The Brasserie at the Tower Hotel

On a warm evening last June I got to dress up for a special night out with my husband; the plan was a four-course dinner with matching wines at The Brasserie restaurant of the Guoman Tower Hotel.

I was invited by the restaurant to review their new tasting menu, so we just sat down and let the lovely waiters and chef think of everything else, while we focused on the stunning view in front of us!

The Brasserie overlooks the Tower Bridge, with the Shard peeking behind it, so our dinner came with a free show of the sun setting over the river Thames!

The Brasserie at the Tower Hotel
The Brasserie at the Tower Hotel
The Brasserie at the Tower Hotel
The Brasserie at the Tower Hotel

The Brasserie's menu features seasonal British dishes with an equal balance of classics (beef carpaccio, pan fried sea bass, risotto, steak…) and some more inventive proposals (goat cheese doughnuts, duck two ways, pan seared calves liver).

I tried the tasting menu which comprised of four courses: the Game, the Ocean, the Farm and the Treat. They featured highlights from the A La Carte menu, so it was a good way for me to sample what the Brasserie can do best.

Chef Tejas Ranadive came around to our table to introduce each course, which was great to understand the complexity of each dish and how the various ingredients complemented each other.

I started my meal with The Game: Venison mousse, glazed smoked duck breast, wild board prosciutto, Cumberland sauce, brioche, cracked black pepper ice cream.

The duck breast was my favourite and I was surprised by how well the pepper ice cream worked with the venison mousse.

The dish was paired with Cotes du Rhone Les Abelles red wine.

The Brasserie at the Tower Hotel
The Brasserie at the Tower Hotel

My husband could not eat the first two meat courses, so instead he was served vegetarian dishes from the A La Carte menu, starting with The Goanut, the most popular dish at the Guoman restaurant.

It's a warm doughnut stuffed with goat’s cheese and served with caramel mousse, beetroot compote, caramelised pecan nuts and cress lettuce. It was launched last summer on the wave of the cronut craze and it's remained as one of the highlights of the menu.

Needless to say, we loved it and alone it's a good reason to visit the Brasserie.

The Brasserie at the Tower Hotel

The second course was the Ocean: lobster ravioli, seared scallops, grilled seabass, Beluga lentils, black truffle honey, celeriac puree. It was paired with a glass of Errazuriz Sauvignon Blanc which was also my favourite wine of the night.

I always joke about how scallops are ubiquitous on British menus, but when cooked right they are one of my favourite seafood and that was the case with the seared scallop at the Brasserie. The highlight though was the lobster ravioli, I would have happily eaten a whole plate of them!

The Brasserie at the Tower Hotel

The main meat course was again a meat-based one (the Farm) with grilled beef steak, confit duck pasta, pulled lamb shoulder, pancetta, pumpkin puree, sautéed spinach and three grain risotto.

The beef steak was tasty, but too rear for my taste. I loved the pulled lamb shoulder and three grain risotto.

The matching wine was a Don Jaobo Rioja Crianza Tinto, a well structured wine that paired well with the meat.

The Brasserie at the Tower Hotel
The Brasserie at the Tower Hotel

Finally the last course was a dessert spread with Hazelnut parfait, fig crème brûlée, marzipan chocolate brownie, berry compote, white chocolate custard and vanilla ice cream.

If I had to pick my highlight it would be the crème brûlée, which was fantastic. The chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream didn't impressive and could have been left out of the spread. The hazelnut parfait on the other hand was delicious.

The desserts were paired with a glass of Zinck Portrait Riesling, a white wine with citrus fruit aromas.

The Brasserie at the Tower Hotel
The Brasserie at the Tower Hotel
The Brasserie at the Tower Hotel

At the end of the night we were both very satisfied with the food and attentive service from the Brasserie waiting staff and chef, but unfortunately on the whole the restaurant lacks in atmosphere. The interiors would benefit from a re-style with a fresher, more appealing look.

Obviously being located inside a hotel means the restaurant needs to be in line with the style of the Guoman chain, but equally the corporate look might keep real Londoners away. My impression was that the majority of the diners were hotel guests and professionals who work nearby. I would recommend eating here for the location as the view was obviously a big part of the experience.

Walking back to London Bridge after dinner was magic and for a night we enjoyed being tourists in London!

The Brasserie at the Tower Hotel

Disclaimer: I dined at The Brasserie as a guest of the restaurant. All views are my own.

The Brasserie at the Tower Hotel on Urbanspoon

The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest

If you are looking for a beautiful destination in the English countryside to escape to for a day or a weekend, look no further. The Pig, a hotel and restaurant set in the heart of the New Forest National Park, is the perfect place for you.

I was invited to visit The Pig for lunch last month, an opportunity I knew was too good to miss. Less than two hours away by train from Waterloo, the New Forest is the ideal place to relax and enjoy a day out of the city. We got off the train at Brockenhurst, hopped on a cab and ten minutes later we were at the restaurant, with a glass of champagne in hand.

The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest

The Pig is a boutique country house with 26 elegant and cozy bedrooms, surrounded by an extensive walled garden where the restaurant's food is sourced. The building itself dates back to the 17th century, but it was completely renovated in 2011. The location, adjoining a forest and the parkland, is stunning.

Launched by Robin Hutson (founder of Hotel du Vin), The Pig was soon joined by little sister The Pig On The Wall, a bed & breakfast in Southampton. Two other hotels will open in Somerset and Dorset next year.

The Pig's facade is of a traditional hunting lodge, while the charming dining room is an authentically reproduced Victorian greenhouse with mismatched floor tiles, furnished with a homely and rustic yet elegant touch. The wooden tables are bare without cloths, but filled with aromatic plants, wire bread baskets, bottles of infused oil, colourful ceramic water jars and bone handled cutlery. I have never seen a country house more beautiful than this one. I was in awe.

The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest

Connected to the greenhouse is a private dining room, a beautiful setting for parties and family reunions.

The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest

At The Pig, the emphasis is on locally-grown food ("from garden to plate"): the menu is seasonal and changes daily depending on what is available on the grounds or from nearby farms and producers. This is not a traditional hotel that also serves food. The Pig is first and foremost a restaurant (with rooms).

Every morning Head Chef James Golding meets with his forager Garry Eveleigh and kitchen gardener Alex to discuss which vegetables and other ingredients are in perfect condition and then they develop the restaurant's dishes based on this offer.

Uncomplicated and simple British garden food, true to the micro seasons and influenced by the forest and coast, with the emphasis squarely on fresh, clean flavours. What can't be grown in our Kitchen Garden, or in the extensive vegetable and fruit beds, is sourced locally – our further commitment to the 25 mile menu.

Official Website

The menu is divided into five categories: Piggy Bites, Starters & Small Plates, Literally Picked This Morning, Forest & Solent, Garden Sides and Puddings. We started we a few bites to share across the table (I only tasted the Brock Eggs which I loved).

The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest

For lunch I ordered a Watercress, Potato and Crab Apple Soup with Thyme infused Dorset sour cream followed by a main course of Herb & Fennel Roasted Hampshire Fare Pork Fillet (with garden greens, crab apple mash & mustard sauce).

Both dishes were delicious. I love creamy soups and the watercress, potato and apple combination worked perfectly. The main course was a generous portion of meat and the apple mash provided a nice alternative to the more traditional mashed potatoes.

The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest

The dishes ordered by the other guests at my table included: James Golding's Home Smoked Glenarm Salmon; A Pinch of Salt's Air Dried Ham & Cavolo Risotto; South Coast Hake Fillet & Pickled Rock Samphire; Dressed Portland Crab & Triple Cooked Chips; The Pig's Extraordinary Bath Chap (on a board).

The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest

Despite being full after all the champagne, cocktails, snacks and two courses, I was really looking forward to the puddings (as usual)! :)

The choice was hard and took me a while, but eventually I ordered the Warm Earl Grey Scented Chocolate Torte with Earl Grey Ice Cream & Chocolate Sauce. It was divine, but then I tasted the Home Grown Rhubarb & Apple Crumble with Dairy Ice Cream and loved it even more. Same with The Pig's Blackberry Mousse. Well, let's just agree on the fact that all puddings at The Pig are marvellous!

The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest

Stuffed and happy after such a delightful lunch, we headed outside to meet Chef James Golding. Together we visited the kitchen garden, herb patch, green house, fruit cages, wild flower meadow orchard, smoke house and saw the chickens, quails and pigs.

The Pig organises foraging family activities where they take you through the forest or along the coast, collecting wild edible food or foraging for fruits, nuts and berries. A great way to enjoy a day out and learn something new at the same time!

The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Pig in Brockenhurst, New Forest

It was such a pleasure meeting James and chatting about his commitment to the 25-mile menu and sustainability, which equals to minimum food waste, thriving local economy and healthy, good quality food.

I cannot recommend The Pig highly enough: truly a one-of-a-kind experience.

Disclaimer: I was invited by Jori White PR to have lunch at The Pig. All views are my own.

Disappearing Dining Club – Back in 5 Minutes

A few weeks ago I discovered the Disappearing Dining Club thanks to a blog post on A Southern Belle in London blog and I was instantly intrigued by it.

DDC is an events company that "brings like-minded people together to enjoy great food, drink and good company in reclaimed or unusual private spaces". As well as hosting dinners and events in and around London, they have also launched Back in 5 Minutes, a permanent restaurant hidden behind a designer clothes shop on Brick Lane.

Every Wednesday they host a Dinner Club, with 30 seats around three tables, for "family style, get-to-know-your-neighbours dining". I thought it would be fun to try it out with my Blog 'n' Bake friends and so that's where we all had dinner last night.

Disappearing Dining Club - Back in 5 Minutes
Disappearing Dining Club - Back in 5 Minutes
Disappearing Dining Club - Back in 5 Minutes

The doors open at 7pm: you walk in a clothing store and through black curtains to enter a low-lit room with grey walls and vintage furniture. As a group of seven people, we occupied most of the table and kept the conversation to ourselves, but I'd imagine that if you were going as a couple you would end up chatting to strangers and get to know your neighbours.

A welcome Grey Goose Le Fizz drink is served on arrival (a mix of elderflower, fresh lime and Grey Goose vodka with chilled soda) and dinner starts around 7:30/8:00pm. There were two waitresses taking orders for drinks and making sure all dietary requirements were taken care of (we had two vegetarians in our group).

We decided to share a bottle of house red wine and my task was to distribute it evenly between 7 glasses. The pressure was high, but I think I did a good job! ;)

Disappearing Dining Club - Back in 5 Minutes
Disappearing Dining Club - Back in 5 Minutes
Disappearing Dining Club - Back in 5 Minutes

There is one three-course menu for all diners (starter, main course and dessert), which changes weekly and features familiar British dishes such as Braised Lamb Shoulder, Confit Duck or Slow Roasted Pork Neck.

The starter was a tray of Potted Meats & Fish with Homemade Pickles and Sourdough Bread. They didn't serve a different starter for vegetarians, but luckily my husband and Hannah's sister can eat fish occasionally, so they could eat the potted salmon.

We all loved the starters – in particular I thought the pork and salmon were both delicious.

Disappearing Dining Club - Back in 5 Minutes
Disappearing Dining Club - Back in 5 Minutes

The main course was Slow Roast Pork Belly with Roasted New Potatoes and White Beans. I don't eat pork belly often (I also always remove the skin and fat…) and I am not an expert, but I did enjoy this dish very much. The meat was tasty and the white beans were cooked in a delicious cream.

Two trays of food were served to share between ten diners at our table: a big slice of pork belly each and enough beans and potatoes to share.

Disappearing Dining Club - Back in 5 Minutes
Disappearing Dining Club - Back in 5 Minutes
Disappearing Dining Club - Back in 5 Minutes
Disappearing Dining Club - Back in 5 Minutes

I was not impressed by the vegetarian option as it consisted of only roasted potatoes and brown beans cooked in tomato sauce. It wasn't very imaginative or good value for money compared to the meat course.

There was plenty of Apple & Blackberry Crumble to fill our bellies, served with a lovely Swedish Custard. Both were served cold, unlike traditional crumbles which are served piping hot. I didn't mind, actually I was happy to be able to tuck into my portion without having to wait for the food to cool down! (I always burn my tongue when eating apple crumble, fact!)

Not all my friends loved the dessert, but I liked it enough to take a second helping with a big dollop of custard on top!

Disappearing Dining Club - Back in 5 Minutes
Disappearing Dining Club - Back in 5 Minutes

Overall I thought Back in 5 Minutes was a nice place to visit for a dinner out with friends: the room is intimate and cozy and you feel like being in somebody's living room, rather than in a restaurant.

But I was expecting it to be more like a dining club or a supperclub, perhaps with the DDC team presenting the menu and walking around the tables to chat with the guests. This would have created a more personal and special experience. I realize now that this is not what Back in 5 Minutes is about, so it was simply a case of wrong expectations on my side.

In my personal opinion, Back in 5 Minutes is a great concept, deployed in style in a lovely location and with good food. But it does have a few short-comings: mainly the price (it's not cheap when you add up £30 for food, £5 for a glass of wine and 12.5% service charge and definitely not good value for vegetarians) and the service, which wasn't very friendly or accommodating.

I don't see myself going back, as I think there's better food to be had in London, but I would recommend it if you are looking for an unusual dining experience in a quirky space.

Upstairs at Ten Bells

One of my favourite meals of these past few months was at Upstairs at Ten Bells, the Young Turks British restaurant above the historic Ten Bells pub in Spitalfields.

Upstairs at the Ten Bells [...] initially started as a temporary, 3 month project by the Young Turks & The Clove Club, it received an overwhelming response and is now permanent.

Three of the original line up – Isaac Mchale, Daniel Willis and Johnny Smith are in charge of a young talented team of Chefs and front of house staff. Giorgio Ravelli is Head Chef running the kitchen day to day with the help of Restaurant Manager Jarrod Cooke.

Official Website

Upstairs at Ten Bells
Upstairs at Ten Bells

I went there for lunch on a rainy Friday at the end of May with Serena, Kelly and Pooja.

We started with a few snacks: Breaded Aubergine, Sweet & Sour Caper, Walnut & Parmesan; and Buttermilk Chicken & Pine Salt. The chef also offered us an additional snack that was not on the menu: apple slices rolled with goat's cheese.

Upstairs at Ten Bells
Upstairs at Ten Bells
Upstairs at Ten Bells
Upstairs at Ten Bells

We all opted for the Two Courses lunch deal (£17): two of us ordered starters/mains, while the other two ordered mains/desserts.

For starters, we shared the Fried Cuttlefish, Jersey Royals, Red Pepper & Lovage; and Lamb Sweetbreads, Borlotti Beans & Artichoke.

Upstairs at Ten Bells
Upstairs at Ten Bells
Upstairs at Ten Bells
Upstairs at Ten Bells

The mains on the menu that week were: Roast Pork Loin, Fregola Sarda, Peas, Gem Lettuce & Roast Onion; and Cornish Cod, Monks Beard, Fennel & Grapefruit Sauce Vierge.

Upstairs at Ten Bells
Upstairs at Ten Bells
Upstairs at Ten Bells

As usual for me, the highlight was the dessert (although I did really love the buttermilk chicken and roast pork loin too!). The Cheesecake with Peanut Crumble & Loquats tasted as good as it looked!

Upstairs at Ten Bells

We finished off with a sharing plate of cheese by Androuet.

Upstairs at Ten Bells

With service charge and a glass of wine we spent about £22 each, for a fantastic meal in a quiet and beautiful room and top notch service. I definitely recommend it if you work in the area or have a day off! Of course, dinner is great too, but it's probably advisable to book in advance.

Upstairs at the Ten Bells on Urbanspoon

Fish Market in Rome Trastevere

At the end of January I spent a weekend in Rome visiting family and friends. My best friend Giovanna took me out for lunch in a new restaurant in the Trastevere, called Fish Market.

Fish Market in Rome Trastevere

We arrived at noon on a Saturday; early for Roman standards, where it is common to have lunch around 2pm. It was a good move to avoid the weekend crowd and we were able to sit immediately in the almost empty room.

The idea behind this new venture is to enjoy fish in a quick and affordable way, so that you wouldn't spend more than "eating a pizza", as the owners say.

You can easily have a great meal anywhere in Rome, but rarely restaurants also impress me for their décor. At the Fish Market, I loved the food, the concept and the space, as everything was clearly done with great attention to detail.

Fish Market in Rome Trastevere
Fish Market in Rome Trastevere
Fish Market in Rome Trastevere
Fish Market in Rome Trastevere

At the entrance of the restaurant there is a large fish case, where the fresh catch of the day is displayed; behind it, stand the chefs in the open kitchen.

You can order anything you see on the stall and choose how to have it cooked, grilled or battered. There is also a specials' board on the wall and a menu with a few starters and sfizi di mare, small fish plates to tickle your appetite.

The ordering system is simple: you fill a paper form with a pencil, ticking the boxes of all the items you want to eat, go to the till and pay. The food is then served at the table.

Fish Market in Rome Trastevere
Fish Market in Rome Trastevere

I would have loved to try everything, but as it was just two of us, we had to control ourselves. I picked a bruschetta con pomodoro as a starter, while Giovanna ordered a Tuna Tartare.

To warm ourselves from the winter cold, we both ordered the Caciucco alla Livornese, a fish stew made with the traditional Tuscan way, with tomato sauce and toasted bread added on top. It was lovely!

I also ordered fried calamari and fried vegetables, which tasted amazing when hot and crispy. Unfortunately, everything was served at the same time, so by the time I had finished the stew, the fried food had become a bit cold and soggy.

Fish Market in Rome Trastevere
Fish Market in Rome Trastevere

After lunch, we strolled around the cobbled streets and Medieval houses of Trastevere, busking in beautiful Roman sun.

Fish Market in Rome Trastevere
Fish Market in Rome Trastevere
Fish Market in Rome Trastevere
Fish Market in Rome Trastevere

I crossed the river Tevere at Ponte Garibaldi and continued my walk to the city centre, through Pantheon and eventually reached Villa Borghese to watch the sunset from the Terrazza del Pincio.

What a wonderful sight! Rome, my hometown, I hope to see you again soon!

Fish Market in Rome Trastevere
Fish Market in Rome Trastevere
Fish Market in Rome Trastevere

Lardo Eatery & Bar

I'm very excited to write about Lardo today and share the photos from our Saturday brunch. I have a long list of overdue posts to publish, but this one cannot wait!

I set myself an objective for this year to explore more of east London: Dalston, Stoke Newington, Hackney, Shoreditch, etc. In particular I want to try all the coffee shops that have been popping up in the past two years. I used to be around these areas a lot before, but since I moved to south London I have only been making rare trips to the east.

Last Saturday I convinced forced my husband to accompany me on an expedition to Homerton to review 46b Espresso Hut, a tiny and charming coffee shop, currently top rated in London's Best Coffee app.

On the way to the café, we made a detour to Netil Market to visit Terrone Coffee and then strolled across London Fields and arrived at Lardo for a late lunch.

Lardo Eatery & Bar
Lardo Eatery & Bar

Lardo is located in Richmond Road, on the north side of the London Fields park and within walking distance from the Overground station at Hackney Central.

Its opening was one of the highlights of summer of 2012, with food bloggers racing to be the first ones to review it. London's best journalists also took the opportunity to write about pizza and burrata, hipsters and gentrification, in their columns.

So, here are two quotes from my favourites food writers, Marina O'Loughlin and Grace Dent.

Lardo, the baby of Eliza Flanagan (ex-Bistrotheque general manager), is located in the fantastically proportioned Arthaus building. There are what used to be called yuppie flats upstairs and, in the concierged lobby, lots of edgy art. The star of the show is a showstopping, igloo-shaped, wood-burning oven as spangly as a disco ball. It’s easy to be seduced by Lardo and I am: it’s a place of considerable charm.

Marina O'Loughlin for Metro UK

Lardo Eatery & Bar
Lardo Eatery & Bar
Lardo Eatery & Bar
Lardo Eatery & Bar

Lardo, a rather gorgeous Italian hipsterish bistro featuring dazzling charcuterie (fennel pollen salami, cured loin, speck), cocktails and fine pizzas appearing from its shiny, disco-ball-shaped oven. I’m sure the oven was a terrific pain to plan and build but it was worth every penny, giving the rather plain industrial room a punch of decadent zing.

Grace Dent for ES Magazine

Lardo Eatery & Bar

I called the restaurant around 1 o'clock and spoke to a friendly lady who confirmed the restaurant was open and serving food all day. She also asked if I wanted to make a reservation, which I thought was kind of her to ask. The thing is, I am so used of the ever-present "no booking policy" that it didn't even occur to me I could reserve a table!

Lardo Eatery & Bar
Lardo Eatery & Bar
Lardo Eatery & Bar
Lardo Eatery & Bar
Lardo Eatery & Bar

When we arrived, the restaurant was still busy from lunch service, but we were immediately taken to our table.

We ordered an ale from Redchurch Brewery and a glass of delicious Primitivo del Salento red wine.

I had heard that Lardo's dishes were small, so we decided to order two starters and two main courses. Afterwards, we were so full, I had to skip dessert! (really, that's unheard of!)

I was recommended the Fennel Pollen Salame, but I wanted to keep the starters vegetarian, so that I could share them with Sandy, so instead we ordered Burrata and Jerusalem Artichokes, Cauliflower, Red Onion. They were served with two slices of oily and fragrant focaccia bread.

Lardo Eatery & Bar
Lardo Eatery & Bar

The burrata, served in a small plate filled with Spanish extra virgin olive oil, was fresh, tasty and with the perfect melt-in-your-mouth texture.

But the real surprise was given by the Jerusalem Artichokes, mixed with crunchy cauliflowers and caramelised red onion, and a sweet vinaigrette that I could not identify, but turned the dish into something very special.

Major props envy, those plates were beautiful!
Major props envy, those plates were beautiful!

Major props envy, those plates were beautiful!

As a main course, I ordered the Pappardelle with Wild Boar and Guanciale (no sharing for this one!), while Sandy order a classic Tomato, Mozzarella, Basil Pizza.

I ordered the small portion of pappardelle, but it was actually more than enough for one person, with the right ratio of pasta versus meat. It was very good.

Lardo Eatery & Bar
Lardo Eatery & Bar

I tasted Sandy's pizza and I liked the coarseness of the dough. We inquired with the waiter how the dough was made and he led us behind the kitchen counter, to the wood-fired oven. Chef Christian showed us how they make pizza by rolling the dough on a surface covered with semolina flour. The semolina adds colour and flavour to the pizza; sure it is not an authentic Neapolitan pizza, but if you don't mind that, then you are going to enjoy this!

Lardo Eatery & Bar
Lardo Eatery & Bar

There were a few hiccups with the service, as they prepared a different pizza from what we had ordered, but the waiter and chef immediately apologised for the mistake and within five minutes the right order was served. As an apology, they offered us a complimentary glass of Stellaspritz (a cocktail of Prosecco and home-made grapefruit liqueur), which was delicious and left me slightly tipsy.

We had a lovely time, the entire staff was welcoming, friendly and smiley all along, the food and drinks were nice, the space was damn beautiful. What more can you ask from a restaurant?

Lardo on Urbanspoon

La Maison du Chocolat at Le Balcon

Last week was Chocolate Week and, as part of the celebrations, French chocolatier La Maison du Chocolat launched an exclusive gastronomic experience at The Balcon. Housed in Sofitel Hotel St James, Le Balcon is a French brasserie in the centre of historical London, just a few minutes walk from St James’s Park and Buckingham Palace.

I was kindly invited to taste and review the luxury three-course menu and, I must say, it was the highlight of my week!

Now, I love hotels. Even more, I love 5-star hotels. I love Art Deco architecture. I love chocolate. And I love getting out of my office on a Thursday and spend two hours in a nice restaurant eating a gourmet meal with a friend! It was just the perfect opportunity for me.

I was expecting original combinations of ingredients and delicious food, which I found, but I was surprised to discover that the dishes were also filling and satisfying, like proper ‘comfort food’. I’m glad to read that Judith of Mostly About Chocolate felt the same about the menu being filling and good value for money.

The location was of course stunning: bright, elegant, spacious, crowded enough not to make you feel lonely, but not too much to get noisy. A formal setting, yet one where you immediately feel at ease.

The service was impeccable and a special thank you goes to the restaurant manager who recommended us two wonderful wines to accompany our courses: a Sauvignon Blanc Pouilly-Fumé Villebois Loire 2011 and a Chenin Blanc Coteaux du Layon ‘Les 4 Villages’ 2007.

The menu was created by the Executive Chef of Le Balcon, Vincent Ménager, and developed together with la Maison du Chocolat, who provided the chocolate used for the three dishes.

We started off with Seared Sea Scallops with Quinoa, Roasted Cocoa Nibs, Rocket Salad, Cocoa Dressing, Sweet Orange Tuile.

Second course was Roasted Rabbit Saddle with Black Olive and Rosemary, Butternut Squash Purée, Black Trumpets, Girolles Mushroom and Chocolate Mole Sauce.

For dessert, we had Molten Chocolate and Ginger Cake with Coconut and Saffron Cream.

As a final treat, we tasted some chocolate truffles by La Maison du Chocolat.

La Maison du Chocolat menu is available at The Balcon for lunch and dinner, from 9th to 23rd October at £35 per head (drinks not included).

I really loved the menu and I find the price a fair one, considering the quality/quantity of food, location and service. You still have time to try it, don’t miss the chance!

Disclaimer: I was a guest at the restaurant to review the menu. All views are my own.