My 2014 favourites from London’s restaurant-land

I can’t believe we’re already halfway through January 2015 – I wish I had a slow motion button I could push, it all goes past way too fast.

2014 gave me plenty of chances to sample a wide range of cuisine all around the beautiful city that is London.  This year I tasted Peruvian and Korean food for the first time and totally loved both of them. I also learned more about the flavours of Vietnam as well as discovering new venues to sample some of my favourite cuisines. Here’s a taster of my London food adventures from last year.

Scientific works of art at Restaurant Story

This amazingly beautiful seafood dish was served up at Restaurant Story just south of Tower Bridge (201 Tooley Street) as one of a range of snacks and dishes on their fabulous tasting menu. It was foaming on arrival and the mist cleared to reveal a beautiful garden under the sea with razor clams, scallop ceviche-style, devilled crab and marinated prawns on a bed of stones, seaweed and flowers. Chef Tom Sellers is incredible creative and his menu offers you a fascinating trip around the world of scientifically constructed food that’s beautifully presented and tastes fabulous, too.

This seafood dish is a real spectacle

This seafood dish is a real spectacle

A new South American odyssey

One of the cuisines I learned more about in 2014 was from Peru. I even managed to get hold of some fabulous Peruvian ingredients and cooked a range of exotic dishes at home. This lomo steak Luancaina from Lima in Fitzrovia (31 Rathbone Place) was served with yellow aji sauce and goa cress. Aji are chilli peppers that are widely used in Peruvian cuisine, in this case to make a delicately creamy sauce which was served with rare, tender beef.

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Steak Peruvian-style to savour

Traditional French at its best

From Peru to France. I visited the new Paul Restaurant in Covent Garden (29 Bedford Street). The original bakery opened in 1889 near Lille and since then spread around France and the UK selling mouth-watering cakes, pastries and bread. This is their first venture into a restaurant and serves classic French cuisine done perfectly. After a discussion about whether one should order roast chicken in a restaurant (overall consensus no), I asked for the roasted free range corn fed half chicken marinated in tarragon, lemon and garlic. Best decision of the day – this is roast chicken like no other.

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The best roast chicken ever? Possibly

Spanish and Italian meet over hot coals

Next stop is Ember Yard in Soho (60 Berwick Street W1) which takes its inspiration from the Spanish and Italian method of cooking over charcoal – hence the embers, I guess. These two cuisines combine to offer a lovely choice of tapas-style dishes. The grilled Iberico presa (which is kind of the pork equivalent of Wagyu beef) was served with whipped jamon butter. A total taste sensation – the Spanish really know how to raise, cook and serve a pig or two.

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The King of pork served rare with luscious butter

A great-value local Vietnamese

2014 was also a year to learn more about the fresh flavours of Vietnamese food. Mien Tay in Battersea (180 Lavender Hill) is a casual local eatery with a packed menu of traditional cuisine at really great value. This substantial starter of a crispy pancake stuffed with chicken and beansprouts arrives piping hot at the table. You then need to slice it and wrap the substantial chunks in lettuce leaves with lots of fresh herbs before dipping into the tasty sauce. Vietnamese cuisine demands a lot of hands-on eating.

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Tuck in to this beautiful array of tastes and textures

The simplest of menus cooked to perfection

La Tagliata (11 Sandys Row) is a short walk from Liverpool Street Station on the edge of the City of London. Their totally simple menu offers one starter (pasta) and a main course of tagliata. This traditional sirloin steak cooked, sliced and served on a bed of rocket, parmesan and cherry tomatoes is a classic dish that needs a lot of celebrating. The crispy potato squares were carb perfection…and hooray for a menu that involves only the tiniest bit of decision making!

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A classic dish perfectly prepared

Tagliata was also witness to some unusual restaurant behaviour from me – I ordered, loved and polished off a dessert. I’m not much of a dessert or chocolate lover but for me it doesn’t get better than this wonderful strawberry panna cotta. Bring on more panna cotta in 2015.

My ultimate dessert – strawberry panna cotta

My ultimate dessert – strawberry panna cotta

Modern Indian in stylish Bloomsbury

A new discovery in a part of town I don’t often visit made for a fabulous night out. Salaam Namaste (68 Millman Street) in Bloomsbury offers wonderful modern Indian cuisine with a regularly changing specials menu. I had this Goan-spiced scallop starter with mango salsa, presented with flair.

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Luscious Goan-spiced scallops, pretty as a picture

 Feasting on Korean delights at Koba

Korean’s another cuisine I discovered in 2014 – and tucked into at Koba again in Fitzrovia (11 Rathbone Place W1). This amazing assortment of meats, prawns and vegetables, including marinated beef sirloin, sweet and spicy chicken and sweet and sour sauce comes on a platter for you to cook yourself at the table. Delicious aromas engulf you and once everything’s ready you wrap it up in lettuce leaves with condiments like soya bean paste and diced spring onions with chilli vinegar. Great food with a lot of ceremony involved in eating it.

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A different way to cook…an indoor barbecue

 

Gordon Ramsey’s new kid on the block

I’m a bit of a Gordon Ramsey fan, having found him perfectly charming when I met him and particularly loving his Union Street Kitchen in Southwark. So when a new place opened in his stable, I had to try it out. Of course, Gordon isn’t in the kitchen himself, at Heddon Street Kitchen just off Regent Street (3-9 Heddon Street), Maria Tampakis, who hails from Brooklyn, NYC, is in charge. She describes her food as “seasonal, modern European food spiked with Asian influences. A stylish restaurant in one of my favourite hidden streets in London where I enjoyed a delightful starter of roasted veal carpaccio, dill pickles and quails eggs with a tuna dressing. Amazing fresh flavours reminscent of one of my all-time favourite starters, vitello tonnato.

An amazingly creative version of vitello tonnato

An amazingly creative version of vitello tonnato

What are your favourite restaurants in London? Where should I be visiting in 2015? Do get in touch with your suggestions, I’d love to hear from you.

Down the stairs at Lima Floral

On my last visit to Lima Floral in Covent Garden I was kind of hoping to taste their tapas offering. Tapas (or pequeos as they’re called in Peru) are only served in the  downstairs bar and I had to choose off the a la carte menu that night. I did love it, as you can see here. It also gave me an excuse to return…and head straight down the stairs.

The  welcoming bar has booths along one wall, a sparkling swirly blue floor and windows displaying exotic plants just outside, Peruvian plants, naturally.

The tap water arrives with a mysterious flavour which I quickly identify as cucumber. Yummy! Their huge jugs have slivers of cucumber and little redcurrants added for the tastiest tap water in Covent Garden.

The menu is divided into five sections, each with four options.

First up is the Causa section. Causas are a unique potato starter. This is tuna, Amazonia cashew, blue potato and uchucta. A blue (purple?) potato provides the base and it’s topped with fabulously fresh tuna tartare mixed with the uchucta which is a spicy Andean sauce. It looks quite spectacular and tastes amazing, too, once I’d got over the shock that it was cold…I was expecting to put something hot into my mouth, no idea why. Something completely different.

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Succulent helpings of tuna tartare on amazing blue potatoes

The tostada section offers tortilla-based choices. The asparagus, avocado, uchucuta and onion ashes was like a cleverly sophisticated form of guacamole to dip into with some added asparagus – raw, very thinly sliced asparagus..nothing is quite what you’re expecting at Lima Floral which makes for an exciting dining experience.

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The freshness of a beautifully green plate of food

I love ceviche, so this section is a must for me. The salmon, rocoto tiger’s milk and limo chilli pepper was the prettiest dish of the day with its two vibrant sauces made using different chilli peppers. Fresh and zesty.

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Sunshine and spiciness on a plate

Then there’s the anticuchos – little pieces of grilled, skewered meat that are popular street food of Peru. Beautiful beef tenderloin with panca chilli pepper and pachamancha sauce and served balanced over a bowl of sweetly silken corn puree. Something so simple, done so perfectly, my mouth is watering now as I write about it.

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Tender spicy beef and the creamiest of corn puree

Dishes cost £6 to £7 each and four make a satisfying lunch for two, so it’s good value. And it’s a great place to pop in for a cocktail and an exotic Peruvian snack after work. My trio of Lima experiences is complete…now I’ll just have to do it allover again. I’m loving the Peruvian flavours.

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There’s a tropical view through your window

Lima Floral is at 14 Garrick Street, Covent Garden (entrance in Floral Street).

A Peruvian feast at Lima Floral in Covent Garden

So tonight I’m back in Covent Garden trying out newly opened Lima Floral. I ate at Lima earlier this year and absolutely loved it, so felt it was compulsory to visit the new member in the family. Chef-patron Virgilio Martinez describes the latest addition as a “natural evolution” and talks about it being “natural, indigenous and unique”. Well, I have to say he’s certainly achieved that, the Lima eating experience is a truly exciting one.

The white washed brick walls and brightly coloured cushions create a wonderfully modern and comfortable environment. The menu is, as at Lima, totally intriguing. Having checked the menu out online (something I frequently do to aid the decision-making process), I have to admit to having googled some of the dishes before our visit. There’s no need (I just like to be prepared) as the staff are really friendly, helpful and knowledgeable and will explain everything in detail, and pretty poetically, too.

The menu isn’t huge but it’s still difficult to choose. I was thrilled with my starter – and escabeche salad beef crudo, algarrobo syrup, warm escabeche dressing and green salad.. Each dish has the ingredients laid out under its title and you’ll find some ingredients from the diversity that is Peruvian food that are unheard of in the UK. Well, I certainly hadn’t heard of them…you’re always learning with food.

This beef dish is nothing short of spectacular, beautifully tender raw beef thinly sliced and tossed in a tangy dressing. Mouthwatering flavours and melt-in-the-mouth textures.

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A beautifully tender and tangy beef starter

The sea bream ceviche is their signature dish so had to be ordered. It’s described as sea bream, tiger’s milk, avocado, crispy onions and cancha corn. Before you get alarmed there are no tigers involved here, or their milk, it’s the Peruvian term for the juice produced from the ingredients of ceviche, which does have a milky tone. Many Peruvians believe ceviche is a hangover cure and an aphrodisiac (interesting combination), this particular dish could probably do no end of positive things to your physical and mental welfare. A mix of amazing flavours and textures with the beautifully soft sea bream, creamy avocado, crispy onion and wonderfully tart juice.

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Lima Floral’s signature dish: sea bream ceviche

The beef sudado is described as seared entrecote, coriander, heritage tomatoes and white quinoa. All served with a tasty broth, I can’t remember steak tasting better and so perfectly cooked.

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Tender seared beef served up with Peruvian flair

And finally, a totally amazing fish main course. Grilled monkfish with yellow chill pepper, courgette, green and red tiger’s milk and green leaves. A bowl of deliciousness with the flavoursome plump flesh of expertly cooked monkfish.

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The flaky monkfish nestles under a bed of shaved courgettes

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I’Even the bread’s colourful and packed with flavours at Lima

I’m aware some of the photography is not up to my usual standard, could have been the lighting or the fact that I was so excited at the arrival of each dish I didn’t pay enough attention to snapping it. Apologies for that, I’m sure you get the idea of what this wonderful food was like.

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And more colour…with traditional Peruvian design

The amazing fusion of flavours that is Peruvian food intrigues me more and more. Lots of it to still be tasted I am sure. The good news is that I know where to go! Lima Floral has a bar downstairs with a piqueos menu (now doesn’t that sound nice). It’s basically tapas and you don’t have to book…I’m going to be wandering in there some day soon, I can promise you that.

Lima Floral is at 14 Garrick Street, Covent Garden. The entrance is in Floral Street which is very close to Leicester Square Station.

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Discovering Peruvian food at Lima, London

It seems like I’ve been hearing a lot about Peru recently. First, amazing Peruvian avocados from giant orchards at the foot of Peruvian mountains. Then a box of exciting Peruvian ingredients was delivered to my door (recipes coming soon). And now a wonderful Peruvian restaurant in London. In one of my favourite parts of London, too, just off the restaurantland that is Charlotte Street.

Much as I’d love to, I can’t see myself making it to Peru any time soon, which is why London is so fabulous – at least I can sample some of its flavours without even leaving home.

Lima is the creation of world-renowned Peruvian chef Virgilio Martinez. He’s the chef patron of Central in Lima, Peru which is ranked No. 15 in the San Pellegrino list of the best restaurants in the world. Lima in London is the first Peruvian restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star. It’s a light, contemporary space with friendly, welcoming staff.

The menu is, well, totally different to anything I’ve encountered. Peruvian food has got to be the ultimate and most complex form of fusion food…as well as being influenced by the Incas, this multi-cultural country’s cuisine also has strong influences from Spain, China, Italy, Germany, and Japan. What an adventure, you’re travelling the world on a plate!

This fantastic asparagus dish, Asparagus Peru, was described as coming with tree tomato emulsion, Andean sweet potato, red Shiso. Wow, what a stunner! On my first mouthful I did think, where’s the asparagus?, but very quickly worked out that it has been very thinly sliced into long shreds which works amazingly. A totally innovative dish, I’ve never seen asparagus served like this – and I love asparagus so have eaten more than my fair share of it in restaurants!

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Light and fresh with delightfully different textures

The tuna Nikkei is yellow fin tuna served in a luscious sauce with samphire and sweet onion. A beautifully vibrant dish with the freshest of tuna.

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A beautiful tuna dish in shades of pink and green

The lomo steak Luancaina is a spectacle to behold. I gasped with delight when this arrived at our table. Beef loin is served with yellow aji sauce and goa cress. Aji are chilli peppers and are a huge part of Peruvian cuisine, as I’m discovering in my research before attempting to create some delicious dishes myself. They come in many different shapes, sizes and degrees of hotness. This dish was nothing short of spectacular, the tender rare beef, the creamy sauce, heaven on a plate.

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A wonderful plate of beef with a traditional Peruvian sauce

The Octopus Olivo is a beautifully delicate and dainty dish of braised octopus, organic white quinoa and botija olive. Botija olives are indigenous to Peru and are said to be one of the oldest olives in the world.

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Gorgeous little morsels all in a row

I love ceviche and have even made my own (rather delicious) version of it. But I’ve never come across a hot ceviche, until now! This salmon hot ceviche was described as coming with plantain megado aji limo pepper and ginger. Sounds exotic and tasted totally amazing with lovely chunks of fish and a zest, flavoursome sauce.

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Delightful chunks of salmon and a light, summery sauce

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Three plates of stunning food in a row

I probably should have done my Peruvian cooking first and then headed for Lima, fully educated in the intricacies of Peruvian ingredients. Because they are quite different and there are some unusual additions and ways of cooking. How I love discovering a whole new world of ideas and inspiration out there. I can’t wait to start experimenting.

And then, of course what I will have to do is head back to Lima for some more tastings…I can see my exploration and sampling of Peruvian food is going to go on for some time.

Oh and the exciting news is that another Lima – Lima Floral – is opening in Covent Garden next week. Book me in!

Watch this space for my first attempt at cooking Peruvian food. Coming soon.

Lima is at 5 Rathbone Place W1

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