Restaurant Reviews

Restaurant Reviews

Text

Fed up with celebrity chefs drizzling sauces over undercooked pieces of meat? I am!

I regularly dine out and am happy to share my restaurant experiences, and views on food, with you.

Saturday, October 26, 2002

Restaurant

La Rueda
102 Wigmore Street
London
W1U 3RL

Phone:- 0207 486 1718

Overview

La Rueda is a Spanish restaurant, situated just a few minutes walk from Selfridges. It comprises a wine bar, tapas bar and Spanish restaurant on the ground floor.

Eva and I visited it on Thursday, having spent the day shopping on Oxford Street. The summary of our evening is set out below.

Ambience

The restaurant is divided into two distinct “zones”. The front part comprises the wine and tapas bar, the back part comprises the restaurant. Both parts are quite large and offer seating for a good number of people, being the West End both the tapas bar and restaurant rapidly filled up during the course of the evening.

When we arrived, at about 6:30PM, we had initially only intended to come in for a bottle of wine. Therefore, we sat at the bar situated on the right hand side of the tapas bar. The bar had sufficient stools, and space, to accommodate around 6-8 people; there were bowls of olives placed at intervals on the counter.

Menus for tapas were readily to hand, and it was possible to have the tapas at the bar or sitting at a table. The atmosphere was friendly and sociable; consequently we decided to stay for dinner. I asked if it would be possible to book a table for 7:30PM, no problem. Had we come later we would have had to wait, as the place was packed by 9:00PM.

The décor to the tapas bar had rustic Spanish feel with an emphasis on wood, the ceiling was lined with rows and rows of wine bottles. This contrasted to the light yellow walls and tiled floor of the restaurant.

Whilst the tables in the tapas bar were not covered, the restaurant tables were more formally laid with white tablecloths and yellow napkins. Our table was ready for us at 7:30PM, with butter and bread rolls already in position.

The main lighting to the restaurant was provided by lights set on wagon wheels suspended from the ceiling. The wall lights were shaded by upturned wicker baskets.

The restaurant was airy and had a family atmosphere, very Mediterranean!

The restaurant is very well staffed, given how busy it became, it needed to be. We were greeted in a professional and friendly manner.

Menu

The menu offered an extensive selection of Spanish cuisine, including; three different types of paella, lamb, veal, kidneys, chicken in garlic, stuffed poussin, frogs legs and numerous fish dishes. The tapas menu, by the way, was also very large and included; omelette, chicken, chopped liver, potatoes and prawns. I asked if I could have a tapas dish for a starter and our waiter was happy to oblige.

Service

The service is friendly, efficient and prompt. As soon as we were seated we were offered our menus, and our orders swiftly taken. The busy atmosphere of the restaurant does not afford the staff time to engage in idle banter with the customers; they concentrated on diligently carrying out their duties with commendable efficiency.

We were thanked for our custom by the owner when we left, a nice touch.

Food

I took a tapas dish, fabada, as a starter. This is a mixture of cannellini beans and pork. It contained a good quantity of pork but would, in my opinion, have benefited from being seasoned a little more adventurously (ie it needed a little bit of a “kick”); I have a preference for spice. Nonetheless very enjoyable, and worth having.

I followed on with the cochinillo (roast suckling pig), served with a very generous portion of home made sauté potatoes, broccoli and carrots. This consisted of three good sized cuts of pork on the backbone. It was well cooked and succulent. My only criticism would be that the crackling didn’t crackle. Maybe a little more salt rubbed into the skin before cooking would have helped this process, but speaking from personal experience crackling can be temperamental. On a personal level I think that apple sauce would make a good accompaniment to this dish, but everyone has different tastes.

Eva decided that she would just have a main course, and so had the seafood paella. A very large portion was served, and the dish contained an extensive array of seafood including; prawns, scallops, mussels and clams. The rice had been cooked, as it should have been, in fish stock; and was very well flavoured. Eva was delighted with her choice.

One slip of her fork during the meal, rather bizarrely, caused a scallop to fly across into the pocket of a gentleman sitting at the next table. We, to our shame, decided discretion would be the better part of valour; and did not tell him. I hope that the piece of seafood has been found and removed, apologies for any inconvenience.

We finished our meal off with a couple of Irish coffees, these were properly made and were piping hot.

The overall meal, which included two bottles of good quality Chardonnay, came to £75 including the suggested 10% service charge.

Overall Opinion

Very enjoyable, definitely a pleasant surprise given the location and the propensity of some establishments in the West End to be no more than tourist “rip offs”. I have no hesitation in recommending it.


Sunday, October 20, 2002

Restaurant

Aphrodite
19 Westow Street
Crystal Palace
SE19 3RY

Phone:- 0208 653 9895

Overview

Aphrodite, as the name implies, is a Greek restaurant. It comprises a cheerful, compact restaurant on the ground floor.

Eva and I visited it last Saturday, here is a precis of our evening.

Ambience

The restaurant is compact, to the extent that depending on the table allocated, you may find yourself seated quite close to your fellow diners. The restaurant was very busy, and it is advisable to book ahead. It has a lively, friendly atmosphere which is evocative of the Greek theme. We had made the booking in the afternoon for 9:00PM that evening, and were given a good table (set slightly apart from the other tables) at the head of the restaurant; this gave us a panoramic view of the comings and goings of Aphrodite.

The décor is cheerful and bright; the top half of the walls are a light yellow the bottom half blue. On one wall a mural of a sea view has been painted. A statue of Aphrodite adorns one corner of the room. The polished wood floor contrasts well with the wooden tables and chairs, which are stained dark brown.

One slightly comic distraction related to our table, which had an annoying wobble. Finding the nearest solution to hand I folded up a piece of pitta bread and put it under the leg; problem solved!

Not unsurprisingly the background music is Greek, this is a positive enhancement to the atmosphere.

The restaurant is well staffed, and diners are greeted in a professional and friendly manner.

Menu

The menu offers a good selection of Greek food including; meze, tzatziki, octopus, Baklava and stuffed peppers.

Service

The service is friendly and efficient. As soon as we were seated we were offered our menus, a complimentary bowl of olives and chilli peppers; together with a basket of warm pitta bread.

Food

I kicked off with the stuffed red pepper, this was succulent and tasty; containing a well balanced filling of rice and minced lamb. It was served with a sour cream dip, in my opinion it makes an ideal starter.

I followed on with the Kleftico (a shank of lamb, braised in the oven), served with roast potatoes and carrots. This was well cooked, the meat literally fell off the bones, juicy and had a hint of garlic. I would readily have this again.

Eva started with smoked ham and deep fried Halloumi cheese. The cheese had a slight rubbery consistency and was, in Eva’s opinion, a little too salty. She chose moussaka as a main course, accompanied by a Greek salad. The moussaka was served in an earthenware pot, and came to the table bubbling hot. It was rich and creamy. However, Eva felt (and on testing it myself I would agree) that the proportion of cheese to meat was not entirely correct; namely too much cheese and not enough meat. Additionally, I feel that the dish would have benefited from additional seasoning during the cooking process.

We had intended to have a dish of deep fried mushrooms as a shared accompaniment to our main courses. However, owing to a misunderstanding between myself, the waiter and the chef; this dish, much like “Banquo’s ghost”, made three repeat appearances during and after my starter. Recognising defeat, I decided not to send it away for the third time; and we ate it as a second course before our main course arrived.

We finished our meal off with a glass of ouzo each.

The overall meal, which included a bottle of dry Greek white wine, came to £44 before tip.

Suggestions

I present below a few, well intentioned, suggestions; which I hope are taken by the management in the spirit in which they are intended:

 Adjust the meat cheese ratio, and the seasoning, in the moussaka.

 Place pepper mills on each table, it wastes both diners’ and waiters’ time in having to request and serve the pepper.

Overall Opinion

A fun place, and worth a visit; we will go again.


Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Restaurant

The Banana Leaf
7 Lower Addiscombe Road
Croydon
CR0 6PQ

Phone:- 0208 688 0297

Website http://www.a222.co.uk/bananaleaf

Overview

The Banana Leaf is a local Indian restaurant that serves traditional South Indian cuisine. It has been open since 1988, and has received many awards for its cuisine; such as winning the London Curry Chef of the year in 2002 and being a national finalist in the Curry Chef of the Year Competition in 2002. It comprises a bright airy restaurant and small bar on the ground floor, together with additional seating in the basement. It offers both dine in and takeaway.

Eva, I and Kajsa (Eva’s daughter, who is visiting us from Sweden) visited it on Monday evening and had a very good meal there.

Ambience

The restaurant does not follow the “tradition” favoured by many other Indian restaurants; by decorating itself in the dark reds more appropriate, in my opinion, for brothels. Instead it has opted for a pleasing colour co-ordinated style which is both light, cheerful and refreshing. The top half of the walls are painted light yellow (and are decorated with award certificates for the cuisine), the bottom half being exposed brickwork. The tables are laid with well pressed fresh white tablecloths and mint green linen napkins. Each table has a single artificial red rose in a small vase. The ceiling has the old fashioned rotary fans, infinitely more pleasant than air-conditioning, which add atmosphere.

In the far left hand corner of the restaurant is a small bar which has a few stools on which customers, waiting for their table or takeaway, can sit and enjoy a drink; whilst admiring the collection of silver trophies (won for cuisine) proudly displayed on the bar.

The background music is traditional Indian, about which I am ashamed to say I know nothing, it adds atmosphere but it is not intrusive.

When we arrived we were warmly greeted by one of the many waiters. It being a Monday night and late (9:45PM), it was not busy so we were able to sit where we pleased.

Menu

The restaurant offers an extensive menu comprising familiar Indian dishes, such as; Balti, Madras and Korma. More importantly, in keeping with the regional Indian emphasis, dishes such as Dosai (crispy stuffed pancakes), Vadai (doughnut savoury snacks), Goan and spicy marinated lamb predominate.

Service

The service is attentive, friendly, efficient and dignified. The food is attractively presented, and arrives at the same time.

Food

I started with a dish of lamb, potato and herbs formed into two large oval shapes; sealed with a crispy flour based coating and deep fried. Absolutely delicious, the combination of meat, potato and herbs was well balanced; the dish could be a light meal in itself.

Eva ordered a masala dosai, a crispy pancake stuffed with spiced potato and onion, for her starter. The length of the dosai is approximately 24 inches, and is designed to be shared by two people by cutting it in half. The chef, seeing that there were three of us (having ensured that the filling was evenly stuffed along its entire length), served the dish cut into three equal portions. It was excellent, and well complemented by the coconut chutney; Kajsa, Eva and I all enjoyed it.

My main course was chilli chicken, chicken breast cooked with ginger and fresh green chillies. The chef will vary the strength according to your taste, but I would suggest that this dish is suited to those with a palette (such as mine) that appreciates spicy food. That being said, any fool can put excess spices in a dish that will burn your mouth but will not add value to your eating experience. I am happy to say that the chef achieved heat but with taste and flavour, ie the combination of ingredients were properly balanced so that not one individual element dominated the taste.

Eva chose king prawn korma, prawns in a mild coconut based sauce, which she was very pleased with. I would note that the prawns were plentiful and king size; not the rather small sad shrimps offered by other establishments.

Kajsa took chicken in a sauce which was a pleasing combination of banana and cream, she was happy with her choice which had both a pleasant taste and texture.

I would like to add that, unlike some Indian restaurants which serve sauces that have a layer of fat floating on the surface, not one of the dishes presented to us contained such an abomination.

We shared our side dishes which consisted of boiled plain rice and yellow rice (both fluffy and not glutinous), together with potato dry masala (dry cooked spiced potato cubes) which was very tasty.

I rounded off my meal with a couple of Jamesons. Kajsa had an chocolate ice cream sundae, Eva (like the dosai) was stuffed and ate a small chocolate mint.

The overall meal, which included one bottle of very good Chablis, and a couple of glasses of lemonade, came to £66 including the suggested 10% service charge before tip; very good value.

Overall Opinion

Definitely one of the better Indian restaurants, well worth a visit by people who want a good meal. Lager drinking yobs in search of a mouth burning vindaloo, who tend to gravitate to other establishments, are not welcome, wanted or indeed evident among the clientele. An ideal place to bring your family and loved ones.

Monday, October 14, 2002

Restaurant

Maggie Jones’s
6 Old Court Place
Kensington Church Street
London
W8 4PL

Phone:- 0207 937 6462

Overview

It is a sad fact of life that some restaurants can be variable, offering a great time one evening and a disappointment another. I have been frequenting Maggie Jones’s for over ten years now, and can honestly say that I have never had a disappointing meal there.

Eva, I and Kajsa (Eva’s daughter) visited it last Sunday, and I am happy to report another enjoyable experience.

It comprises a rustic style English restaurant on three floors.

Ambience

The restaurant is decorated in a traditional English rustic style, furnished to evoke the atmosphere of a cosy farmhouse; with wooden tables, chairs, benches and intimate booths set against a backdrop of dried straw and grass sheaths, antique farm equipment and other “nic nacks” hanging from the ceiling and placed on shelves around the rooms. You can easily forget that you are in London.

The atmosphere suits all types of occasions from romantic dinners, business meals to larger gatherings. The restaurant is always busy and you should book; be warned that if you are late you may well loose your reservation. Should you wish to sit on a particular floor, or reserve a booth, then mention this when booking; the staff will try to accommodate you.

The tables are decorated with potted plants and candles in wine bottles. One nice touch is that the salt and pepper are in small bowls, enabling you to take a pinch and sprinkle it over your food.

When we arrived we were greeted in a professional and courteous manner by one of the many staff, and promptly shown to our table. The restaurant, as expected, was busy and it had been wise to make a reservation.

Menu

The restaurant offers an extensive selection of traditional English food including, but most certainly not limited to: quiche, home-made soup, stuffed roast chicken, roast pork, rabbit, venison, steak, steak pie, sausages, game, bread and butter pudding. Specials are shown on the blackboards dotted around the restaurant.

Service

The service is attentive, courteous and professional. On being seated we were promptly offered our menus, bread and a small dish of carrots and cucumber in a vinaigrette dressing.

Food

I started with salmon parcels stuffed with crab. This consisted of two good sized parcels of smoked salmon generously stuffed with fresh crab; very tasty and moist with a good texture. They were placed on a bed of rocket leaves, with a quarter of fresh lemon, and made an ideal starter.

I tried the saddle of lamb, from the “specials”, for my main course. I was offered a choice of garlic or rosemary (I chose both) as a flavour enhancer, and also asked how I would like it done, a good sign that it is freshly cooked; I chose medium. The lamb was a generous cut (taken at 90 degrees to the back bone) from the saddle and was cooked to my specification. The rosemary and garlic added flavour, but did not overpower it. The lamb was tender and succulent, a very good choice; I used my hands and teeth to take the final vestiges of meat from the back bone.

I rounded off the meal with a Remy Martin, no room for the dessert.

Eva started with potted shrimps, presented without the ramekin in which they were made, served with a very large portion of hot toast and butter. She was pleased with her choice. Her main course was a grilled salmon steak, very large, succulent and served with a side dish of hollandaise sauce. The latter was so good that she asked for second dish of sauce, no problem at all.

Eva had no room for a dessert either!

Kajsa decided to take it easy and not have starter. She chose the rack of lamb for a main course; again she was, quite correctly, asked how she wanted it cooked. The lamb was a good sized portion of four ribs cooked well done, as requested, yet succulent and tasty. It was evident that she enjoyed it as she employed her fingers towards the end; and picked the ribs up to clean the meat from them.

Kajsa had an apple crumble with custard for dessert; hot, sweet and sticky.

We shared a selection of vegetables which consisted of a large bowl of sauté potatoes (cut thin yet moist), boiled new potatoes in their skins firm but properly cooked (the best way to enjoy them) and cauliflower baked in a rich (but not overpowering) cheese sauce.

The overall meal, which included one bottle of Malbec and one bottle of Malvern water, came to £113 including the suggested 12.5% service charge (which I felt had been earned by the staff).

Overall Opinion

Definitely one of London’s better restaurants, one that I rely on to entertain friends and visitors alike.


Restaurant

La Brasa
108a Croydon High Street
Croydon

Phone:- 0208 760 9610

Overview

La Brasa has been open for some two years now, owned and managed by Cesar Rodriguez. It comprises a cosy Argentinean restaurant, with a rural atmosphere, on the ground floor.

Eva, I and Kajsa (Eva’s daughter) visited it last Saturday, one of many evenings we have spent there over the last two years; each visit has been highly enjoyable.

Ambience

The restaurant is decorated in a rural Argentinean style, wood predominates the décor but not in an oppressive manner. A homely touch is added by the variety Argentinean “nic nacks” that are placed throughout the restaurant. The atmosphere suits all types of occasions from romantic dinners to parties.

The background music is an eclectic mixture of Latino, Abba and Tom Jones, played at a volume to suit the mood of the guests. Indeed, as the evening progresses people are encouraged to salsa with each other or the staff. As regards closing time, it is flexible, one evening we left at 3:00AM and I have heard a story of a party that went on to 5:00AM; in other words the restaurant operates on the relaxed Latin principle of staying open until the last customer leaves. We had an early evening leaving sat 1:30AM!

When we arrived we were very warmly welcomed by Cesar and his wife. I would point out that all customers, be they new or regulars, are equally warmly welcomed. The restaurant was busy and it is necessary to book. However, you can take a chance; one group of people arrived at 11.30PM and were given a table.

Menu

The restaurant offers a menu comprising Argentinean specialities such as steak with chimichurri sauce (a spicy medley of amongst others, coriander, tomatoes and parsley), chicken empanadas (a sort of chicken pasty), sea bass and a seafood paella.

Service

We were warmly greeted and shown to our table. The service is attentive, friendly but not intrusive.

Food

I started with corn on the cob with melted butter, this consisted of two good sized cobs which had been chargrilled. It was well cooked, and an enjoyable tactile experience to eat; of course you have to use your hands.

I followed on with half a chargrilled chicken with two fried eggs. The chicken was succulent and properly cooked, I did the dish justice and used my fingers at the end to pick the bones clean it was really good.

I rounded off the meal with an Irish coffee, which was hot and well presented.

Eva started with sauté calamares which were generous in quantity and succulent to eat, she thoroughly enjoyed them. Her main course choice was chicken breast with asparagus and banana in a cream sauce, her dish of choice on many occasions. Although the combination may sound unusual, it does work; and contains a good sized portion of chicken breasts.

Eva also had an Irish coffee, no room for a dessert either!

Kajsa started with the feta cheese salad; a very large bowl of, amongst others, feta cheese, avocado and lettuce. She felt that it was almost a meal in itself. She followed on with a quarter chargrilled chicken (no fried eggs!) which, like mine, was well cooked yet succulent. She had a hot pancake filled with ice cream in a fruit sauce for dessert, which she was very pleased with.

We all dipped into a large bowl of thick cut pomme frites, as the accompanying side dish. These are always cooked to a consistently high standard, and in no way resemble the fat injected cardboard “French fries” served by other establishments.

The overall meal, which included two bottles of a sauvignon blanc, came to £71 before tip; good value in my opinion.

Overall Opinion

Definitely one of our favourite restaurants; ten out of ten for service, atmosphere and food. I have absolutely no negative comments to make about it!


Monday, October 07, 2002

Restaurant

L´unico
265 Croydon High Street
Croydon
CR0 1QH

Phone:- 0208 688 7998

Overview

L´unico was opened in the last twelve months, on the site of another Italian restaurant. It comprises an intimate Italian restaurant on the ground floor.

Eva and I visited it last Saturday, and have been there a couple of times before; we have thoroughly enjoyed each visit.

Ambience

The restaurant is intimate, but not cramped, ideal for a romantic meal or larger civilised gathering. Although it is situated on the High Street, with its varied selection of passing/staggering “nightlife” on Fridays and Saturdays, the outside “hullabaloo” does not intrude.

The décor is soothing and balanced; the walls are light peach in colour and the floor polished hardwood. The tables are properly laid, with well pressed tablecloths and napkins.

The restaurant is well staffed, and we were very warmly welcomed by the manager. Although the restaurant is intimate and, being a Saturday, it was busy the atmosphere is not claustrophobic or intrusive. I would recommend booking, as all the tables were occupied when we dined there.

On our first visit there was a live guitarist playing, I hasten to add an acoustic not electric, guitar. This was very pleasant and non intrusive; I am not sure as to when, or how often, L´unico offer live music.

Menu

The restaurant is Italian, but offers something a little more than the standard “Spag bol” indeed the word bolognese does not appear anywhere on the imaginative menu. The extensive menu offers a range of fish, fowl, meat and pasta dishes-freshly made on the premises (the latter can be taken as a starter or main course).

Should you wish something that is not specified on the menu then ask, if the ingredients are available, they will be happy to cook it. On a previous visit, feeling particularly hungry, I asked for a couple of fried eggs to be served with my steak; no problem!

Service

As noted, we were warmly greeted and shown to our table. The service is attentive and friendly; as soon as we were seated we were offered our menus together with a complimentary bowl of olives and basket of bread.

Food

I started with the lasagne, which was firm and had body and texture; unlike some restaurants’ versions of lasagne it was not presented in a glutinous bubbling sauce that overpowered the pasta.

I followed on with the “pollo a diavola”, a spatch-cocked poussin cooked with chillies and garlic. This was excellent, a good size, very piquant (not too spicy) and succulent. The chicken needed the accompanying finger bowl as in order to get every piece of flesh from the carcass I had to use my hands (a very satisfying experience!).

The chicken came with sauté potatoes, which were well cooked and very tasty. I also ordered a side dish of peas and carrots for Eva and myself to share. Unfortunately, they were delayed and did not appear until we had more or less completed our main course. Although they looked good we sent them back, as eating vegetables on their own was a little pointless; needless to say we were not charged for this.

Feeling suitably replete I did not have a dessert; but rounded off the meal with an Irish coffee, which was hot and well presented.

Eva started with a good sized portion of mussels in a white wine sauce; she was very please with them. She then had veal escalope with Parma ham, in a sage and white wine sauce. She thought it was excellent; although, for her personal taste, she felt it would benefit from being presented with a little more sauce. Sauté potatoes were served as the accompaniment.

Eva also had an Irish coffee, we were then offered a complimentary liqueur. I had a dessert wine, which I must say was a little sharp for my taste, Eva had a Cointreau.

The overall meal, which included a good bottle of Chardonnay, came to a very reasonable £52 before tip.

Suggestions

I present below a few, well intentioned, suggestions; which I hope are taken by the management in the spirit in which they are intended:

 Serve the vegetables at the same time as the main course.

 Consider adding a sweeter dessert wine to the wine menu.

Overall Opinion

Definitely a cut above the average Italian restaurant. We both agree that we enjoyed our evening, and are very happy to recommend it to others.