The exotic tastes of the Black Sea at Babel House Mayfair

Babel House Mayfair

London’s restaurant scene is quite extraordinary – there’s so much choice it’s a wonder I can ever decide where to eat. Sometimes it’s simply because of the need for something completely different – like today. Babel House describes itself as serving food that’s a modern take on the traditions of the Black Sea and its rich cultural heritage.

So here’s today’s geography lesson. The Black Sea is bordered by six countries, including Ukraine, Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia and Turkey. It’s a popular summer tourist destination with its sunny weather and sandy beaches. Sounds like my kind of place. Oh and I do love that my geography is improving as a result of the food I’m eating.

The restaurant is named after modernist novelist Isaac Babel who was born in Odessa. Odessa is the third most populous city of the Ukraine. It’s a major tourist centre and sea port on the north-west shore of the Black Sea. And after a taster of Odessa-inspired dishes, I feel a visit there may well be in order. Here’s what we tucked into.

What’s on the menu

First up an exotic offering of the freshest of bread and herb and garlic butter – impossible to resist.

Babel House Mayfair: bread and butter

Delectable, exotic bread choices

There’s a range of cold and hot starters on offer including caviar (naturally), and traditional blinis and dumplings. I went for the beautifully fresh beef tartare, served with black truffle, mustard, capers and topped with a raw quails egg. I love a good beef tartare and this certainly was a good one with the indulgent addition of back truffle.

Babel House Mayfair: steak tartare

The luscious plate of steak tartare

The fried baby squid topped with spicy jalapeños and smoked paprika aioli. A delightful combination of sweet squid, spicy chilli and smoky paprika.

Babel House Mayfair: Squid

Crispy and sweet fried baby squid

There’s also a nice-sounding selection of soup, including both red and green borsch and spicy Georgian lamb, as well as grilled and smoked fish (smoked in-house).

And of course there are plenty of hearty traditional mains on offer. Delights like cabbage rolls stuffed with veal, beef Stroganoff, lamb tongues, and Odessan lamb stew. Being a pleasant summer day we decided to opt for salad selections rather.

Salads to dream about

And what a salad I had…the spectacular Salad Olivier. Also known simply as Russian salad, it’s a traditional dish originally invented by Lucia Olivier for the Heritage restaurant in Moscow in the 1860s. I’ve eaten it a bit – particularly in Spain (slightly bizarrely it’s big in Spain) and have even made my own version once. There are plenty of versions, with a wide range of ingredients to choose from, including different kinds of fish, potatoes, carrots, peas, eggs, pickles, to name a few, all combined with mayonnaise.

Babel House Mayfair’s luxurious take on this tastiest of salads has the addition of luscious salmon gravlax in the mix and is topped with juicy seared scallops and tobiko (fish roe). Undoubtedly my number one Salad Olivier ever and enough of a draw to take me back to Babel House Mayfair again…and soon.

Babel House Mayfair: Olivier salad

The totally indulgent salad Olivier topped with scallops

The simple smoked salmon salad was slathered in tasty mayonnaise, topped with more fish roe and served with leaves tossed in a truffle vinaigrette. Delicious simplicity.

Babel House Mayfair: salmon salad

Salmon salad with delicate mayo and truffle dressing

Today’s price point

And finally…

Today’s lunch at Babel House Mayfair came to a total of £58 for two people.

Wine starts from £37 a bottle.

Babel House is at 26-28 Bruton Place, Mayfair, London W1

Filipino delights at Yuu Kitchen

So today we’re heading East – something I don’t do very often in London – to the E1 postcode close to Aldgate East tube station. And appropriately we’re going to be trying some Eastern food – Filipino to be precise – a first for me.

Yuu Kitchen predominantly serves the delightful food of South East Asia with a fusion of Japanese, Taiwanese and Vietnamese cuisine. And now they’ve added a special Filipino or Pinoy section. The Philippines is a melting pot of influences from the Pacific Rim, Malaysia, China, South America and even Spain – you’ll find a mix of cuisines from the many countries who have invaded or attempted to colonise the islands. And it’s a fascinating and fabulous mix.

What’s on the menu

The dishes are designed to be eaten tapas-style (my favourite way). We started with the pork chicharron, a pile of warm, crunchy pork scratchings served with chilli vinegar for dipping. The scratchings sizzle as you dip. I love a good pork scratching – a real guilty pleasure and even more, these are among the best I’ve had.

Yuu Kitchen: pork scratchings

Beautifully crispy pork scratchings

And now for something completely different and a first for me (it’s certainly a day of firsts!) – cassava fries. Cassava is a tuberous root that’s officially the third-largest source of carbs in the tropics. It’s pretty dense and I’m imagining takes some cooking. Our chef explained the cassava is boiled for some time before being fried to produce these, light tasty delights with their soft inside and crisp outer layer. They were served with hot-smoked paprika and tangy adobo mayo.  Adobo is a local vinegar-based sauce that also includes a combination of paprika, oregano, salt, garlic and soya sauce. It’s delicious.

Yuu Kitchen: cassava chips

Cassava chips are amazingly tasty

The presentation at Yuu Kitchen is also delightful with this clever, pretty plate of food bound to cause oohs of delight. The sisig lollipops contain a pork centre of seven-hour pineapple juice braised pig’s head covered in panko breadcrumbs and served with adobo mayo and chicharron – some of those delicious pork scratchings crumbled on the side. Dip the luscious lollipop into the mayo and then the chicharron to coat. So rich and tasty. Probably my favourite lollipop ever.

Yuu Kitchen: Sigsi lollipops

Sigsi lollipops look so cute and taste so good

Next up what I’m calling the Filipino version of burgers called cheese ube put (takes a few goes to get that past autocorrect intact). These mini treats are so delicious with their steamed buns, chorizo bilbao, caramelised onion, avocado and garlic aioli. Seems like this is a burger I could eat every day.

Yuu kitchen: burgers

Exotically delicious little burgers

They’re so good I had to show you twice!

Yuu Kitchen: burger

Up close on the mouthwatering burger

And there’s more

This meal was becoming quite a revelation with beautifully tasty, exotic dishes. I wasn’t so keen on trying the crispy pig’s ears, having sampled a version of them before and finding them tough and tasteless. Not today’s. These ears are slow-cooked for three hours and served with a honey soy glaze, sesame seeds, pickled radish and chives. The slow cooking has actually made them really tender and the honey soy glaze is the perfect flavour match. As a result, we agreed that this was actually our favourite dish of the day. Who’d have thought?

Yuu Kitchen: pigs ears

Delicious crisp and sticky pigs ears

The bistek is a little piece of steak in batter served on a crispy rice cake with lemon soy, and a trio of onion. Another pretty morsel rich in flavours. Also pretty exotic.

Yuu Kitchen: beef

Delicious morsels of beef on rice cakes

The lechon kawali is a 12-hour braised pork belly, thinly sliced and with delightful slivers of crispy crackling, topped with savoury mama sita’s sauce (it’s a secret but you’ll love it). Certainly love a good pork belly.

Yuu Kitchen: pork belly

Melt-in-the-mouth pork belly

Well that was the end of our Filipino delights. And time to sample a couple of dishes from the rest  of the menu. The tuna kinilaw is luscious raw tuna served in a spicy marinade of coconut milk, cafa lime leaves, lime juice, chilli and red onion. Beautiful.

Yuu Kitchen: tuna ceviche

Refreshing and zesty tuna ceviche

After quite a meaty feast we asked our chef to recommend a vegetable dish for us to try. Grilled cauliflower served with sweetcorn, jalapeño dressing, shallots, garlic chips and chives. Certainly the best cauliflower ever, smokey and spicy.

Yuu Kitchen: cauliflower

Possibly the tastiest cauliflower dish ever

Yuu Kitchen is a beautifully stylish place to eat with great murals decorating the walls and an incredible lighting display with ornate bird cages.

Yuu Kitchen: Murals

Yuu Kitchen is decorated with dramatic murals

Yuu Kitchen: Art

More stylish art

Yuu Kitchen: lights

Love the stylish lighting

Today’s price point

And finally, the bottom line.

It cost £68.50 for all the dishes I’ve described here. Certainly a real feast for two.

White wine starts from £24.50 a bottle, red from £23.50.

Cocktails start from £8.50.

There’s also a  selection of delicious fruit teas for £4.50.

Yuu Kitchen is at 29 Commercial Street, London E1. Aldgate East tube station is a five-minute walk away.

Chill out tapas time at Lady of the Grapes

Today we’re heading to one of my absolute favourite streets in the whole of London Town. Maiden Lane in Covent Garden is home to myriad bars and restaurants – the choice is quite mind-boggling. And there’s always somewhere new to try – like Lady of the Grapes.

This cosy little establishment describes itself as an organic wine bar and wine shop. It champions female winemakers with its extensive wine list. There are shelves along the walls packed with delicious deli products and there’s a delightful tapas menu.

What’s on the menu

We started off with a bowl of the freshest bread and some delightfully salty salami – with a side of tiny, crunchy cornichons.

Lady of the Grapes: Salami

Tasty salami served with cournichons

There’s a wide cheesy choice and we went for the beautifully creamy blue which was served with the sweetness of preserved figs.

Lady of the Grapes: cheese

Blue cheese with preserved fig

Luscious salmon gravlax was served on the freshest of bread and arrived looking a bit like a magical garden with the lovely fresh salad accompaniment.

Lady of the Grapes: gravlax

Little gravalax toasts beautifully presented

I am partial to a pissaladiere – a kind of tart of caramelised onions topped with anchovies – and in this case some roast red peppers too. The simplest of things so often taste the best.

Lady of the Grapes: Pissaladiere

The fresh and tasty pissaladiere with anchovies

Here it is up close and glorious.

Lady of the Grapes: pissaladiere

Close up on the scrumptious little tart

Lady of the Grapes is also a deli and the shelves are packed with bottles of delectable goodies and salamis hang temptingly, too. Don’t know how I resisted and didn’t take some home with me.

Lady of the Grapes: deli

The shelves are stacked with tempting goodies

Lady of the Grapes is the sort of place I’d want to be my local. Perfect for a quick after-work drink and a bowl of olives or a leisurely dinner lingering over their lovely range of tapas dishes.

Service is warm and friendly and the place gave me an all-round feeling of happiness. Well, that’s Maiden Lane for you.

Lady of the Grapes is at 16 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden WC2

Loving the Levantine flavours at Ceru in Soho

Plates of delight at Ceru

So today we chose the hottest day of the year (so far anyway) to venture into Soho, one of my favourite areas of London (after Covent Garden of course). Appropriately we were going where the food tastes of sunshine and summer delights – to Ceru whose motto is “Born from a love of food, drink and sunshine”. Love that – can I claim it for myself??

To be more specific, Ceru serves vibrant Levantine cuisine which is sort of Eastern Mediterranean and encompasses Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus and Israel – you can check out the area on the handy map below. Most importantly they promise small plates with big flavours and boy do they deliver.

What’s on the menu

To get going on our Levantine journey we dipped into the dips. I’m a big fan of dips, and these were in a league of their own. We went for a Three in One – a spoonful of our choice of three of the delicious dips. A colourful plate of deliciousness was delivered to our table along with a basket of fresh, warm and flavoursome pitta bread.

The three offerings were a traditional houmous (you’ve always got to try the humous). Then Pancar which is made from roasted beetroot, yogurt, garlic and crushed pistachio. And also Ceru Hammara – tangy red pepper dip with walnuts and pomegranate molasses. All fabulous, with the Hammara winning the prize as our favorite – as a result I’m on a mission to recreate it at home.

Ceru: dips

The vibrant plate of three top dips

The dips were served with the softest, warm pitta bread, clearly straight out of the oven and the perfect accompaniment.

Ceru: pitta bread

The softest of warm pitta bread

Summery salad and cocktails

There’s also a salad section, perfect for today’s London with a tropical feel. We went for crisp apple, mint and pomegranate with pea shoots, roasted pine nuts and green chili. Nice sounding ingredients, yes, but who’d have thought the combination would produce such a spectacular dish of food because this is one of the best salads I’ve ever enjoyed. Seriously.

Ceru also has a lovely cocktail list and I enjoyed their Passionista. It’s made from Russian Standard vodka, Passao (a passion fruit liquor), lime, sugar, passion fruit and egg white. Beautifully refreshing and fruity.

Ceru: Salad

The crunchy, zest salad perfect for a hot summer day

Ceru: Salad

A closer look at the wonderful apple salad

Moving on to the seafood section, we ordered the Karides. Whole grilled garlic prawns skewered and served with a dried lime and coriander labneh. Labneh is a wonderful thing, kind of in the middle of yogurt and cheese and it’s also great for some prawn dipping.

Ceru: prawns

Garlic prawns perfectly grilled with a wonderfully creamy dip

Tasty meaty choices

The Shish Taouk was served on a bed of herb yogurt. Tender cubes of chicken breast were marinated in paprika and lemon and grilled to perfection. They were beautifully succulent with great depth of flavour, a perfect match for the tangy, herby yogurt. I loved that every dish came with a different, delectable dip – certainly enhancing the whole experience.

Ceru: chicken

Tender chicken kebabs with a nice hit of spices

And finally – a Persian Kafta. This grilled skewer of aromatic spiced beef sat on a tartar sauce – kind of a garlicky, lemony tahini. Another incredible explosion of flavors.

Ceru: beef

The minced beef kebab packed with exotic flavours

We enjoyed our mains with the Orez Ceru – Arabic scented fried rice with crispy onions, sultanas and parsley. Certainly the nicest rice I’ve enjoyed for a while.

Ceru: rice

The tastiest of rice concoctions

What a wonderful selection of dishes – packed with flavour and perfect for London in a heatwave. As was the cool (in all senses of the word) interior. Certainly a big fan of those Levantine specialities.

Ceru: interior

The welcoming, bright and colourful interior

And here’s the Levant!

Today’s price point

Our six dishes came to £43.50, incredibly good value for such wonderful food in the heart of Soho.

It’s a different sort of list with wines from Lebanon, Macedonia, Turkey and Greece. We had a lovely rose from Macedonia – the Alexandra Rose Tikves which cost £20 for a 500ml carafe. Both red and white start from £17 for a 500ml carafe.

Ceru is at 11 D’Arbalay Street, Soho, W1

The CAKE app for easy eating out in London

Today I’m trying out the new CAKE app which really is an app meant for me. It’s an app which makes it easier to find, book and pay at London restaurants. And there’s a wide range of establishments already on its books.

I loved the fact that when you turn it on shows you nearby eateries and how far away they are – and you can book instantly. Or of course you can select any of their restaurants in advance and make your booking at any time.

On arrival at your chosen restaurant, simply open up a tab on your phone using the app and inform your waiter. Then when you’re done it’s quick and easy to pay. You can even set it up to instantly split the bill between your party.

You can also earn credit back when you eat out with special offers, just select somewhere with credit on and you’ll get a percentage of the cost of your dinner back (usually 15-20%). The more you eat the more you save! And of course as your credits build up you’ve got a great excuse to be going out and about again.

£5 for free

If you download the CAKE app to your phone you’ll get a £5 gift from me to get you going on your exploration of London’s restaurantland. Just use the referral code EATINGCG when you download the app. Happy dining.

Find out more and download your app at thecakeapp.com

The restaurants

My first outing using CAKE I visited Talli Joe in Shaftesbury Avenue. A buzzing little Indian tapas-style restaurant with great food. Full review coming soon, here’s a taster, the spicy venison mince served with an organic egg yolk atop.

CAKE app

The delectable Parsee Venison Keema Ghotala

Among the myriad restaurants you can use CAKE at here are three of my London favourites.

Ember Yard in Soho serves up a great range of dishes cooked over fire. Like what’s possibly the best cauliflower dish I’ve ever eaten.

CAKE app

Delightful spicy, grilled cauliflower

Lima Floral in Covent Garden transports you to Peru with an amazing array of truly different dishes. Peruvian ingredients are like no other and make for an exciting eating experience.

CAKE app

Tender beef Peruvian-style

And then there’s the grandeur of Brasserie Zedel. Sitting right by Piccadilly Circus, it’s a glamorous Parisian-style brasserie of marble and glitz serving great-value French food.

CAKE app

Style and sophistication at Zedel

And that’s just four lovely restaurants to tempt you – London is teaming with them after all. And eating there with CAKE makes life easier.

 

Waterside dining at The Sipping Room in London’s Docklands

My summer exploration of London continues today with a visit to Docklands for lunch at The Sipping Room.

Canary Wharf is located on the West India Docks on the Isle of Dogs. From 1802 to 1939 this area was one of the busiest docks in the world. The name comes from a berth that was built in 1936 for fruit being imported in from the Mediterranean and Canary Islands. Must admit I’ve always wondered about the Canary in Wharf. Mystery solved.

After the 1960s the port industry began to decline leading to all the docks being closed by 1980 and the whole area fell into disrepair. But not for long – as construction began in 1988 to convert the area into what is now a major business district and one of the UK’s two main financial centres. The first buildings were completed in 1988 and the main tower – One Canada Square – finished in 1991.

I worked in Docklands (South Quay to be exact) for the first time from the late eighties to the mid nineties and there was pretty much nothing going on. Well, a lot of construction and mess and noise. I used to get the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) to work every day – it was computerised and driverless! Wow were we impressed with that – even though the system regularly broke down and commuting was somewhat hellish.

Through my London life I’ve worked in the area several times since and the opening of the new Jubilee Line on the Underground soon made getting to Canary Wharf way more fast and efficient. And the place grew and grew becoming a shiny new city on water.

Anyway, in a somewhat nostalgic frame of mind I decided today to get the DLR to my lunch at The Bothy. Not that I recognised anything – Docklands is very much still an ongoing project and it’s quite frankly nothing short of spectacular. A far cry from that hole in the ground I used to pass by on my daily commute. Once again London’s constant evolution never ceases to amaze me.

What’s on the menu

The Sipping Room is set in an enormous warehouse alongside West India Quay. It’s huge and beautifully done with the perfect summertime terrace and a stylishly decorated interior.

The menu offers a good selection of dishes using seasonal ingredients and there’s also a comprehensive cocktail list. Our waiter recommended we started off with Pina Coladas. And why not. Haven’t had one for a while – it felt like a real treat. And don’t they look fabulous, too. You can also get an idea of the expansiveness and style of the restaurant in the background.

The Bothy: Pina Coladas

Looking through our cocktails to the stunning warehouse space

Our waiter suggested we snacked on a plate of smoked almonds while me made our choices – a tasty mix of saltiness and smokiness.

The Bothy: smoked almonds

A beautiful bowl of smoky, salty almonds to get started

It’s asparagus season in the UK and I love this classic dish of asparagus, poached egg and hollandaise sauce.

The Bothy: Asparagus and poached egg

An all-time favourite in greens and yellows

For my main course I went for the chargrilled tuna salad with green papaya, cucumber, peanuts and lime dressing. A zesty dish that’s just great for a warm summer’s day.

The Bothy: Asian tuna salad

Crunchy tuna salad with a zesty Asian dressing

My dining companion loves her steak so went for the sirloin which was served with chips and watercress. And a pepper sauce on the side.

The Bothy: steak and chips

Sirloin served with chips and a pepper sauce

There are several different versions of chips on the menu which I thought was a nice touch. And I tucked into the Roman fries – which were served with parmesan, truffle and rosemary. Such a wonderful combination.

The Bothy: Chips

Crispy chips with parmesan, rosemary and truffle

Dessert time and again we followed our waiter’s recommendation and went for a tipsy affrogato. Doesn’t that sound exotic. Espresso is poured over a dollop of ice-cream, followed by a tot of Kahlua liquor. A cross between a drink and a pud and another liquid memory that takes me back – love a bit of Kahlua!

The Bothy: affrogato

Light and creamy coffee dessert

Here’s the view across one area of tables. Love the general feel of the place with its rafters, brick walls and herbs on every table.

The Bothy: internal shot

The contemporary, warm and stylish Bothy

And then there’s the terrace. I can imagine it teeming on days the sun honours us with its presence.

The Bothy: Outdoor terrace

The expansive terrace is perfect for sunny summer days

How we would have loved a wonderful venue like this in my early Docklands days. We might never have returned to the office.

Today’s price point

Three courses costs us just under £70 without drinks or service.

Wine starts from £18 a bottle.

The Sipping Room is at 16 Hertsmere Road, West India Quay E14. The nearest station is West India Quay which is on the Dockland’s Light Railway. Or you can get the Jubilee Line to Canary Wharf.

The London attacks

I’m very aware as I write this of the horrific attacks in London this weekend. I was in Borough Market a couple of days before they happened – and even had lunch in the restaurant where one of the murderers stabbed a woman. This makes it even more personal for me and I am so determined to live my life in this wonderful city, even if I do feel scared. My review of El Pastor in Borough Market and more thoughts coming soon so watch this space.