Celebrating the food of France at Les Deux Salons

Today we’re just a stone’s throw from Trafalgar Square in a beautiful bistro. Les Deux Salons is designed in classic French style and exudes a welcoming glow.

It seems appropriate that I’m writing about French cuisine in London a few days after the tragic events in Paris, another great European capital. Especially as some of the victims were simply out having a drink on a Friday night after a busy working week, something I obviously do frequently. So my thoughts are with Paris and its citizens and I’m hoping the fear goes away and we can stop killing each other needlessly. Life is precious and short…let’s all try to make the most of every moment. And this is a good place to start.

Les Deux Salons is quintessentially French, it kind of feels like you’re in Paris as you walk in the door. The menu is classically bistro and has plenty of delights on offer, including this amazing pissaladiere. It’s a rectangular tart of the lightest buttery pastry topped with a fabulous combination of caramelised onions, black olives and salty anchovies. The kind of dish that simply melts in your mouth and delights your taste buds with the beautifully contrasting flavours. This is one tart I have to try making myself.


Beautifully light pastry and a tasty tangy topping

I’m always a fan of a bit of calf’s liver and served here with smoked bacon in a rich, velvety sauce and topped with deep fried sage leaves it was wonderfully rich and satisfying.


Succulent calf’s liver, smoky bacon and crispy sage

Perfectly matched with a plate of sweet, buttery carrots.


Sweet, buttery carrots

And a portion of piping hot fries, soft inside and beautifully crunchy on the outside. Gotta love perfectly cooked chips.


Perfectly crunchy golden fries

And this is Parisian gnocchi served with a wild mushroom sauce. Our waiter told us Parisian gnocchi is different from Italian gnocchi in that it is made with dough rather than potatoes – much like Chinese-style dumplings. A beautifully autumnal dish packed with rich, earthy flavours.


Gnocchi in a creamy mushroom sauce

Here’s the outside of Les Deux Salons, now doesn’t that look tempting?


One glance at the exterior and I want to go in


A taste of Paris in London

Les Deux Salons is at 40-42 William IV Street, Covent Garden

Loved the London landmarks that were lit up in solidarity with Paris after that dreadful Friday 13th.

To Paris with love from London.


Tower Bridge’s beautiful tribute to show support for Paris

A fabulous new opening: The Restaurant at Leicester House

London’s restaurantland never ceases to amaze me. There’s always somewhere new to try and the standard of food seems to get higher and higher. In my explorations of Covent Garden I often roam into Chinatown and feel transported to another land. The aromas, sights and sounds envelop you and your mouth starts watering. It’s a classic part of London that I always love taking guests to – usually for large portions of crispy duck with pancakes and all the trimmings. We’ve polished off our share of ducks in those bustling restaurants!

Today I’m right on the edge of Chinatown eating in a fabulous new discovery, really new, it had only been open two weeks when we visited. The Restaurant at Leicester Place serves Vietnamese-French food tapas-style. It’s a beautifully stylish and cosy space packed with Georgian charm (love the wooden panelling) and history. Karl Marx and Johann Strauss stayed here – and you can too, as it’s also a boutique hotel.

I love tapas-style eating and I love Vietnamese food, something I’ve been discovering more about in recent times. So let’s say I was excited, especially having perused the menu on line – I can’t help myself.

Our waitress was lovely, friendly and helpful with recommendations and explaining the format. We ordered dishes from the Crustacean and Small Things and To Serve with sections. There’s also a section called Bigger Dishes. Portions were pretty generous and this spread was plenty for two of us. Oh, first up a delectable bowl of prawn crackers to nibble on while you wait and ponder the menu.

prawn crackers

Moreish prawn crackers, the perfect way to start

We were clearly in a fishy mood today, with three seafood dishes – all great choices, an amazing combo of flavours and textures and the freshest of ingredients. The grilled tiger prawns were served with crushed peanuts and nuoc cham. Substantial, succulent prawns with beautifully zesty accompaniments. The crunch of the peanuts finished the dish off perfectly.


Generous-sized prawns wrapped in the flavours of the East

I demolish green papaya salad by the bowlful when I’m in Thailand. I love it’s zesty crunchiness and the touch of chilli – it tastes amazing and always feels like you’re eating health on a plate. This Vietnamese version – green papaya, daikon and cashew slaw was just as lovely.


Gotta love a delicious green papaya salad

Tender, sweet scallops were served with seashore vegetables, mirin, herbs and bone broth. Melt-in-the-mouth with the perfect balance of the flavours of the sea.


Indulgent scallops came with a little jug of tasty broth

This amazing squid dish was a revelation. The softest of squid blackened on the grill with an amazing lime and chilli dressing and crunchy veg. Oh the flavours.


The most perfect squid dish for a summery day

Our second side dish was the wonderfully simple steamed ong choi with garlic and crispy fried shallots.


Delicious vegetables to go with our seafood

Our waitress recommended we try the coconut rice which was served in a piece of bamboo. Love it.


A lovely way to serve rice

A thoroughly satisfying lunch in lovely surroundings. Oh, the coffee is really good, too. And you can take an amble and check out the sights of Chinatown afterwards. Here’s a shot of the enticing interior.


Leicester Place is at 1 Leicester Street, WC2.

Square Meal

Going French at Chez Lindsay in Richmond

So today we’re venturing to the outer reaches of London to beautiful Richmond. Well it’s really in Surrey but let’s say outer London – the underground does go there after all.

Home to one of the best views in town from the top of Richmond Hill which many artists have painted, a fabulous green with a pub on it called The Cricketers, and of course the majestic Thames, Richmond has a lot going for it. Including a delightful bistro called Chez Lindsay which specialises in authentic cooking from Brittany.

On a particularly damp and drizzly weekday night, we were greeted with a warm welcome and a mouth-watering menu, one of those ones it’s really hard to choose from. A wide range of starters, pancakes (or galettes, a Breton speciality) and mains served up by charming French waiters – why does English spoken with a French accent sound so good? Anyway, on to the food.

Boudin Noir – black putting served with apple compote may not look the most appealing of starters but it was fabulous. The sausage was beautifully aromatic and melt-in-the-mouth and the apples couldn’t have been more appley.

black pudding

Simple flavours that go together beautifully

I really battled to decide and in the end went for the Salad d’Ecrevisses. A crayfish and parmesan salad with croutons, apple, new potatoes and a light creamy garlic dressing. Beautifully presented in a neat stack, it was packed with flavour and textures. Truly delightful.


Fresh and crunchy, a wonderful crayfish dish

And then there’s the galletes which can be starter or main course. These  nutty buckwheat pancakes are cooked to order on a flat griddle with a wide range of savoury fillings. Yummy.

ham pancake

Simply tasty – pancake filled with cheese and ham

Brittany is know for its fish dishes, so the Parmentier de Poissons seemed a logical choice. The flavoursome fish, cider and leek pie was served with a rocket and ruby chard salad.


Fish pie topped with crunchy mashed potato

And then the wonderfully indulgent calves liver. Foie de Veau was served with petits pois a la Francais (peas with cream, lettuce and bacon) and mashed potato. Classic French fare perfectly done.


Pink calves liver nestles on a bed of peas and mash

A fishy pancake for mains – the smoked salmon galette came with lemon and chive cream. A substantial portion of salmon I’m pleased to say (do love smoked salmon).

salmon pancake

The ideal dish for smoked salmon loveres

The roast rump of saltmarsh lamb was served with redcurrant and wine sauce, samphire, spinach and potatoes. A substantial, rich and warming dish, perfect for a dank autumn night.


Tender and tasty croupe d’agneau

To say we were all replete at this stage would be understating it. But something made us order some cheese to share…and it was worth it. A selection of four French cheeses (naturally), the ideal way to finish off a meal.


Can’t resist the cheese!

Chez Lindsay serves a great array of delicious French dishes and is a welcome sanctuary in Richmond which has more than its fair share of restaurant changes on its high street. It’s relaxed and friendly and also really good value for  money. What more could you ask for?

Chez Lindsay is at 11 Hill Rise, Richmond Hill.

Square Meal

A heavenly piece of France at PAUL in Covent Garden

Tonight I’m back in Covent Garden trying out a brand new bistro. I seem to keep discovering romantic stories of family businesses that have been going forever. PAUL is another one of them.

The company was started in 1889 when Charlemagne Mayot and his wife opened a small bakery in Croix near Lille. It was his granddaughter Suzanne and her husband who carried on the business by taking over a famous bakery-patisserie in Lille belonging to the Paul family. They decided to keep the name. PAUL patisseries are now in 29 countries around the world and 125 years later, what has now become something of an empire, is still family owned and run.

I’ve had many PAUL encounters in London. It’s hard to walk past one with their tempting array of cakes twinkling at you from the display. And their coffee’s really good, too. Tonight’s PAUL, though, is one with a difference. Behind the irresistible confectionary is their first foray into the world of restaurants – a classic bistro. With beautifully Parisian decor and a menu based on classic, simple French cuisine, there’s no doubting its French-ness. And the food is wonderful…it’s easy doing simple food, but it’s not always easy doing it to perfection. They’ve certainly achieved that here.

The conundrum of picking a starter was neatly averted by going for a platter! A rather carniverous one at that. This selection of saucisson, jambon cru, coppa, rosette, terrine and smoked duck breast came scattered with zesty onions and cornichons with a basket of assorted bread on the side. They take their bread very seriously here, it’s all made on-site with flour that’s milled from wheat grown exclusively for them by French farmers. No wonder it tastes so good. This meaty combo was amazing. I particularly like the saucisson and smoked duck and could have eaten a whole tin of the pate de Campagne. It was ridiculously good!


Heaven is…a board of charcuterie with onions and cornichons


Classic pate de Campagne: rustic and bursting with flavour

The petit Camembert came with toasted Campagne bread. A starter to share and get stuck into…dipping the toast into the creamy ooziness of the camembert is wonderful, if potentially messy!


Delectable baked Camembert with rosemary and honey

The main course options (not surprisingly) shout France! Things like blanquette de veau, Toulouse sausages, Andouilette, Coq Au Vin and steak frites. After a discussion about whether it was boring to order roast chicken in a restaurant (yes is the answer) I decided to try their roasted free range corn fed half chicken, marinated in tarragon, lemon and garlic. Beautifully lemony with a hint of scented tarragon, this strikingly yellow (from the corn) chicken was mouthwateringly succulent and could certainly be entered into a competition for the best roast chicken ever! And it was huge…well, they did say half a chicken so I don’t know why I was surprised at the size…seriously, this is a main for two to share, especially when you consider all the other delicious dishes you are going to be unable to resist!


The best roast chicken ever? It’s certainly up there

Like the dauphinois potatoes…yummy, yummy, yummy. Love the little pan, too.


Creamy dauphinoise potatoes to ooh over

Another classic is the duck confit, a slow- cooked duck leg served on buttery mash. Crispy, soft and flavourful, this has got to be one of the best ways to eat duck.


Confit de canard aux olives

There’s a great selection of wines, as you’d expect from any class French establishment.

The breakfast and snack menus look extremely tempting, too. Who can resist a croque monsieur, or madame for that matter.

And then there’s the desserts. A range of tarts to start with – the lemon (citron) is truly scrumptions (I’m running out of adjectives!) or you can sample millefeuille, eclairs, macarons, brioche-based delicacies and sorbets and ice creams.

© Giles Christopher - Media Wisdom Photography Ltd

Cakes, tarts, slices, macarons…a fabulous array of sweet delights


© Giles Christopher - Media Wisdom Photography Ltd

The elegant and welcoming interior

PAUL had only been open about a month when I visited. The strangest thing about it (in a good way) is that it feels like it’s been around forever and you are eating classic family recipes that have been passed down through the generations.

The space is stylish and comfortable, the staff serve with a twinkle in their eyes and it’s also extremely good value. For example, my jumbo helping of chicken costs £12.50.

A great new addition to the Covent Garden restaurant scene, as well as to the family business. Welcome La Restaurant de PAUL.

Le Restaurant de PAUL is at 29 Bedford Street, Covent Garden

Square Meal

South Africa meets France at Cafe Dijon

The quest continues to bring you the best that Cape Town has to offer. Tonight we went up the road to Green Point. Cafe Dijon opened 15 months ago and is run by South African Francophiles Sarah and Johan Du Plessis (AKA Dup).

A fabulously designed French-bistro style interior leads out onto a magical terrace with twinkling lights hanging from the trees and a braai fire burning. Totally charming.

The menu offers a range of classic French dishes like cassoulet, homemade Toulouse sausages, duck a l’orange, steak tartare and salad Lyonnaise, amazing Angus beef steaks and  inventive dishes with a South African touch.

On Dup’s recommendation we started with the home smoked snoek trio, It’s a beautiful plate with a portion of bobotie, a spring roll and a croquette served on sweet potato puree – yes, all made using that humble ingredient, snoek. South Africans can be quite snobbish about it (it’s a fairly cheap fish for those of you who don’t know) and would be very hesitant to order it. Well, that would be such a mistake here. The bobotie looks like bobotie (which is usually made with lamb mince) – and is silken, flavoursome and  irresistible! Dup told us what the secret ingredient is, but well, its a secret. The spring roll comes with perfect pastry and is packed with shredded, tasty snoek and the croquette is velvety and moreish. We spent ten minutes discussing which one was the best…the jury is still out! What a way to start.

The starter of the year so far, snoek heaven

The starter of the year so far, snoek heaven

South Africans are a real nation of carnivores – my brother tries to convince everyone that chicken is a vegetable! But they are fussy, so top-quality steaks are always important and they are carefully and personally sourced for Cafe Dijon. This Angus beef ribeye was outstanding, perfectly cooked and served with crispy frites and Bearnaise sauce (my favourite). Oh, and lovely onion rings, too.

The tastiest of ribeye with amazing Bearnaise sauce

The tastiest of ribeye with amazing Bearnaise sauce

Portions are pretty hearty, especially this cassoulet. Made with slow-braised pork hock and cannellini bean casserole with Toulouse sausage and duck confit, thyme and garlic, it is more of a wintery dish as our waitress Evie pointed out. We love cassoulet we couldn’t resist ordering it. Totally lovely, the pork hock was so tasty and the Toulouse sausage (which they make themselves) tasted authentic and meaty.

Meaty, rich and melt-in-the-mouth

Meaty, rich and melt-in-the-mouth

Okay, so now we were full. Then I started reading the dessert menu aloud and before we knew what had happened we’d ordered a pavlova. “I’d come here just for this,” murmured my husband as he tucked into this substantial, sweet and delicate plate piled high with a wonderful selection of the freshest fruit.


The dessert of desserts: pavlova with Creme Chantilly and seasonal fruit

Dup and his staff (particularly Juno and Evie) are engaging, charming and so passionate about the restaurant and the food you can’t help but get excited. And the dishes deliver on their promises. Here I am getting prepared to order…do I look happy?

Happiness is...a courtyard and a menu

Happiness is…a courtyard and a menu

The braai fire is always lit, and tonight Dup took the opportunity to braai a cornucopia of local meat (lamb and pork from the Karoo) for a party of Americans. How’s that for personal service?

Dup the braaimaster does his stuff while an excited customer watches on

Dup the braai master is watched over

The wine list is fabulous, with some really special ones to try if you want to treat yourself. And although sitting outside was lovely, the interior is also very enticing. Oh well, we’ll just have to go back and commandeer an inside table.

Cafe Dijon is at 15 Napier Street, Green Point

Oh, and they have a lovely, inspiring blog with beautiful pics and recipes for you to try. For more info check out their  website at www.cafedijon.co.za


My London Top-10 for 2013

2013 has been a fabulous year for me with lots of opportunities for travel. I was lucky enough to visit Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Thailand and South Africa, all in less than eight months.

Of course, I was also lucky enough to be based in London when I wasn’t in one of these other fantastic countries. There’s always something happening in London. This vibrant city has been my home for over 28 years (yikes, that makes me feel ancient), and while some of the old favourites remain, there’s always something new and exciting to try. So I couldn’t resist the opportunity to tell you about the best dishes I’ve eaten this year from a select 10 of London’s restaurants that I visited, spread throughout what’s arguably the best city in the world.

Here they are, in no particular order – there’s no chance I could rank them…sorry! Enjoy the lovely pictures, I guarantee they’ll get your mouth watering.

South America-bound in Marylebone

Whatever type of cuisine you’re looking for, London will have something to offer. This year saw quite a trend in South American restaurants popping up all around the capital. Zoilo is Argentinian  and opened early this year. I went there in May and tucked into what was definitely my best steak of the year. So favoursome, so tender, so perfectly cooked and topped with an amazing fresh, zesty and spicy sauce. This is  a steak  no meat lover should try to resist.

Zoilo is at 9 Duke Street, London W1


Ojo de bife and chumichurry at Zoilo

Dinner with Heston in Knightsbridge

Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner restaurant opened in Spring 2011. This year it was awarded its second Michelin star and is ranked at no. 7 in the San Pellegrino Worlds 50 Best Restaurants. I’m not a huge Heston fan, having found lunch at The Fat Duck more like a science experiment than a meal. But having developed serious feelings of inadequacy upon reading the said San Pellegrino list I decided as Dinner was close to home I simply had to pay it a visit and up my tally of top-50s visited (if only by one).

I loved Dinner – the food, the service, the space, the whole experience. Lunches are great value at £38 (it was £36 when I visited in May) for three courses – but it seems impossible not to get a serious wallet-draining hit with the wine! Oh well, sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind. The best dish of the day was this beautiful cured salmon with monks beard, peas, caper and mussel broth.

Dinner is in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge (across the road from Harvey Nichols), overlooking Hyde Park.


A truly delectable salmon dish with flavours of Spring

Oh-la-la we’re off to Paris, in Piccadilly

Another trend for 2013 in London was the appearance of more and more Parisian-style brasseries. I love this kind of simple food, cooked perfectly, so bring on the brassieries.

Brasserie Zedel opened late last year in the space that used to be the Atlantic Bar and Grill. How I loved that place, it felt the ultimate in sophistication at the time. So I started from a good place mentally, walking in feeling happy to be descending the grand spiral staircase once again into the buzz and clatter of brasserie life.

The menu offers a decent range of classic French dishes and it’s such fabulous value for money, you actually can’t believe it. The space is grand and imposing while also feeling welcoming, transporting you instantly across the Channel. I’ve recommended Zedel a lot this year and everyone’s had a good experience.

My starter – the humble egg mayonnaise was as perfect as can be. The lightest, tastiest mayo ever and a crisp pile of lettuce in the middle sprinkled with more chopped hard boiled egg.


Oeufs Durs Mayonnaise – superb egg mayo gets me every time

An old favourite in Covent Garden

My blog was conceived of and started in Covent Garden, so I was very excited when glamorous Covent Garden favourite, Christopher’s reopened  in May this year after serious renovation. One of the very first American restaurants in London, it originally opened in 1991. The beautiful listed building is now home to a stylish Martini bar on the ground floor and an elegant dining room on the first with huge picture windows looking out over Waterloo Bridge. A classic view to make anyone proud to be a Londoner.

The modern American cuisine is beautifully done and this tuna dish is definitely the best tuna I had all year – and I eat a fair bit of tuna. If you’re after a  bit of glamour, a touch of history and some seriously good food, you can’t go wrong with Christopher’s.

Christopher’s is at 18 Wellington Street, WC2.

seared tuna

Seared tuna with horseradish cream, wasabi and creole mayonnaise

A fabulous Vietnamese experience in Fulham

Next stop and it’s somewhere completely different. A laid back, neighbourhood Vietnamese in Fulham, Orchid Vietnam Kitchen…what did I say, the variety in London is amazing. My first visit to a Vietnamese restaurant, although I’ve cooked a lot of Vietnamese dishes as I love the freshness of all the herbs they use and the simplicity of a lot of the dishes.

This night was like a tour of the country with dishes and tastes from different regions. The winner was the Monkfish Cha Cha La Vong. Monkfish marinated in galangal and saffron, brought in a frying pan and cooked at your table with handfuls of fresh dill and served with more herbs, veggies and rice. Such a wonderful dish, and the food we ate and people we met got me seriously thinking about planning a visit to Vietnam in 2014.

Orchid Vietnam is at 351 Fulham Road, SW10


The freshest herby fish…and you’ve gotta love a bit of cooking action at the table

Great British food in magical Soho

The Social Eating House, in the heart of Soho, is the third London restaurant from British chef, Jason Atherton. I love exploring Soho and was lucky enough to work there for seven years. It’s food and drink heaven and here’s a welcome new addition. A wonderfully glamorous space with an intriguing menu.

My starter of mushrooms on toast was pure genius. The earthy, wild mushrooms arrived bubbling in a sealed bag which the waitress then snipped the top off. The toast arrived in a little toast rack and was spread with a cep puree which added such depth to the dish. Clever, simple, fun and so delicious, who knew mushrooms on toast could be so delicious!

The Social Eating House is at 58 Poland Street, W1. It was awarded a Michelin Star shortly after I visited.


Bubbling wild mushrooms to pile on your toast

Starred French cuisine in Covent Garden

Another day, another Michelin Star restaurant. Set on a side street (the same one as The Ivy) on the edge of Covent Garden, La Cuisine @ Joel Robuchon also offers brasserie-style food in a bright, modern dining room. Their set menu is good value at £50 for three courses, including wine pairing with starters and main courses.

There’s also a lovely roof terrace where we enjoyed post-lunch drinks on a balmy September afternoon. It was hard to drag ourselves away. The dish I’ve chosen was my main course of Whiting. Light and tasty with a luscious helping of melting butter, dishes don’t get more typically Parisian than this. Something completely different. La Cuisine is not cheap, which makes it a lovely place to really treat yourself and take your time over a long, leisurely lunch.

La Cusine is at 13-15 West Street, WC2


My Parisian-style Whiting with melting butter and delicious seaweed

Gordon Ramsay’s latest venture in Southwark

I spent a large part of the summer working in the Southwark area in London, right next door to a very noisy building site (sorry for the tautology). Turns out it was the development of the latest Gordon Ramsay offering in London, The Union Street Cafe. Rumour had it that David Beckham was involved in the venture and pre-opening, online booking went bonkers. After opening it emerged he wasn’t…not sure what that was all about? Why people would want to go to a restaurant more because Beckham is involved is a bit of a mystery, it’s not like he’s going to be there every night!

I went along in the first couple of weeks it was open and really liked the place. The modern warehouse-style space lends itself well to the modern Mediterranean food, the service was relaxed, friendly and efficient. My main course of lamb neck with polenta was melt-in-the-mouth. Some anti-Ramsay critics gave it a bit of a bashing, he does suffer from negative press just for being Gordon Ramsay…not terribly open minded. I’d certainly go back.

Union Street Cafe is at 47-51 Great Suffolk Street, SE1

lamb polenta

Beautifully soft lamb neck with the creamiest of polenta

Designer style in Hyde Park

One of the many great things about London is that it’s packed with beautiful parks. You’re never far from an open space to relax in and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. So imagine my delight when I heard of a new restaurant opening in Hyde Park in November this year.

The Magazine’s building was designed by famous Iraqi-British architect, Zaha Hadid, who designed the Aquatic Centre for the London 2012 Olympics. It’s modern, bright and really quite stunning with a lovely menu.

My delectable Thai beef salad starter was packed with punchy Asian flavours mixed into a tasty bundle. The most perfect starter of the year? Quite possibly.

The Magazine is in Hyde Park, five minutes from the Serpentine Gallery on the north side of the Serpentine Bridge.

Thai beef salad

Thai beef salad packing an authentic punch

Perfect Italian in lovely Charlotte Street

When it comes to what I’d call Eating Streets in London, Charlotte Street has got to be the ultimate. I always say that if I didn’t live in London I’d check into a nearby hotel for a week (or possible even two) and make my way up and down the street until I’d tried everything out. There’s so much there. And I’ve discovered somewhere new, too.

Obika describes itself as a Mozzarella Bar – and indeed there is a bar at the front where you can sample all sorts of deliciacies. The Mozzarella is made in Campania and flown into London three times a week, so you can be sure it’s fresh.

My pasta dish of parpadelle with sausage and tomato ragu was the best pasta dish I’ve had all year. Perfectly cooked, fresh pasta coated in an amazing sauce. I can see myself whiling away many an hour in Obika, which is an international “chain”. Oh and one’s just opened in Poland Street in Soho, I can hear it calling me.

Obika is at 11-13 Charlotte Street, W1


Amazing al dente pasta ribbons and a luscious sauce

Wow, what a fantastic array of dishes I’ve been privileged to sample this year. And that’s just in London. Watch this space, as I feel the need to share with you even more: how about my top-10 from the rest of the world? Coming soon.