Where to stay in Vietnam: The Victoria Phan Thiet Beach Resort and Spa

Continuing my series of Where to Stay, today we’re in Phan Thiet in Vietnam. Phan Thiet is a coastal city in south-east Vietnam, a four to five hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City airport – sounds long but it’s totally worth it when you get there. It’s the capital of Binh Thuan Province with a population of around 300,000 and is actually only 200km from Ho Chi Minh City. At its centre is a bustling little fishing port and an amazing market.

The Victoria Phan Thiet Beach Resort and Spa is outside the centre in the beach resort area of Mui Ne. There’s a long palm-lined stretch of sand with plenty of watersports and a strip of hotels, restaurants and shops alongside it.

The hotel is laid out through beautiful gardens and is built in the style of traditional Vietnamese country houses. Here’s what I loved about our stay there.

The room

We stayed in one of their beach bungalow. A meander down a winding path through lush tropical vegetation takes you to your brightly painted, welcoming home for your stay. Set right on the edge of the beach – a few steps from the sand – the room was light and spacious with an enormous bed, large wardrobe and generous seating area.

Looking back from the beach to the beautiful bungalows

The bed’s made even cosier at night with the mosquito net

The glass doors opened out onto a large patio complete with two amazingly comfortable sun beds and an umbrella. This is where we spent a lot of time reading, sipping wine and just taking in the marvellous view from our verandah.

The seating area and our view towards the sea

There were good tea and coffee-making facilities, including a range of teas and a fridge which was restocked every day with fresh bottles of water and replacements for anything else you may have drunk. So no issues with in-room refreshments then. Other essentials (for me anyway) included a safe, plush bathrobes and towels, lovely bathroom products and great wifi.

The large bed and its crisp white linen

The bathroom

One of the best hotel bathrooms ever…large with a separate toilet, a wonderful corner bath for long bubbly soaks and – best of all – an outside area with a hammock and powerful shower.

Light floods in from the enclosed outdoor shower

How I love an outdoor shower

The views

The joys of waking up every day and opening the curtains to look through palm trees across the beach to the vast South China Sea.

Looking out across the South China Sea…just awesome

And as the sun set every day the little lights along the beach came on turning our beach view into a twinkling, magical land.

Night comes and a magic falls over the beach

I particularly loved the light at sunset

The pools

As well as the warm, inviting sea to swim in there were two pools, never crowded while we were there. Both had waiter service so you could lie back and enjoy lunch or a cocktail in the sun. The infinity pool at the top of the resort is perfect for getting in your lengths.

Looking through the hibiscus to the pool

Chef Hoang and his amazing food

This is a hotel with food in a league of its own with a genius chef. From the vast breakfast buffets to the amazing dinner menu with a selection of Vietnamese and Western dishes, there are plenty of exciting flavours to discover. Chef Hoang is always on hand making sure things are running smoothly when he’s not cooking in the kitchen.

The first couple of breakfasts took some serious decision making. The range of Vietnamese dishes on offer was stupendous – all on top of plenty of pastries, eggs any way you want them and a tropical fruit feast. I soon established my favourites – and tucked into fresh Vietnamese rolls every morning, filled with prawns, vegetables and herbs and dipped into Chef’s delicious, spicy peanut sauce.

Fresh Vietnamese rolls for breakfast, just delightful

A colourful first breakfast course of tropical fruit

We pored over the menu every night carefully choosing different dishes until we’d pretty much gone through it all. We tucked into delightful salads with Chef’s secret dressing, fresh fish and wonderful pork and duck dishes.

The amazing prawn salad in crunchy baskets

On our last night Chef Hoang made us a special dinner. We started with his special prawn salad served on banana leaves in these lovely bamboo bicycles (love the presentation).

Our prawns presented on the cutest of dishes

And for mains he specially selected a grouper for us from the market that morning. It was baked in a tangy sauce and  parcelled into rice papers with herbs, noodles and vegetables added at the table. A real ceremony.

Our special grouper and vegetable parcels

The beach

Okay everyone knows I’m a real beach baby, so I was in complete heaven here. The whole of hotel life is focused around the beach. You eat looking out to sea, open your curtains to the beach, exercise by walking along the beach…and it’s all rather quiet as the beach is private to the hotel.

At the Victoria life centres around the beach

My favourite time of day was sunset, which happens early in Vietnam – around 5pm. The beach became bathed in golden lights and shades of orange and pink.

Another beautiful sunset turns everything golden

The cookery course

We signed up for a food and cooking excursion. Awakening early we headed into the harbour with our guide, Lam and Chef Hoang. The catch of the day was coming in and the negotiations were in full swing as people heckled over prices – the women take delivery of the catch from the men and do all the bargaining.

The bustling harbour in Phan Thiet centre

From there we headed to the colourful market in the centre of town with it’s beautiful piles of tropical fruit, fish galore and every cut of meat you could need. Plus all those random household necessities dotted throughout. On the way home we stopped off at the local fish sauce factory where Lam explained the vast quantities of fish sauce consumed by the Vietnamese – it’s used in so many of their dishes.

On our return to the hotel we headed for our cookery course in the beautiful thatched gazebo on the beach. Chef Hoang and two of his chefs cooked us a delightful lunch which we ate overlooking the beach. Nothing like having three chefs cook you a private lunch! We left armed with a tasty collection of Vietnames recipes, including one for his secret salad dressing. I really must make that soon, it’s fabulous. And no, my lips are sealed.

Chef Hoang and his smiling helpers

Here’s the amazing prawn and banana flower starter they made specially for us. How exotic is that?

Prawn and banana flower with Chef Hoang’s secret dressing

The staff

The service at the Victoria is impeccable. We were so well looked after by everyone, from the front desk, waiters, chefs, masseurs, cleaners and gardeners. There were smiling, happy faces everywhere and nothing was too much trouble.

The spa

We had excellent massages in the open-fronted spa, with sea breezes and crashing waves providing the background to our indulgent treatments. Vietnamese massages are slightly less harsh than my experience of Thai ones, making it a perfectly relaxing experience while also getting rid of all those long-haul-flight induced knots. I also had a lovely manicure – the staff were expert and prices good value.

The gardens

The beach bungalows are sprinkled through the most beautiful and lovingly tended gardens. Perfect green lawns punctuated by our sunny yellow rooms and tropical trees and flowers including three of my absolute favourites: hibiscus, bougainvillea and frangipani.

Wash your feet off after a walk through the gardens

Live life surrounded by bougainvillea and hibiscus

The bedtime stories and other special touches

Okay this is a unique one. Every night we returned from dinner to discover cake delights in our little wooden box with a rolled up scroll alongside it – our nightly bedtime story. A truly charming touch and a great way to find out more about Vietnamese folklore.

I so looked forward to my bedtime story every night

Other special touches I loved included the fact that a chilled glass of water was delivered to your bed at the pool or beach as soon as you sat down – why doesn’t every hotel do this?

And the towels were extra large – having been specially made to perfectly cover the cushion on the wonderfully comfortable beach beds.

The Victoria Phan Thiet Beach Resort and Spa is the sort of place where you walk around with a smile on your face all day. Its beautiful and relaxing environment is made even more idyllic by the combination of smiley service and wonderful food.

It was a sad day indeed when we had to say goodbye and head off on the next leg of our adventure to Saigon, which you can read about here.

We organised our trip to Vietnam and Thailand with travel experts Eastravel. They are great to deal with and at the planning stage we spent some time discussing where we would visit and stay – with great results. It was a fabulous, well organised trip. You can read more about Vietnam and Thailand soon. Watch this space.

Have you been to Vietnam? What was your favourite thing about it? Do get in touch, I’d love to hear from you.

Vietnamese cuisine in a unique London location

Tonight we’re going under the arches in Covent Garden to enjoy some Vietnamese flavours at Moc Kitchen.

As I’m always discovering in London, despite having lived here for 30 years now, there’s a piece of history I’m not aware of around every corner. Today I got to thinking about the city’s railway arches because of where we were heading for dinner.

There are plenty of them – just think how many large stations there are and I’m sure they all have a story to tell! Historically they were a shelter for the homeless and vagrants. I can imagine they could have been somewhat dodgy places to go, with their darkness and dankness!

The arches between the Strand and the Thames, where we headed tonight, have been described as ‘a little subterranean city where no sane person would have ventured to explore without an armed escort’. Now that sounds scary.

The arches also provided a refuge in a more organised way when they were used as air raid shelters during World War II.

Now they’re even better places to visit, proving a wonderfully atmospheric setting for restaurants and bars. Like Moc Kitchen.

Opened this year by Lan Nguyen, who hails from Hanoi, this Vietnamese eatery offers a comprehensive range of dishes using classic ingredients. So I was expecting lots of fresh flavours and herbs. And that’s just what I got.

The menu takes some perusing and decision making. It’s neatly divided into sections to help the process, with tempting titles like Salads and Veggie combinations, Spring and Summer Rolls, Hot, Sweet and Sour Soups, Mocs Crispy, Mocs Pancakes, Mixed Bowls, Fish Selection, Duck in Sauce, Beef and Coconut Curries.

I’ve had the crispy pancake experience before so we went for a the southern style savoury golden pancake with prawns, beansprouts, celery and red peppers. A hearty plate of delights arrives at your table. You need to roughly chop the crispy pancake with all its goodies nestling inside, take a lettuce leaf and stuff it with a portion of pancake, loads of fresh herbs and a dash of sauce. Then munch.

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A crispy pancake with its savoury filling

The hot la lot rolls are are grilled lemongrass beef wrapped in wild betel leaf. An exotic-sounding dish if ever there was one.

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Little tempting rolls of beef

And here’s a stunning duck summer roll. Love Vietnamese rolls wrapped in the light rice paper and stuffed with deliciousness.

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The freshness of Vietnamese rolls

For mains we had to go for the grilled cha ca fish. Marinated monkfish with Vietnamese dill, spring onion and roasted peanut served with rice noodles. As is again the case you need to mix everything up at the table…I love this aspect of Vietnamese eating. So a mix of fish, herbs, noodles, chilli and vegetables in a bowl and tuck in.

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Sizzling fish with plenty of dill

Another exotic-sounding dish. Prawn salad with lotus root. The combination is beautifully fresh.

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A light lotus root salad

And then there’s the spicy grilled beef served with the chef’s special spicy sauce. Again served with a cornucopia of herbs, noodles and vegetables to mix up in your bowl and savour.

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Chilli beef with plenty of goodies

Vietnamese food is certainly a great addition to London’s amazingly wide-ranging restaurant land.

Moc Kitchen is at 2 The Arches, Villiers Street, WC2, a minute’s walk from Embankment tube station. It is also open for takeaways at lunchtime.

 

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.

prawns

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Interior

Leicester Place is at 1 Leicester Street, WC2.

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Back to school for Vietnamese cooking lessons

Lately I’ve been learning all about Vietnamese food and have totally fallen in love with it. The fresh flavours, abundance of herbs and variety of sauces all make for fabulous dishes. So when I was invited to School of Wok for an afternoon of Vietnamese cooking, I couldn’t resist. Even better – it’s in Covent Garden, so off  I went to discover a lovely cookery school just minutes away from the Covent Garden Piazza.

Our enthusiastic group was greeted by Nev, our teacher for the day, who explained our menu and set about demonstrating how we prepared our ingredients using the sharpest of knives. The school’s cleavers are amazingly light and super sharp, making chopping a dream. Definitely something for my Christmas list!

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Taking instructions before the preparations begin

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Our ingredients await

We prepared all these dishes from scratch. Our spring rolls were stuffed full of vermicelli, carrots, spring onions, Chinese wood ear mushrooms, pork and chicken mince, all well seasoned. I discovered that wrapping a spring roll can be quite a challenge. The right quantity of filling is crucial or your rolls end up looking like a plump little pillow, rather than elegantly elongated. We got the hang of it though and produced this plateful, to squeals of joy! My group were very pleased with our results.

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Spring rolls all lovingly wrapped

Next up, the lemongrass beef. A mix of lemongrass, garlic, shrimp paste, fish sauce, soy sauce and palm sugar is melded into beef mince for all flavours to absorb. Smells kinda pungent at the time of making, let’s say that shrimp paste doesn’t have the nicest of aromas. But it does taste surprisingly good. We rolled out our mince into mini burgers and put it aside to fry later.

lambwok

Platefuls of baby burgers waiting to be cooked

We also made Pho which is a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup with meat (chicken in this case) that’s served with handfuls of fresh herbs. And while we were finishing off in the spacious kitchen, our spring rolls appeared freshly cooked. All beautifully golden and ready to be sampled. Really delicious and a lot easier to make than I expected, it’s quite therapeutic all that wrapping, too.

springrolls2

Crispy and delicious with chilli dipping sauce

On our return from the kitchen our preparation table had been transformed into a Vietnamese dining extravaganza, so we all sat down to tuck in.

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The table transformed with the fruits of our labours

And here’s the fabulous pho. A great broth that’s perfect for totally tailor-making to your taste. I added some of the chilli and lime dipping sauce that we made to give it a real nice bite.

pho

A fabulous bowl of pho

Our lemongrass mini beef burgers came out beautifully and we dipped them liberally in the mix of fish sauce, lime juice, garlic and chilli.

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All our freshly cooked dishes filled the table

An afternoon at School of Wok is so much fun, educational and will satisfy your appetite when  you tuck in to the fruits of your labour at the end (with a glass or two of wine).

It’s a very hands-on experience where you really get to grips with your ingredients and prepare and cook everything yourself. It’s the best way really – I’m a very bad observer on cookery courses, I need to get stuck in. Nev, our teacher was knowledgeable and made it into a really enjoyable afternoon, too. And I learnt even more about the wonderful food of Vietnam…gathering new recipes for my repetoire always makes me excited. A wonderfully entertaining way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

School of Wok is at 61 Chandos Place, Covent Garden

www.schoolofwok.co.uk

Mien Tay: a lovely Vietnamese restaurant in Battersea

So on a wild and wet May night we ventured out onto the streets of Battersea to try something Vietnamese.

This local eatery is run by Mr Su Tran and Mrs My Lee who are from South West Vietnam. The restaurant is named after the area they originate from and they serve great dishes from the region.

On what was a thoroughly unpleasant Tuesday night (weather-wise) this buzzing little restaurant was packed with locals all tucking into an array of tasty dishes. The menu is amazingly diverse with everything from spring rolls to stir fries, to soups, seafood and even frogs legs and eels.

We began with two amazing starters. A plate of goodies is placed in front of you and it’s time to assemble your parcels, dip them in the sauce and eat…a lovely ceremony.

The chargrilled pork balls with honey and spice came on a small bed of noodles, with large lettuce leaves, plenty of fresh mint and pickled carrots and cucumber.Roll it all up in the lettuce and you’re ready to go. I’ve rarely tasted such tender and flavourful pork and the fresh herbs added a lovely zing. Fresh herbs are huge in Vietnamese cuisine and really make these starters something even more special. Loved the basket it was served in, too.

ender and tasty pork and accompaniments ready to be wrapped

Tender and tasty pork and accompaniments ready to be wrapped

Next up, traditional crispy pancake stuffed with chicken and beansprouts. This package needs to be sliced and again wrapped in the lettuce leaves with more herbs, before dipping and munching. Both the starters were on the substantial side and light and so tasty we polished them off in no time.

Crispy omelette stuffed with delicious chicken and bean sprouts

Crispy omelette stuffed with delicious chicken and bean sprouts

For main courses we asked our lovely waiter for his recommendations. The whole crispy fried sea bream was served with fish sauce and loads of fresh, shredded mango plus more herbs, coriander this time. The crispy skin and sweet, succulent sea bream were a revelation and melted in the mouth.

The amazing crispy sea bream nestling under sweet shredded mango

The amazing crispy sea bream nestling under sweet shredded mango

We did also order the much-talked-about stir fried goat with galangal which came in a beautifully rich sauce. Unfortunately my pictures weren’t the best for some reason, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

A plate of delicate, perfectly fried rice and vegetables completed our feast.

Perfectly cooked fried rice with vegetables

Perfectly cooked fried rice with vegetables

Each of the glass-topped tables has a little surprise nestling underneath. A miniature village complete with a house, boat, river, fisherman, flowers and foliage. The care and attention to detail blew me away, I simply  had to share a picture with you, despite the reflection off the glass. What a lovely idea.

How beautiful is this? A little village nestles under the glass on each table

How beautiful is this? A little village nestles under the glass on each table

I’m a relative novice when it comes to Vietnamese food and every time I eat it, I love it more. Its fresh, light and truly unique and gotta love all the herbs.

This is an extremely popular place which isn’t surprising when you consider the amazingly reasonable prices, friendly service and high quality of food. Starters (and they’re large) are around £6, Seafood mains around £7 and huge bowls of traditional pho (soup) around £7-£8.

Oh and it’s only five minutes walk from Clapham Junction station (and they do takeaways)…guess what, on my way home…plenty of opportunities for more visits then.

Mien Tay is at 180 Lavender Hill, Battersea SW11
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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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

parpadelle

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.