wine starts from £22 a bottle, rose is £34 and red starts from £24. It’s worth mentioning that the restaurant has a very special selection of one of the most fabulous Spanish wines ever (in my opinion), Vega Sicilia, which you can enjoy for £280 a bottle. I better start saving now!

Lurra is at 9 Seymour Place, Marylebone W1H 5BA.

The taste of Venice in chic St James

Today we’re eating in London’s West End in swanky St James. The area was developed in the 17th century as a residential location for the British aristocracy. Now it’s home to fine clothing stores, chic art galleries, gentlemen’s clubs and beautiful terraces. And of course its share of top restaurants. It certainly exudes class and you can feel a general poshness in the air.

Veneta is the latest in the fantastic Salt Yard stable which includes one of my favourites – its sister in Soho – Ember Yard. The elegant eatery is in the shiny new St James Place area and its menu is inspired by classic Venetian dishes. It has a real feel of glamour and plushness, the kind of restaurant that lifts your spirits as you walk in the door. You can just feel good things happen here!

We started off with heavenly focaccia, topped with a dusting of crunchy salt and rosemary sprigs.

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Warmly soft and flavoursome focaccia

I’m a bit of an anchovy addict and these were tastily luscious, served simply with paper thin toast and butter. The perfect way to get the gastric juices going.

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An anchovy snack to delight

Autumn brings beetroot to many menus and this colourful seasonal salad was packed with flavour. Slivers of salt-baked carrots and beef were served with sheep’s ricotta, date puree and oregano.

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A colourful autumn display

From the small plates section we chose this kid goat ragu with fresh pappardelle. Seems like goat is popping up on menus all around London Town and I must say I’m loving it. This ragu was in a class of its own, beautifully rich and silken, coating the wonderful fresh pasta.

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Goat seems to be all the rage in London

A bowl of polenta with parmesan cream and topped with earthy girolles from the vegetable section made the perfect accompaniment to the richness of the pork.

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Creamy polenta and earthy mushrooms

Our meaty choice was the charcoal grilled pork ribeye. The tastiest piece of pork I’ve had in a while, with that irresistible charred flavour and courgettes on the side.

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Pork chop perfectly charred

And then it was dessert time. I’m not much of a one for pudding but Italian sweets are not for resisting. Their mini tiramisu tower was exquisite, I especially loved the coffee cream on the side.

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Finishing the traditional Italian way

Today’s price point

Our lunch came to £50 for two people.

We opted to eat tapas-style mainly from their small plate section. There are also large plates on offer.

Veneta is at 3 Norris Street, St James W1.

It’s open from 7am Monday to Friday and 9am Saturday and Sunday for all-day dining (including breakfast).

The Barbary: It’s simply stupendous

Today I’m back in Covent Garden – in the delightful surrounds of Neal’s Yard. It’s a really cute, characterful area that is home to sister restaurant to The Palomar which I visited recently.

The Barbary takes its inspiration from the Barbary Coast – an area around the Atlas Mountains which includes Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. The area was infamous for its pirates and until the beginning of the 20th century was home to the Barbary lions which are now sadly extinct.

The menu reflects these countries from the Atlantic Coast and also through to the Mediterranean Sea and Israel. It makes for an amazing mix of ingredients and some of the most stunning and different food I’ve eaten in a while.

Food comes in tapas-size portions so there are plenty of opportunity for tasting. Seating is around the bar looking into the open and buzzing kitchen. You can’t book so there’s always the risk of queuing (one of my pet hates) so I’d recommend you go for a later lunch (after 2pm) or an early dinner (around 6pm) and you shouldn’t have much of a wait.

It’s the sort of menu that needs some explanation before those big decisions are made and the staff are very keen to help and describe the dishes with passion. They make them all sound so good but even once you’ve been guided by their knowledge you’re still not sure what you’re going to get. It’s just food I hadn’t encountered before but the good news is there’s no need to stress – I’m telling you that whatever you order is going to be fabulous.

Make sure to start with the Araya which is in the snack section. Little parcels of mince grilled on the fire and served with a tahini-style dip, these are sausage rolls in a league of their own.

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Simply heavenly sausage rolls

Masbacha chickpeas are soft and succulent with a wonderfully herby dressing.

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Zesty, herby chickpeas

And then there’s the Jerusalem bagel, a tasty, elongated delicacy generously coated with sesame seeds and served with a twist of spices on the side for dipping.

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The beautifully chew Jerusalem bagel

I am partial to a bit of chopped chicken liver and again this is spectacular, I think my favourite dish of the day. It’s chopped with hard boiled eggs and spring onions and served with a creamy, mustardy sauce. Another combination made in heaven.

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Chopped chicken liver and mustard

The fattoush salad of chopped tomatoes and herbs is topped with the creamiest whipped feta and a lovely limey dressing. A real star of a salad.

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Juicy tomatoes and soft clouds of feta

Our waitress enthusiastically recommended we order the pata negra neck which came with golden bulbs of roast garlic. I don’t really have the words to describe this amazing piece of meat. Rare and tender with a lovely charred crust from the fire, it melted on my tongue, the richest of flavours dancing across my taste buds.

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Melt-in-the-mouth flavourful meat

The Barbary’s bread is also stupendous. This amazing buttery nan was the perfect partner for the fishy taramasalata-like dip in all its pinkness.

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Naan and a fishy dip

The final wonder today is the goat. The second time I’ve seen goat on a London menu recently, it was roasted, shredded and crisped up on the fire. Served on a bed of garlicky tzatziki and topped with pickled red onion and fresh mint. Wow!

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Anyone for goat gyro?

I loved the mats which give you a clear picture of the region that’s inspired this marvellous food.

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I thought I’d also treat you to a picture of the beautiful Barbary lion with its dark mane that goes all the way around its stomach. They needed to keep warm up in those Atlas Mountains.

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And here’s a magnificent Barbary lion

Today’s price point

This array of dishes cost around £70.

Wine starts from £29 a bottle.

The Barbary is at 16 Neal’s Yard, Covent Garden.

High Tea and Bubbles at Lanes of London

Today I’m partaking of a great British tradition – High Tea. What a lovely way to spend an afternoon.  Sipping on bottomless Prosecco and trying out a range of aromatic teas while nibbling on delicate sandwiches, pastries and cakes. All in the wonderfully stylish surroundings of Lanes of London.

The restaurant’s large, light-filled room looks out towards Hyde Park – get a table by the window if you can. There’s not a lot of decision making today as the food menu is set. You will have to choose your teas but don’t worry it’s all clearly explained by the charming waiter. Our first selections were Flowering Osmanthus and Blackcurrant & Hibiscus. And after our feast of tea-time delights we finished off with the wonderfully refreshing Whole Peppermint Leaf – the perfect digestive.

Once you’re settled and sipping, the prettiest platter of sandwiches arrives. Four masterpieces – love what you can do with a sandwich. The mini poppy seed-covered bun was lightly toasted with ham and deliciously cheesy melted cheddar, cucumber sandwiches came with two layers of cucumber, there were soft little squares of egg mayo delight and thinly sliced smoked salmon on beetroot-coloured bread. These are no ordinary sandwiches. I could eat plates of them! Loved that the cucumber sandwich was topped and filled with cucumber, sliced perfectly to the size of the bread and that the egg mayo was topped with a slice of quail’s egg.

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Tempting trays of sandwiches

Then it’s time for the Cake Stand. There’s definitely something about this tier of sweet treats that gets the heart beating faster. It’s a beautiful thing. Starting from the top a collection of millefeuille, macaroons, chocolate mousses enclosed in slices of dark chocolate and melt-in-the-mouth mini choux pastries with coffee icing.

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A tasty collection nestles on the top layer

Next up (or down actually) it’s Battenberg cake. This colourful creation is said to have been made and named in honour of the marriage of Princess Victoria (one of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters) to Prince Louis of Battenberg in 1884. (Love cakes that have proper history!)

It’s made by baking a yellow and a pink sponge separately, then cutting and combining the pieces in a chequered pattern – holding them together with jam and then covered with marzipan. Sounds like a huge effort to me, but I suppose it’s worth it when the end result’s such a thing of beauty.

The strawberry jam and clotted cream for the scones are in the background – because scones are coming next!

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The checkerboard Battenberg in vibrant shades

It would be wrong to have tea in England without having scones. Today there were two types – plain and raisin, light and crumbly and served with the classic jam and cream topping – possibly one of the most perfect food combos ever conceived of.

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Close up to the classic scones

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The cake stand full of tempting goodies

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Chilled Prosecco served with style

Today’s price point

High Tea – which includes all the food above and your choice of tea is £39.

For £49 you can also include free-flowing Prosecco.

Menus change through the year. Currently you’ll find your tea will have a distinctly seasonal feel.

Lanes of London is at 160 Park Lane, W1 a minute’s walk from Marble Arch tube station.

The taste of Thailand in Covent Garden

I love Thai food, there’s so much variety  and everything’s bursting with flavour. I visit Thailand whenever I get the chance and my favourite part of the trip is trying different dishes every day. I have established some firm favourites over the years.

So today I’m delighted to be combining some of my favourite food with my favourite part of London. Thai food in Covent Garden – gotta love the international flavours of London Town.

SUDA Thai is tucked away in a beautiful courtyard just steps away from the hustle and bustle of this popular area of the capital. It’s a real haven and you feel even happier with the warm welcome you’re given. Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles and I discovered that the Thais have thirteen terms describing different types of smiles – a bit like the eskimos do for snow. You’ve got to understand there’s plenty of smiling going on in Thailand, and there also certainly is in SUDA Thai.

The menu is impressive, and pretty huge, taking some paging through. We were directed to the section headed E-Sarn Classic – dishes from north-eastern Thailand – which include different versions of green papaya salad (som tum), which I eat large amounts of on Thai holidays. We went for the classic version which comes with cherry tomatoes, roasted peanuts, dried shrimp and chilli.

The green papaya is shredded, mixed with a zingy, spicy dressing and topped with the other ingredients. It’s a crunchy, chilli delight of a dish and even eating on a cool autumn London day, the flavours transported me to the beach – well, one of the many beaches I’ve enjoyed this dish on. Now I know where to get my fix in London

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Classic som tum – spicy green papaya salad

We found ourselves drawn to the Grilled and Stir-fried section for our next choices. Fish works so well with Thai ingredients, and the sea bass was amazing. It came in crispy batter, drizzled with sweet and sour chilli sauce and accompanied by a fresh salad.

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Sweet sea bass fillets in a delightful sauce

Our third choice was the black pepper beef. Beef tenderloin was served with a coating of black pepper sauce, crunchy onions and peppers and little stems of green peppercorns to bite into. Perfect served with a bowl of fluffy, tasty egg fried rice.

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Tender beef, crunchy veg and a peppery sauce

SUDA is the perfect place to pop in for a light lunch, as we did, though it was hard narrowing down the choices. Next time I’d like to go with a large group of friends so we can really do the menu justice and try loads of their delicious offerings. The selection of small bites looked particularly enticing, and then of course, there’s all the curries…

Today’s price point

SUDA is really good value. Our food today cost £36.25 and was a satisfying lunch for two.

Wine starts from £18 a bottle.

SUDA Thai is at St Martin’s Courtyard, off Upper St Martins Lane, London WC2. It’s a short walk from Leicester Square tube station.

Tucking into tapas at Jose

Today I’m heading to Bermondsey, close to London Bridge station, an area of London I’m not at all familiar with. There’s always something new to discover in this great city. Of course this is no random decision, I’m heading with great purpose for a little tapas bar called Jose which is owned by chef Jose Pizarro.

Jose is inspired by the bustling tapas bars around La Boqueria market in Barcelona – one of my favourite places in the world – so that has to be a good start. You can’t book so to ensure we’d get in and to avoid my dislike of queueing we got there five minutes before it opened at noon. And we weren’t first in line. That’s how popular this little spot is. It is a very small space with two counters along the windows, a central island and a bar and it filled up almost immediately and remained so for the two hours I spent there with some coming and going.

Menus are chalked on two boards above the bar, offering cold and hot delights which change regularly. I recently fell in love with Gordal olives (literally translated it means fat olives) in Catalunya so ordered a bowl while we pondered our other choices. These are the queen of olives, large, luscious, zesty and substantial, once you’ve gone Gordal olive it’s hard to go back. Look how beautiful they are.

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Happiness is a bowl of fat olivesI

I don’t often order octopus, my best memory of it ever is at lunch in the seaside town of Cadaques in Catalonia. Though it was quite a few years back, those Spanish food memories do have a way of staying with me. I also remembered a recent conversation with a Spanish friend who said his favourite dish was Galician-style octopus (polio). So octopus it was, sweet, tender and smoky, served with perfect potatoes and plenty of paprika. I inhaled those paprika aromas as the plate was delivered.

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A simple, totally mouthwatering octopus dish

Beetroot abounds on menus these days, I’m glad to say. Today’s offering came with blue cheese, pine nuts and a rich, silken dressing. Large chunks of beetroot with bite with a sprinkling of chopped chives to finish off a delightful dish.

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A beautiful salad of plump beetroot

Clams are used in a wide range of Spanish classics and these sweet babies were served on a bed of paella-like rice, perfectly capturing the flavours of the sea on a plate.

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Clams lined up on their succulent bed of rice

I loved Jose, it’s totally my sort of place. A buzzy, happy atmosphere, friendly welcoming service and fabulous Spanish food. But do get there at noon if you definitely want to get in.

Today’s price point

Lunch for two including a bottle of wine, coffee and service came to £65.

Jose is at 104 Bermondsey Street, London SE1. There’s also his restaurant Pizarro’s down the road at 194 Bermondsey Street where you can book. Think I’ll back Bermondsey-way before too long.

Square Meal