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.

Classic starters and succulent steaks at the Cattle Baron

There’s been a lot of fine dining going on recently. Have you noticed? So today it’s time to step away from the gourmet and try out a new addition to the Cattle Baron franchise for some delicious, hearty, simple food. Their motto is “The finest cut meat grilled to perfection” …bring us some of that I say.

Set just off the R44 motorway between Somerset West and Stellenbosch, it’s a welcoming, light-filled bistro-style steakhouse. And there’s so much to choose from in the book of a  menu. The list of traditional starters made me smile, so many classics.

Creamy peri peri chicken livers were served on a bed of rice. A thoroughly satisfying starter (and a hearty portion) – the melt-in-the-mouth livers in their delicately creamy sauce had a delightful background of peri-peri.

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Tender livers in a delicate creamy sauce with a chilli bite

And who can resist a crumbed and deep fried camembert? Served here with cranberry sauce.

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The creamiest of cheesy starters

And yet another classic – they just keep coming. Smoked salmon trout was seved on deep fried rosti, topped with creme fraiche, capers and thinly sliced red onions.

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A delightful fishy plate

If you’re after the most basic of steak combos (which we were today), there’s a range of different cuts and weights. I love that you can order a 200g steak if you’re not feeling like a large portion. My sirloin came perfectly cooked to my specified medium rare with my favourite sauce – Monkey Gland. I always horrify non-Southern Africans by ordering this and have to assure them that there are no monkeys or glands involved in making this lovely tomatoey, oniony concoction. You can read the story of this sauce and find out how to make it by clicking here. I promise you’ll want to eat it again and again – it’s simply the perfect combination with steak and crispy chips.

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Sirloin, chips and my favourite sauce

Cattle Baron also does a Chateaubriand for one. Now isn’t that a good idea! And it comes with both Bernaise and mushroom sauce and is served here with creamy mashed potato (you have a selection of starches). A real indulgence.

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Chateaubriand for one to savour

And here’s another succulent sirloin, this time with the creamiest of champignon sauces.

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Another 200g sirloin, this time with mushroom sauce

All mains are served with your choice of vegetables, and I simply can’t resist the classic combination of sweetly satisfying pumpkin and delicate creamed spinach.

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My favourite vegetable combination

As well as the simple grilled steaks, there’s a great range of burgers, an impressive seafood section and the “Speciality steaks that made us famous” with such mouth-wateringly tempting offers as Sirloin Nevada topped with grilled bacon, avocado, camembert and toasted onions. Plus the house specialities sound amazing – I’ve got my eye on the grilled fillet served on deep fried rosti, topped with garlic sauteed mushrooms.

But I’ll also have to leave space for dessert next time – again they’re a collection of real classics including malva pudding, creme brulee and crepes suzette. Or finish off in true South African style with a Dom Pedro – a desserty drink made by mixing ice cream with your choice of liquor. Take my word for it – they’re delicious. As was everything else we consumed with delight at this lovely classic steakhouse (there’s that word again)!

Portions are substantial, prices are great value and the service is excellent, too. A welcome addition to Stellenbosch’s restaurantland.

We visited the Cattle Baron Grill and Bistro at Kleineschuur, just off the R44 between Somerset West and Stellenbosch.

Our newest local in Sea Point: NV-80

It’s always a joy to have good restaurants on your doorstep. And in Sea Point in Cape Town, the main road is buzzing with a range of places to eat. Five minutes walk away from where we’re staying is a newly completed shopping centre called The Point. Gleaming tiles and shiny windows welcome you and there are plenty of shopping opportunities, most significantly one of my favourite shops in the world – Dischem. It’s a discount chemist (South African shops often have the most literal of names, just so you’re not confused about what’s going to be on offer). I can (and do) spend hours in there and never come out empty handed!

Almost directly opposite the wondrous Dischem is a sparkling new restaurant called NV-80. Our friend Heath, who lives locally, described it as having the best steaks in Cape Town, rather a large statement and one that simply had to be put to the test.

It’s called NV-80 after the Goncalves brothers Naldo and Victor (NV, see) and 80 is a reference to the 80s when the duo began in the restaurant business. The venue is sleek and contemporary with a lovely, large balcony.

The Thursday night we dined there, the place was heaving. Obviously this new addition to Sea Point’s restaurantland has been enthusiastically welcomed by the locals. As well as all manner of steaks, the menu offers a range of seafood and salad dishes.

Large, juicy king prawns came in a delicious sauce of chilli and garlic – the sort of sauce you want to spoon into your mouth when the prawns have been polished off.

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Stunning prawns make this starter a delight

A large plate of carpaccio came scattered deep fried shallots and parmesan and drizzled with truffle dressing.

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Tender carpaccio to savour

Bearing in mind that we were here for a serious steak sampling, most of the table tucked into steak in various forms. It’s aged Chalmar beef – choose your cut and how you like it cooked and a glistening (and substantial) steak is placed in front of you.

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A substantial piece of ribeye

There’s also an impressive range of seafood available like this lovely platter of prawns.

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If steak’s not your thing, tuck into seafood

And then there’s the sirloin on the bone. Amazingly flavoursome and tender, the ultimate carniverous treat. Okay, it’s rather large but no one said you had to eat it all at once. When I’d had my fill, I happily carried the remains home and in fact I’m having it for dinner tonight in a spicy Thai salad I’ve created (watch this space for the recipe).

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Sirloin on the bone, a serious treat for meat lovers

You’ll also find tasty salads for the non-meat eaters, like this caramelised pear and gorgonzola combo with honey and mustard dressing.

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If meat’s not your thing there are tasty salads to tuck into

I was also aware of the freshly shucked West coast oysters on offer. I’m thinking of a Champagne and oyster extravaganza on the balcony for a lunchtime treat. You’ve got to plan ahead, that’s part of the pleasure of eating, after all.

Welcome to your new Sea Point home Naldo and Victor. And thanks Heath for the local knowledge.

NV-80 is at 76 Regent Road, Sea Point, Cape Town.

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.

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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

 

Tasty delights at The Palm in stylish Belgravia

Today it’s time for a touch of American foodie tradition and history in London.

The first Palm restaurant was opened in NYC in 1926 by John Ganzi and Pio Bozzi. The story goes that they wanted to name it after their hometown, Parma, but when they went to register it the clerk misunderstood their Italian accents and issued the licence for The Palm. And a dynasty was born.

There are now 30 Palms (still run by members of the two original families), mainly in the US and Mexico with one, conveniently for me, set on a stylish street in stylish Belgravia. Gracious Belgravia, where every second car seems to be a Rolls Royce and the beautiful squares and architecture inspire. It’s charming.

And this charm totally rubs off on The Palm. From its dark wood finishes to subdued-but-not-dim lighting and welcoming, helpful service, you immediately feel relaxed and at home…this place really has the feel of a local neighbourhood restaurant, kind of like I imagine that first NYC one did in 1926.

The menu’s American-Italian with a great range of salads, meats and traditional Italian dishes, like carpaccio and veal parmigiano. The iceberg lettuce wedge salad comes as a tower of Danish blue cheese, toasted walnuts, bacon, cherry tomatoes, chives and fried onions.

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A tasty salad that’s also a work of art

The Americans love a chopped salad and I have to admit to developing a bit of a penchant for them, too. You get so many different ingredients all beautifully chopped..easy to eat and so delicious. The Louis Gigi Delmaestro Salad is a delectable combo of shrimps, green beans, tomato, onion, bacon, lettuce, roasted pepper, egg and avocado tossed in a garlic vinaigrette.

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A beautifully fresh salad with plump shrimp

The specialities are prime aged steaks from America and lobster from Nova Scotia. Our server, Alex, who made the whole evening even more special with his friendly, efficient and welcoming service, brought a plate with the different cuts of steak to help us make our choices. Wow! From classic filet mignon to prime New York rib and amazing marbled ribeye, and they tasted even more amazing than they looked.

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The ultimate of treats, beautiful broiled lobster

An amazing steak and a classic Caesar salad

An amazing steak and a classic Caesar salad

 

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The elegant and welcoming dining space

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The exterior of The Palm on a typical Belgravia street

The Italian-American combination really works for me, and you’ll get great food and service in comfortable, elegant surroundings. The perfect place for a memorable night out.

The Palm is at 1-3 Pont Street,

A Covent Garden favourite: Sophie’s Steakhouse and Bar

I’m loving being back in London and returning to favourite dining venues as well as trying new ones. And of course, wandering around Covent Garden checking out what’s happening and what’s changed. Today was my chance to visit one of my favourites in the area – Sophie’s Steakhouse and Bar. It’s on Wellington Street, a street that’s so packed with places to eat, you’re spoilt for choice.

It’s an airy place, kind of New York warehouse-style, very contemporary with brick walls and high exposed ceilings. Sophie’s doesn’t take bookings which usually gets my back up, but as it’s quite big I’ve always managed to get a table without a problem. It also makes it a frequent venue for spontaneous lunches…for once I see the point of a restaurant not taking bookings!

It’s a steakhouse (clearly), with a range of the usual cuts of beef and traditional accompaniments like onion rings, fries, creamed spinach and salads. But there are other options on the menu, too, if you’re feeling like something lighter.

As you sit down and order your drinks a board of delicious salami slivers are delivered to your table. Cast a glance towards the bar and you’ll see a collection of them hanging from the ceiling.

A plate of salami slivers is delivered to the table to keep you going

A plate of salami slivers is delivered to the table to keep you going

One of my favourite pre-lunch drinks is a Kir – an irresistible combo of cassis liquer and white wine. Served in a glass with S for Sophie’s!

A deliciously refreshing Kir

A deliciously refreshing Kir

There’s a small selection of tasty salads. Bearing in mind the importance of steak in this establishment we went for the peppered steak salad. Fillet mignon with fresh garden leaves, spring onion, cherry tomatoes and tomato vinaigrette.

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Tasty fillet steak salad

I was happy when I spotted the tuna on the menu! Chargrilled and served with marinated tomato, avocado and red onion salsa. I like my tuna barely cooked at all. I have been known to get very grumpy when a plate of overcooked tuna is placed in front of me, as I always ask for it rare. So I was very pleased when the waiter responded to me by saying: ‘You mean you want it blue’. And blue it was with a truly delicious salsa with lots of avocado. The perfect lunch.

Blue tuna with plenty of avocado...heaven

Blue tuna with plenty of avocado…heaven

Sophie’s is also a great place to pop in for a drink or coffee – they do fab cappuccinos. It’s got everything you need to keep you happy!

Sophie’s is at 29-31 Wellington Street.