Lunch high above London at the Sky Garden

 Darwin Brasserie at the Sky Garden

The ever-changing face of London includes the myriad new towering architecture thats’s adding to the dramatic skyline of  this beautiful city.

South of the river, The Shard is London Town’s tallest building (and possibly my favourite) at 306m (95 storeys). The views are truly spectacular down and across the river towards the City where most of the soaring sky-scraping structures live.

Possibly the most famous is the Gherkin (30 St Mary Axe) at 180m. Then there’s The Leadenhall Building (AKA the Cheese Grater) at 225m, Tower 42 at 183m and 20 Fenchurch Street (AKA the Walkie-Talkie) at 160m. Today we’re heading to the top of the Walkie-Talkie for lunch at London’s highest public garden – the Sky Garden.

The Walkie-Talkie was designed by world-renowned Uruguayan architect Rafael Vinoly and is the fifth tallest completed building in the City. Yes, there’s more coming. It’s 38 storeys high and the floor-to-ceiling glass and high domed ceiling produce a beautiful light-filled enormous area to explore. Our lunch venue, the Darwin Brasserie is on Level 36.

The balcony provides spectacular (if somewhat scary) photo opps or you can pose in the super-size forest on high. You can visit the Sky Garden without having to eat (though you still have to book) – but you know me, how could I resist the chance to have lunch in London’s highest public garden. Oh and does that mean someone has a higher private one somewhere? The mind boggles.

What’s on the menu

The simple brasserie-style menu offers  a good range of fish, meat and vegetarian dishes. The roast sea trout came with honey-spiced pumpkin and spiced yogurt and was topped with crispy pancetta. A sight to behold on its beautiful (somewhat appropriate!)sky blue plate .

Sky Garden: luscious trout

Luscious trout topped with crispy pancetta

The steak tartare came with confit egg yolk, baby gem lettuce and sourdough crisp. Perfectly spiced and served with hot crispy fries. Steak tartare is one of my regular favourites and this was a great one.

Sky Garden: steak tartare

Spicy, fresh tartare with crunchy lettuce

The tender lamb tagine came atop saffron couscous and topped with saffron mayo.

Sky Garden: Lamb tagine

Tender lamb tagine atop saffron couscous

As it’s truffle season (and I love truffles) we couldn’t resist ordering an extra helping of truffle and parmesan fries.

Sky Garden: truffle fries

Earthy truffle and parmesan fries

I loved the Sky Garden, and its setting in a part of London I don’t visit often enough. Wandering around the City is a unique experience, too, with striking modern buildings reaching for the sky. Here are some shots of outside and inside our Walkie-Talkie.

I visited with my husband and my niece, Maxine, who you may see cropping up regularly in future blogs as we have just done a European exploring extravaganza. So watch this space I have plenty of exciting stories to share.Sky Garden: views

Today’s price point

Okay eating at Darwin Brasserie isn’t the cheapest affair. But then you do have to bear in mind the surroundings you’re dining in.

Our lunch for four (with only a main course each and that extra portion of fries) came to just short of £100. Wine by the bottles starts from £32.50.

The Sky Garden is on Level 36 in the Walkie-Talkie at 20 Fenchurch Street in the City of London.

Tasty tapas at Barrafina in stunning Coal Drops Yard

Tapas for two at Barrafina

How I love being a Londoner. I moved here in 1985 and after 33 years am still amazed at the way the city evolves. There’s always new and exciting things to discover, I mean always and sometimes really exciting things. Like today. I headed north to King’s Cross to explore the new development at Coal Drops Yard – which only opened a week before my visit.

The history of the area

The fascinating history of this area began with the coming of the railways when King’s Cross became the hub for delivery of everything London desired. Most vital of all was the coal – Victorian London was powered by coal and Coal Drops Yard was where it arrived from the North, was stored and distributed through the city.

Once road transport became more prevalent the buildings fell into disuse…well that’s progress for you. Until they were reinvented as the heart of London’s ecstasy-fuelled club scene in the early 1980s. Okay, that’s something I totally missed out on (there’s not much no clubbing in my social history). And that went too in the late noughties.

Now Coal Drops Yard is somewhere I totally want to spend my time. An incredible array of shops and restaurants to try in a beautiful new area that’s been redesigned around the warehouses that existed there originally.

Even better it’s home to one of my favourite Spanish restaurants in London. Barrafina, Coal Drops Yard is the fourth in the Barrafina stable – I’ve been to the other three (naturally!) which are in Soho and Covent Garden (two). Today’s new baby is set upstairs overlooking the canal and the fabulous courtyard below.

The light pours in through the huge windows and the long curved bar is a welcoming sight. And oh the aromas…

There’s a delectable range of dishes using classic Spanish ingredients (both hot and cold). One of the things I love most about Barrafina is that although you have a a good idea about what you’re going to get on your plate it’s never quite what you’re expecting. And in a good way…it’s always better. You’ll soon see what I mean.

What’s on the menu

There’s a tortilla section which included an omelette with artichokes and sobrasada. I adore artichokes and love sobrasada – which is a spicy sausage from Majorca – so excitedly ordered what I expected to be a normal kind of tortilla. But it wasn’t. A flat omelette was topped with the crisp artichokes and the deliciously soft and spicy sobrasada. And boy do they know how to make an omelette in Barrafina. Just so perfectly oozy and flavoursome. Tortilla heaven!

Barrafina: tortilla

A tantalising tortilla to dream about

Delectable pork dishes

I also adore suckling pig and the Spanish really know how to produce the best of them. So the suckling pig empanadilla was next on the list. Beautifully encased in a light and crispy pastry it was filled with succulent, tender meat. Love its paper envelope too.

Barrafina: empanadilla

The elegant and tasty empanadilla

Next up…more pork. The presa Iberica was served on a bed of ajo blanco. Presa Iberica is considered to be the finest cut of the Iberian pig – which many say is the finest pig. So you’re getting the finest of the finest, an unbelievably juicy plate of meat so perfectly cooked and again bursting with flavour. Ajo blanco is a chilled almond soup (another Spanish classic) – served here with a sauce-like consistency. Spanish pork rules and it’s hard to imagine a better pork dish. Seriously.

Barrafina: presa iberica

The best cut of pork from the best pig…simply the best

As luck would have it yet another of my favourite ingredients was on the menu – beetroot. Beetroot Salmorejo to be specific. I’ve got to be honest and say I had no idea what salmorejo means so was pleasantly surprised (again) when a delightfully sweet beetroot puree arrived topped with a soft quails egg and the crunch of cucumber. A wonderful combo of flavours and textures.

Barrafina: beetroot

A real indulgence of a beetroot dish

Wow! I can’t remember when I last got so excited about four plates of tapas. Believe me, they really were that good. And the venue is awesome, too. Here’s the downstairs courtyard.

Barrafina: the courtyard

Beautiful Coal Drops Yard with its sweeping roof

And you have a great view out through the massive curved windows.

Barrafina: windows

Light streams in through the large windows

How to get there

King’s Cross is like a medium sized town now – with constant rejuvenation going on. The station is something of a maze and as someone with a below average sense of direction (being kind to myself), I was a bit concerned that I’d get horribly lost. Just make sure to take the exit from the station signposted Regent’s Canal and you’ll be fine (I was). More signs lead you straight to this wonderful addition to our beautiful city. It’s even been given a brand new postcode – N1C – something that I’ve never experienced in my time here. London, you never cease to amaze me.

Barrafina: sign

Follow the signs to Coal Drops Yard

Today’s price point

Our four tapas dishes came in at £44.80 and were plenty big enough for two. We didn’t even have space for dessert.

Wine starts from £25 a bottle.

Barrafina is at Coal Drops Yard, Kings Cross N1C

Lunch Chelsea way at Hans’ Bar & Grill, in 11 Cadogan Gardens

Today we’re heading into lovely Chelsea to the elegance that is 11 Cadogan Gardens. This beautiful boutique hotel set on a quiet Chelsea side street just minutes from Sloane Square offers the ultimate in luxury and comfort.

It’s made up of four converted Victorian houses, with plenty of nooks and crannies to discover, corridors to explore and rooms to relax in. And we’re heading straight to the stylishly modern and newly-opened restaurant Hans’ Bar & Grill.

11 Cadogan Square: Entrance

The stylish entrance to 11 Cadogan Gardens

It’s a light-filled and stylish space with a slanting glass roof and decor in restful shades of green.

11 Cadogan Gardens: Han's Bar & Grill

The wonderfully stylish space that is Han’s Bar & Grill

There’s a delightful range of dishes on offer. This beautiful plate of tuna tartare was paired with yuzu, wasabi and coriander, giving the mouth-wateringly tender fish a real zesty flavour.

11 Cadogan Gardens: Tuna tartare

Spicy tuna tartare that’s pretty as a picture

Today I went for something really different – the slow cooked duck egg with peas, barley and sherry. This vibrant bed of greenery was topped with the perfectly cooked yellow of the rich duck egg.

Never has a vegetarian starter tasted so indulgent, with its silky consistency, amazing textures and fabulous flavours. Peas are my favourite vegetables and I’d go back to Hans just to have this plate of perfect pea-ness again.

11 Cadogan Gardens: duck egg

A splash of yellow in a bed of green

As Hans is a grill we though we’d focus on that section of the menu. The 9oz rose veal cutlet was packed with flavour and amazingly tender.

11 Cadogan Gardens: veal cutlet

Tender and tasty rose veal cutlet

The substantial Barnsley chop (basically a double lamb chop) was also the height of tastiness. It’s hard to beat top quality meat that’s simply and perfectly grilled.

11 Cadogan Gardens: Barnsley chop

Luscious lamb in a Barnsley chop

There’s a delicious selection of sides available which pair beautifully with the meaty mains. Like these glossy peas cooked with bacon, baby onion and lettuce. I know, more peas – I do really love them and this was a fabulous dish.

11 Cadogan Gardens: peas

The perfect combo of peas, bacon and onion

The cauliflower cheese was given an extra kick with the addition of mustard for another lovely pairing.

11 Cadogan Gardens: cauliflower

Mustardy, cheesy cauliflower

Today we decided to go big and sample some of the delectable-sounding desserts. The record will show that most of the time I order pud it’s a panna cotta. Do love a panna cotta and today’s offering was buttermilk served topped with rhubarb and little bubbles of ginger beer gel.

A dessert that got a satisfied sigh with each mouthful.

11 Cadogan Gardens: panna cotta

The creamiest of dreamy panna cotta

And then there’s the salted caramel chocolate pot served topped with vanilla ice cream. Wow! The dessert of kings with crumbly little chocolatey bits to finish it off.

11 Cadogan Gardens: caramel chocolate

The yummiest of salted caramel chocolate

And here’s a the view of the lovely light-filled space across our delicious desserts.

11 Cadogan Gardens: dessert

Looking across pudding at the stylish space

After all that fabulous food I could certainly have done with a siesta – which is exactly what you can do if you’re lucky enough to be staying in the elegant hotel. The rooms are all unique and they’re spacious and plush with fabulous bathrooms. You’re certainly not going to want to check out from here!

11 Cadogan Gardens: room

The rooms exude elegance and comfort

There are plenty of areas around the warren of a hotel where you can relax or celebrate special occasions. This is the stunning Mirror Room, just perfect for parties and myriad instagramming opportunities.

11 Cadogan Gardens: Mirror room

The spectacular and sparkling mirror room

Or why not put your feet up in the library? How I wish I had one of these in my house.

11 Cadogan Gardens: library

Relax in the luxurious library

11 Cadogan Gardens is the ultimate refuge in the busy hub of Chelsea – you’re close to everything as well as being wrapped in their environment of serenity and style. And you’re gonna love the food, too.

Today’s price point

And finally…

Our three courses for two came to £94.

Wine starts from £5 a glass.

Hans’ Bar & Grill is in the luxurious 11 Cadogan Gardens Hotel

The hotel entrance is at 11 Cadogan Gardens, Chelsea

The restaurant entrance is at 164 Pavilion Road, Chelsea.

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

Covent Garden’s latest lovely addition: Cora Pearl

Today we’re heading for Henrietta Street just off the Covent Garden Piazza to newly-opened Cora Pearl. It’s the second restaurant from the team behind Kitty Fisher’s in Mayfair (which I’ve never been to…should remedy that asap, especially as it’s in Shepherd Market, which I love!).

Both restaurants are named after famed courtesans (basically prostitutes, with wealthy or upper-class clients). Kitty Fisher was one of the world’s first celebrities who was famous simply for being famous. She swanned around London in the 1700s, getting painted multiple times by famous artist Joshua Reynolds.

Cora Pearl did pretty much the same in the 1800s. The story goes that having got bored living with her grandmother in Covent Garden she roamed the streets unchaperoned (horrors of horrors) and one day accepted the advances of an older man (more horror!) allowing him to take her to a drinking den and ply her with cakes and alcohol. He took her virginity and left her with £5, more money than she’d ever seen in her life. It’s thought she was 20 at the time and clearly switched on – as she quickly looked at her options and decided to focus on becoming the kept woman of several dedicated lovers – all with the financial means to keep her in luxury.

Cora’s namesake (I am the only one who instantly thinks of Downton Abbey when I hear the name Cora) is in a historic Covent Garden townhouse – how I’d love to live in one – with huge windows with light streaming through onto the stylish velvet green banquettes. The vintage mirrors and lights add to the sparkling ambience and the feel of opulence.

The food is a delicious mix of English and French cuisine with a touch of Italian thrown in for good measure.

What’s on the menu

There are a range of small plates which all looked so tempting we decided to share a selection. The Bloody Mary mackerel was nothing short of spectacular, so fresh it felt like it was just out of the sea and topped with crunchy onion and a spicy bloody mary jelly.

Cora Pearl: Bloody Mary Mackerel

The freshest of mackerel with a spicy topping

I’m rather partial to a good charcuterie plate – a tasty selection of ham and salami served with crunchy pickles of onion, gherkin and radish.

Cora Pearl: Charcuterie

Savoury charcuterie and crunchy pickles

Today’s magical dish was the pasta. Cow’s curd agnolotti, peas and summer truffles. Beautiful pillows of soft creaminess with a sublime sauce and that hint of the extravagance of truffles. And it looks so beautiful, too.

Cora Pearl: pasta

Heavenly pillows of truffley pasta

I’m also rather partial to a Caesar salad and this was a really clever take on it. Quail Caesar! (get it!?) had the same ingredients as a classic Caesar with the substitution of quail instead of chicken. Served hot with a delicious gravy-like sauce and a pile of little gem topped with parmesan and croutons on the side. Tasty and cleverly conceived of.

Cora Pearl: Caesar salad

An unusual and tasty take on Caesar salad

And then there’s the chips. These are ginormous constructions of heaven – crisp and golden on the outside and wonderfully soft inside making each mouthful magical. The king of chips worth a visit to Cora Pearl for on their own!

Cora Pearl: Chips

Giant chips to dream about

Having said that it’s all rather splendid. And just the sort of establishment I can imagine Cora would expect one of her gentlemen to take her to. And what a jolly good time they would have had, too.

Today’s price point

And finally, here’s the bottom line.

We paid £41 for our five dishes.

White wine starts from £29 a bottle and red from £27.

Cora Pearl is at 30 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, just off the Piazza.

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.