Summer lunch in the courtyard at Boulestin

Happy sunshine news from London! We’re having a heatwave! Seriously there’s an official definition of a heatwave which is when the daily maximum temperature for more than five consecutive days exceeds the average maximum temperature by five degrees. Not sure if we have actually met the target (though I think we may have surpassed it) but it feels like a heatwave to me. And what happens when there’s a heatwave in London? We all become obsessed with living an al fresco life…obviously.

Parks turn into sunbathing paradises, pavements transform into the perfect spot for social gatherings over a chilled beverage and everyone’s smiles widen. Of course I also have to make it my mission to search out the best restaurant roof terraces, courtyards and terraces the capital has to offer.

Which is why, today, we are heading to Boulestin in swanky St James. Not the most obvious place where you’d find an alfresco dining opportunity but that’s because Boulestin has a secret courtyard! How I love a secret courtyard.

This Boulestin opened in 2013, though the original was in Covent Garden, opened by Xavier Marcel Boulestin in 1927. M Boulestin is reputed to be the world’s first TV chef (on the BBC from 1937-1939). He is described as the most imaginative and liberating food writer of his time. High praise.

The menu is influenced by his original recipes, serving authentic French classics and a whole lot besides. It’s an exciting selection to tempt you as you settle under the umbrellas in the serenity of the courtyard, just steps from the hubbub that is St James.

What’s on the menu

On such a balmy day my eyes lit up as soon as they saw the gazpacho consommé in the starters section. And it was served with a cucumber and basil sorbet (can anything sing summer out any louder?) and some marinated courgettes.

This is a truly wonderful summery dish with an intensity of flavours that zing off your palate. And it’s so light and refreshing, it’s almost like a delicious savoury drink. I wanted to lick the bowl.

Boulestin: gazpacho

The taste of summer in a bowl

The charred octopus came with almond taramasalata (now that sounds intriguing), green olives and a roasted fig. Flavoursome, tender octopus with little dots of added flavour to bring the dish together perfectly – oh and the sweetness of that fig.

Boulestin: Octopus

An exotic dish of octopus and fig

There’s a cornucopia of wonderful mains to boggle your mind, made easier by the fact that the warm summer air made the stomach go towards a desire for something cooling. So first up, lemon and rocket risotto served with mousserons and ricotta. Mousserons are small wild mushrooms which added a delicious earthiness to the creamy, citrussy taste, all topped off by fluffy clouds of ricotta. The rocket made for the perfectly green shade – certainly greener than most of the lawns in sun-soaked London Town.

Boulestin: risotto

A vibrant, zesty bowl of risotto

The tuna tartare came with avocado mousse, compressed watermelon and a black sesame tuille. Succulent tuna layered with the watermelon and wonderfully dressed made for another sunshine dish – especially when combined with the creamy avo and crunch of the tuille. Wow! And double wow for the watermelon, such a creative and delicious addition.

A spectacular tuna dish to savour

How was that for the perfect summer lunch? Hidden away in the peace of a secluded courtyard drinking in the warm London air and enjoying great food. I’m not counting how many times I’ve used the words summer, sunshine or anything related, though I know it’s plenty! How I love London during a heatwave…can you tell?

Boulestin: courtyard

The beautiful hidden courtyard

Today’s price point

Lunch cost £76 for two people for a starter and a main each.

Boulestin is at 5 St James St, London W1

Tea French-style at Le Restaurant de Paul

Today we’re heading to Covent Garden for an English afternoon tea with a twist – a French one – at Le Restaurant de PAUL. The restaurant is set in the heart of Covent Garden, a short stroll from the buzzing piazza. It’s a family company dating back to 1889 with five generations of baking expertise behind it. So you can expect some seriously good delights here – both savoury and sweet.

All of which arrive beautifully laid out on their attractive tower. Accompanied by free-flowing sparkling wine – vin mousseux from Ky Procco by Alain Gayrel.

PAUL: whole tea

Our tower of tasty tea goodies

Sandwiches made from the freshest of French bread – it’s baked on-site every day using specially imported French flour – with three tasty fillings. Oozing camembert, tender chicken and a salmon and cream cheese mix. Dainty and flavoursome, the perfect start to tea. I love a good sandwich and always wish for more. Perhaps that’s just greedy.

PAUL: sandwiches

The beautifully fresh sandwiches up close

Next we tucked into the brioche which was served with jam and cream – instead of the English tradition of scones. Simply wonderful, the fluffy brioche had a golden finish, a perfect sweetness and was mouth-watering spread with cream and strawberry jam. I would never eat another scone again if this was the option on offer. Seriously.

PAUL: brioche

Brioche with cream and jam: a wonderful combo

PAUL: Brioche

Golden brown and beautifully soft

The top of the tower was home to the stunning sweet treats. The croquant slice offers chocolate deliciousness that has to be tasted to be believed. A dark chocolate sponge cake layered with chocolate mousse, crisp praline and topped with a dark chocolate glaze. Wow!

The Fraisier slice was made from fluffy layers of Genoese sponge, filled with mousseline cream and fresh strawberries and finished with pale green marzipan and more strawberries. And then there were the famous PAUL macarons – we had their vibrant pistachio and raspberry delights.

I’m loving this French take on tea!

PAUL: cakes

A colourful plate of sweet treats

Le Restaurant de PAUL is a hard place to walk past – its window is brimful of irresistible goodies! My advice – don’t walk past, go in and treat yourself.

The tempting window full of delights. © Giles Christopher – Media Wisdom Photography Ltd

Today’s price point

Bottomless afternoon tea comes at £24.95 per person. For that you get your complete tower of goodies – sandwiches, brioche, cakes and macarons and free-flowing sparkling wine.

Le Restaurant de PAUL is at 29 Bedford Street.

P.F. Chang’s Asian Table in bustling Covent Garden

So today we’re heading in to the Leicester Square bit of Covent Garden to try some delicious Pan-Asian dishes. They’re from the wok at P.F. Chang’s Asian Table – inspired by co-founder Philip Chiang’s dining table – these establishments are extremely famous in America. There are over 300 restaurants globally and this is the very first one to hit London Town. Good news.

It’s a lovely haven to step into after the hectic mass of people exploring London’s streets outside! Gotta love that London vibe! The restaurant has a great buzz, too, with its loft-style decor, open kitchen and friendly waiters. There’s a good selection of starters, soup and noodles, sushi and salad, mains and vegetables and sides to choose from.

The Original Dynamite Shrimp sounded simply too good to resist. Crispy tempura shrimp coated in spicy Sriracha aioli. Sriracha is a hot chilli sauce made from a paste of chilli peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt. It’s named after the coastal city of Sri Racha in eastern Thailand. Here it’s mixed with mayo for a delightfully spicy aioli that perfectly coats the crunch of the tempura and the juiciness of the prawns. A large portion that is soon demolished – this is a starter I need frequently in my dining life.

P.F. Changs: shrimp tempura

The vibrant Sriracha aioli makes the perfect coating for tempura prawns

Feeling on a bit of a seafood roll – well spring roll to be accurate – we opted for the handmade lobster and shrimp spring rolls. Hand rolled and filled with the sweetest lobster claw and knuckle meat, poached shrimp, lemon and chives. A perfect combination of sweet shellfish in a kind of half spring roll batter which made them look and taste beautiful. The rolls were served with a Thai curry aioli which was delicious but possibly a little overpowering for the delicacy of the flavours. The rolls tasted seriously good on their own with no need to dip.

PF Changs: Lobster and shrimp spring roll

The sweetness of open lobster and shrimp spring rolls

PF Changs: lobster and prawn spring roll

So good I had to show you a close-up

There’s a good range of meaty mains and we went for the Asian take on pepper steak. Flank steak was marinated in black pepper and garlic and served with onions and bell peppers. A rich and silky sauce, tender meat and vegetables with crunch made for a satisfying plate of food.

P.F. Changs: Pepper beef

Tender pepper beef with crunchy veg

We love Singapore noodles and have tried them in many restaurants. Today’s offering certainly wasn’t made to a traditional recipe but was still a delicious offering. Don’t they look fabulous?

P.F.Changs: Singapore noodles

The bright beauty of Singapore noodles

To complete our balanced set we went for the an old favourite – can’t beat a bit of Kung Pao chicken. Thinly sliced chicken breast was wok-fried with Sichuan chilli sauce, toasted peanuts and red chilli pods. A familiar and comforting dish that was so well executed.

P.F. Changs: Kung Pao chicken

Gotta love a tasty Kung Pao chicken

And then there’s desert – not something I often indulge in. For some reason my eye was caught by the offer of a deconstructed lemon meringue. And thank goodness it was, this could be one of the loveliest deserts I’ve ever had. The lemon ice-cream was stupendous and then there was the shortbread, lemon curd, burnt meringue and meringue shards bringing a fabulous range of textures. But best of all were the little lemony white chocolate truffles that popped in your mouth with a burst of citrus. Yummy lemon desert that’s one of my favourite dishes of the year so far – never thought I’d ever say that about pudding!

P.F. Changs: lemon meringue

Desert doesn’t get tastier…and it looks pretty amazing too

I love an open kitchen and this was a particularly busy one with plenty of hands making light work of the constant stream of orders. By its nature Asian food is pretty quick to prepare and dishes do come up pretty smartly. I’d advise ordering your starters and eating them before you order your mains – unless you want to be in and out in a flash. The staff are perfectly accommodating about how you order and didn’t blink an eye at any of our requests.

P.F. Changs: open kitchen

The perfectly organised open kitchen runs like clockwork

P.F. Chang’s prides itself on its pastry lab which produces an amazing array of cakes, tarts and puddings. Obviously I didn’t taste them all but did love the look of the lab tempting you down the stairs.

P.F.Chang's: pastry parlour

Come into my pastry parlour…

It’s also big on cocktails (and mocktails). Now that would be a good way to celebrate the end of a working day – an exotic cocktail and some of those spicy Original Dynamite Shrimp. I’ll show you the way!

Today’s price point

The total price for the dishes above was £61.70. Portion sizes are generous and this was more than enough for two hearty meals.

Wine starts from £23 a bottle.

P.F. Chang’s Asian Table is at 10 Great Newport Street, London WC2H 7JA, a one-minute walk from Leicester Square tube station.

Tapas time at Sabor in buzzy Heddon Street

Today it’s time for a taste of Spain in lovely Heddon Street. Sabor is the brainchild of Nieves Barragan Mohacho  and Jose Etura who hail from Bilbao, and Valladolid in Castile in central Spain. And it means flavour in Spanish – what a great name for a restaurant.

There are three areas at Sabor, the Counter and Bar on the ground floor and El Asador on the first floor.  The website describes the restaurant as “Taking a journey from the tapas bars of Andalusia through to the asadors of Castile and the seafood restaurants of Galicia”. Now that sounds like the sort of journey I want to embark on.

Made even better by the fact that it’s on one of my favourite London streets, just off Regent Street, a little restaurantland haven steps away from the hustle and bustle of London Town.

What’s on the menu

There really is a fabulous choice of Spanish-ness at Sabor. One of the day’s specials were these amazing, soft and creamy goat’s cheese croquettas. They really should come with a warning, they’re so good, I think I could eat a hundred of them!

Sabor: croquetas

The creamiest and crispiest of croquettas

The tasty stuffed baby squid was crisp and served with a beautiful garlic mayo.

Sabor: baby squid

Stuffed baby squid with silky garlic mayo

I do like a bit of quail but they can be rather an effort to eat for relatively little reward. Not today! These babies were beautifully crisp and flavoursome with a surprising amount of succulent flesh. And just perfect served with one of my favorite of Spanish sauces – Romesco and a head of crisp, refreshing chicory.

Sabor: quail

Crispy, succulent quail with delicious romesco sauce

They do love their pork in Spain which also means they really know how to cook it. Today’s Presa Iberia 5 Jotas with mojo verde was beautifully tender, again backed with those namesake flavours and served with a wonderfully rich gravy and herby accompaniment. Mojo verde is this wonderful green sauce (obviously!) made from fresh coriander, garlic, olive oil and cumin – so yummy with this pork dish – though I could actually imagine it going with plenty more dishes. A good thing to keep handy in your fridge to boost any meal, I’m thinking.

Sabor: Pork

Iberian pork in a league of its own

This is the beautifully illustrated menu at The Counter. Upstairs in El Asador they seem to specialise in suckling pig – one of my Spanish favourites.

Sabor: menu

The menu of deliciousness at The Counter

And here’s the beautiful counter. A place where I want to spend more time enjoying some more deliciously authentic Spanish dishes. Vuelvo enseguida.

Sabor: The Counter

The beautiful Spanish counter

Sabor is at 35-37 Heddon Street, just off Regent Street.

Our return to Thali: we couldn’t resist

I don’t often blog twice about the same restaurant in the same year and this is the second time I’ve done it this year – we’re heading back to Thali. And it’s no coincidence that it’s two restaurants from the same group.

Chef Liam Tomlin is behind both Thali and the Chef’s Warehouse in Beau Constantia (my other double blog). You can read about my previous lunches at Thali and Beau Constantia times two!

As well as great food, it’s a great concept. A set menu of dishes to share that are served as four courses for a set price. No menu indecision to cope with and no food envy, just loads of delicious flavours to savour.

And I find the food of Thali so inspiring that I think I produced some of my best food pics ever. Enjoy the extravaganza.

What’s on the menu

This crispy spinach bhaji came topped with two spicy sauces. Spinach has never tasted this good (and I love spinach).

Thali: Spinach bhaji

Deep fried spinach bhaji, mint and coriander dressing, date and tamarind

The next course was a delightful mix of vegetarian offerings served with the softest of paratha. The extravaganza of cauliflower was incredible – tandoori cauliflower served with cumin cauliflower puree and cashew and coconut salad. Who knew you should tandoor cauliflower? You really should!

Thali: Dhal, Paratha and cauliflower

The platter also included the wonderfully creamy and satisfying smoked tadka dhal, perfect for a bit of paratha dipping.

Thali: tadka dhal

Close up on the smoked tadka dhal

Thali: Cauliflower

What a delicious cauliflower collection

Tandoori chicken skewers were served with tomato chill jam and cucumber coriander raita. Triple yum. I do love the individual mini tandoor ovens that are delivered to your table.

Thali: Tandoori chicken

Tandoori chicken skewers served in your own mini tandoor oven

Next course was the two fishy plates. The fried fish tacos added a lovely fresh, crispy element and some beautifully zest flavours

Thali: fish tacos

Zesty fried fish tacos

Fresh line fish was served with delectable Cape Malay dressing, a coriander emulsion and saffron pickled onion. Such a fabulous combination of tastes and textures, I could so easily demolish a whole main course of this all by myself.

Thali: Line fish

Delicate line fish with Cape Malay flavors

The final course – and it’s curry time. Mappa duck curry with spiced mango chutney, Phatch Shoran seafood curry, warm buttery naan, perfectly cooked rice and a fragrant tomato salsa.

Thali: Curries

Two of the most delicious curries ever

I tend to avoid duck curries most of the time as it can be a somewhat chewy experience. Tonight’s dish gets my award for best duck curry ever. The flavours were so incredible and I can’t remember ever eating such tender duck.

Thali: duck

The tenderest of duck in a gorgeous sauce

The seafood curry was deliciously creamy with just the right hit of spice. A mix of mussels, prawns and line fish – heaven in a bowl.

Thali: Seafood curry

The delightfully delicious seafood curry

Thali: Rice

Even the rice is delectable at Thali

Thali: chilli jam

The glistening chilli jam

Thali: Raita

A bowl of cooling raita

Thali: salsa

A bowl of vibrant, zesty salsa

Thali is at 3 Park Road, Gardens, Cape Town.

Today’s price point

Tapas for two at Thali is R700 (41 pounds at today’s exchange rate). For two, not each. Really great value as the portions are ample and you won’t get a better Indian meal around here. Seriously.

Early tapas at Bistro Sixteen82 at Steenberg

Today I’m transporting you back to beautiful Cape Town and one of our favourite eateries – Bistro Sixteen82, set on the Steenberg Golf and Wine estate.

Talented chef Kerry Kilpin serves up wonderful seasonal dishes with simply the best sauces (she’s a bit of a sauce Queen, I reckon). There’s a distinct Asian influence (she’s inspired by the food of Thailand), as well as some interesting local touches. Oh and our latest discovery is that you can go there early evening for their special tapas selection. It had to be done – it’s tapas time!

What’s on the menu

How we loved these crispy tacos filled with pickled fish in a Malay-style sauce. Little morsels of heavenly crunch.

Bistro Sixteen82: tacos

Amazing crispy pickled fish tacos

The beef and Manchego croquette was luscious – richly meaty and comfortingly cheesy with a lovely crisp shell.

Bistro Sixteen82: croquette

The perfectly crisp, meat croquette

The West Coast mussels are served in a creamy Asian-style sauce. One of the many bowls of mussels I devoured in this year’s Cape Town sojourn and one of the best. I would eat these on every visit to Sixteen82 without doubt.

Bistro Sixteen82: mussels

Beautifully creamy fresh mussels

And then there was this melt-in-the-mouth mound of sticky ginger and chili beef. Topped with a surprise – some crunchy creamy coleslaw, it made for a satisfying plate.

Sixteen82: sticky ginger and chili beef

The comforting sight of sticky ginger and chili beef

And how’s this for a vibrantly beautiful plate? A broccoli, beetroot and slow-roast tomato salad with a sprinkling of sesame seeds and fresh coriander and a zest dressing. Tastes as good as it looks.

Bistro Sixteen82: beetroot salad

The vibrant reds of beetroot and tomato salad

We loved Steenberg’s wine offering this year. Particular favourites are the Klein Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc, the Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon blend and their top-of-the-range Nebbiolo. My only negative about Sixteen82 is that they put way too much mark-up on the wine in the restaurant. It’s hard to stomach when it’s been made on the estate and you can buy it next door in the shop for a fraction of the price. Having queried this we were told that the Wine Estate and the restaurant are separate entities. And no you can’t take it through with you. So all we could do was get over it if we wanted to enjoy the delicious food. Which we have!

Today’s price point

Our five dishes today cost us R354 which is about £21 at today’s exchange rate.

Bistro Sixteen82 is on Steenberg Golf and Wine Estate in Cape Town.

It is open for lunch every day and for tapas early evening from 1700 to 2000h.