Sunday, December 13, 2009

Franco Manca , Chiswick , London

I have sung the praises of the original Franco Manca in Brixton here and also covered the link between Eco , Franco and Franco Manca here

The new Franco Manca in Chiswick's soft opening was on Saturday December 12 , 2009, 14 days after the amazing oven built by the same Neapolitan artisans used in the Brixton branch was fired up.

The menu and formula here is the same simple 6 pizzas but there are some additions on the wines and beers . An organic Czech Lager and a range of Piedmontese wines from an Organic Wine cooperative.

Today I had another beautiful light sourdough Pizza with tomato , mozzarella and home cured Gloucester Old Spot Ham cooked in 38 seconds in the amazing 500c real wood fired oven !

There are 80 covers in the former Eco site , lovely brown granite tables , charming waiting staff and a wonderful mural from Enzo Apicella who did the same for some of the early Pizza Express restaurants in the 1960's.

By early next year Chiswick and Brixton will be baking 15,000 + Pizzas a month which is good news for lovers of the real thing !

Franco Manca on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 07, 2009

Best of 2009 in London

Here is my list of best food shops , restaurants and wine establishments for 2009 and you can compare with 2008 here 2007 here and 2006 here

Best Italian Restaurant : L'Anima

Best Indian : Bombay Palace

Best Indian (Modern) : Benares

Best Pakistani : New Tayyabs & Saloos

Best Chinese : Hunan

Best Thai : Nahm

Best Japanese : Umu

Best Vietnamese : Mien Tay , Hackney and Battersea

Best Lebanese/Syrian : Ishbilia

Best Sushi : Sushi - Hiro

Best French : The Square , Hibiscus and Le Gavroche

Best Spanish : Cambio de Tercio

Best Tapas : Fino ; Barfina

Best English : St John's

Best Fish/Seafood : J Sheekey

Best Gastro Pub : Anchor & Hope , Great Queen St & Harwood Arms

Best Selection of Beer : Draft House and The Rake

Best Wine Bar : Vinoteca

Best Brasserie : Le Cafe Anglais

Best Bistro/Bourgeois Cooking : Racine , Knightsbridge

Best Burger : Hawksmoor

Best Steak : Cote de Boeuf at Racine

Best Steak Restaurant : Hawksmoor ,& Goodmans

Best mid range Burger : Byron Burger

Best Pizza : Franco Manca

Best Value for money Wine List : Andrew Edmunds

Best Value for Money Restaurant : Giaconda Dinning Room

Best Italian Deli : Speck

Most over rated : The Wolseley , River Cafe and Sketch

Best Butcher : Oshea's Knightbridge

Best Bakery : St John's Bread , Franco Manca & K&S Bakery (German breads only)

Best Patisserie : William Curley

Best Cakes and Brownies : Bea's of Bloomsbury

Best Fishmonger : The Chelsea Fishmonger (Rex Goldsmith), Chelsea Green

Best Cheese Shop : La Fromagerie

Best Wine Merchants : Berry Brothers & Rudd , Bibendum Wines

Best Fruit & Veg : Andreas Georghiou , Turnham Green Terrace

Monday, November 30, 2009

Rousillion, London

I returned to Roussillion last week after an absence of several years , having first enjoyed the always perfectly executed cuisine of Alexis Gauthier and his team in the late 1990's .

For some reason I always leave thinking I really should eat here more often as this restaurant really does have everything I normally expect to find in a fine restaurant. The food and service are very good and there is an excellent serious wine list in what remains a very understated restaurant hidden away half way down a side street on the Belgravia/Pimlico border.

On this occasion I was asked to choose a restaurant by an epicurean Greek technology entrepreneur where the food was good and we could actually talk at ease without intrusive service or noisy patrons . We had to eat fairly early as Tony K had to catch a flight to Cologne early the next day.

Saying that I ran into to a friend of mine who is amongst other things a member of the Chelsea FC medical team and we of course discussed the Serbian Horse Placenta wonder treatment.

Everything at Roussillion is as the French sometimes say is "correct" from the excellent homemade bread , the two (salted & unsalted) butters to the actual pace the staff move around the main room. Michael Lear runs the front of house with elegance and good humour and Roberto Della Pietra is one of the UK's top Sommelier's.

Alexis Gauthier who worked in amongst other places Chanteclerc at Hotel Negresco, Nice and Alain Ducasse’s Louis XV temple of gastronomy in Monte Carlo continues to produce beautifully executed dishes that wherever possible use locally sourced ingredients.

The amuse bouche included Chickpea Beignets with Mustard; and Canapés of Smoked Eel & Beetroot Purée which I have had before and a new one on me delicious pigeon heart pictured below.

I am afraid that the Black Truffle Risotto is really too good to resist and I didn't it was a perfectly balanced and executed combination of truffle , rice , butter and parmigiano .

My Veal and Morel main course was again perfectly cooked and presented but I found the Isle of Wight Veal lacked flavour maybe I should pluck up courage and introduce Alexis to my butcher who not only has the best beef and pork I can get my hands on in the UK but superb Irish Rose Veal. We drank a Montagny 1er Cru,Château de la Saule 2007 that worked well with all our courses. Tony had :



After a pre desert of clafoutis of pear and choclolat we both ended our fine meal with a circular version of Ducasse's Louis XV - hazelnut praline, over thin biscuit base, sandwiched between chocolate ganache and covered in dark chocolate sauce , finished with with gold leaf.

I think I need to come here more often or at least as often as I go to Hunan around the corner !




Desert. LOUIS XV

Roussillon on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Working on Best of 2009

Seems like only yesterday that I was publishing my annual Best of list the last twelve months have really flown by.
You can see my 2008 list here
This year I plan to have more categories including Best Spanish , Vietnamese , Thai , Best Cafe , Best Bistro/Bourgeois Cooking and best Pizza.
Please let me know what you think ? I plan to release my list in the next few weeks.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Eco , London : The Forgotten Gem

There is a very strong connection between the best pizzas in London and the owners of Eco in Clapham the Wassif family. In fact the owners of Eco today were owners of the site of the original Franco's Pizzeria in Brixton Market (in it's time the best) that they later opened as Eco Brixton after Franco moved to North London to set up Casale Franco. These days the site is Franco Manca widely accepted as the best authentic Neapolitan pizza base in London. The Wassif's are working with Giuseppe Mascoli to launch Franco Manca in Chiswick which is due to open in December 2009. In fact the artisan ovens are being hand built at this moment on site in Chiswick always between 90 and 130cm wide and no more than 35cm high on the inside.These dimensions will determine the oven's heat and humidity and mean just like in Brixton pizzas will cook in 40 seconds at 500 C + .

Sami Wassif a genial Egyptian businessman and epicurean has also invested in a number of high profile restaurants including Hakassan and worked on a number of Alan Yau projects not to mention with great talents like Francesco Mazzei who has now established the best Italian Restaurant in the UK , L'Anima .

Some 17 years ago when Franco went "missing" I remember hearing about the link with Eco and trying the Pizzas in the newly opened Clapham High Street restaurant . What struck me at the time was how light and digestable the base was as well as the quality of the toppings.

I recently returned to Eco and found it almost unchanged apart from a slightly bigger space and more extensive menu that includes salads and grilled meats and vegetables.

The pizza I had with ham , egg, red and green chilis was as I remember all those years ago. The restaurant was packed to the rafters with regulars and neophytes enjoying the great food and atmosphere overseen by probably the best front of house team I have come across in a Pizzeria !

Restaurants come and go on Clapham and many other High Streets in the UK and when one has been around for as long as Eco it usually means the food and atmosphere must be damned good !

Eco on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Melanzana , The boys are back

Lucio and Jimmy are back on the square with a new partner Paolo.

They had previously been across the road now a Dry Cleaners with a small deli cafe but now have created a Deli , Cafe and Tratoria that serves simple mainly southern Italian cuccina casalinga .

Even though Melanzana opened yesterday I was able to enjoy an excellent plate of pasta a la Norma (Rigatoni with aubergine , tomato and garlic sauce with Sicilian Ricotta).

The daily changing menu is available to eat in or take away.

The deli counter has a wide range of salumi , hams and cheeses and there is excellent bread and small selection of vegetables.

It's also great to be able to get a decent espresso as the other places on Battersea Square have coffee which frankly is as bad as their food.

Melanzana is a much needed addition to the Battersea Square area that is open for breakfast through to dinner .

Melanzana on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Madsen , London

Madsen has now been open for a year at the South Kensington station end of Old Brompton road, not too far from where the seminal Hilaire restaurant opened it's doors many moons ago and less than 500 meters from another Danish restaurant Lundum's that closed about 3 years ago.

Charlote Kruse Madsen a graduate École Hotelière de Lausanne in Switzerland who trained at Ida Davidsen’s in Copenhagen, s founded the contract catering company Madsen Food in 2006, with the aim of bringing the Scandinavian food experience to London and a year ago Madsen Restaurant opened it's doors serving modern Danish food.

Once you enter the restaurant you you are transported to a typical modern Scandinavian environment of simple clean lines light woods and friendly and efficient staff. It reminded me of visiting the offices of Scandinavian Broadcaster SBC in Hounslow, where as soon as you enter you could be in Oslo , Stockholm or Copenhagen !

Lunch features Smushi , a smaller version of the traditional Danish open sandwich called ”Smørrebrød”. They are beautifully decorated on either dark rye or white sour dough bread with healthy fish, meat and vegetarian options. Warm dishes that include daily specials are avaialbe as well and range from Frikadelle , Danish meatballs with red cabbage and new potatoes to Braised pork shank on a bed of caramelised cabbage, pearl onion and mustard to Pan-fried, breaded filet of Irish plaice served with broccoli tossed in oyster remoulade. There are plenty of vegetarian options and gluten free bread is available on request.

Last night my companions and I had a wonderful dinner that kicked of with shots of Akvavit followed by the excellent value set dinner.

Salad of baked pumpkin and salted seeds with little gem lettuce and honey vinaigrette and extra hot smoked Scottish salmon. This was a delightful simple perfectly balanced and well executed starter.

The main course was the daily special of Frikadeller” -Danish Pork Meatballs with red cabbage , gravy and mashed potatoes. The meatballs were light and perfectly cooked servers with al dente red cabbage , thick gravy and excellent mashed potatoes in a side bowl. We drank a Gavi ‘La Zerba’ 2007 which complimented all our food.

We finished with a truly delicious "Rødgrød med fløde” the famous Danish red berry pudding served cold with cream .

I look forward to returning soon to work through the rest of the menu !

Madsen on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 19, 2009

Leong's Legends : A one trick pony ?

I have been to Leong’s Legends about six times now and have tried most things on the menu.

The restaurant claims to be Taiwanese but has many standard Cantonese dishes that one would encounter in most of the Cantonese centric establishments in London’s China Town or other comers of the world where Cantonese communities are well established be it Hong Kong or of course Taiwan.

My conclusion on this restaurant is that the vast majority of dishes are average to poor but there are a few really outstanding ones.

Other dishes that are good to above average include Taiwan Mini Kebab with pork though sometimes it is far too fatty, grilled minced pork buns (not a patch on Hunan’s) a spicy beef noodle soup (again the brisket can be too fatty for my taste) and the pork belly stew.

The Xiao Long Bao (pictured above) are certainly the best I have had in London and only second to some I had in a restaurant in Liverpool called The Orient over 15 years ago (in terms of UK). Both restaurants achieved the perfect balance of dumpling texture broth and pork filling. Of course neither reach the levels that I have been lucky enough to sample in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taipei but they get close !

Leong’s Xiao Long Bao are in fact so good that I will continue to frequent this establishment even if it’s only for a late breakfast at noon when it opens it’s doors.

Leong’s Legends on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 24, 2009

#vongole video 8 : why no cheese ?

In this 8th and final video Francesco Mazzei Chef Patron of the award winning L'Anima in London explains why cheese is not required in this dish.

Pasta has become popular all over the world as has Parmegiano Reggiaono however it is often added to dishes that do not require the addition of any cheese or this particular cheese. Even in Italy other cheeses form the essential ingredients of a specific pasta dish be it Sicilian Ricotta , Mozzarella or one of the many regional Pecorinos. Also many dishes do not need cheese because it's just one ingredient too many and it unbalances the dish by masking or clashing with the main ingredients.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

7 #vongole video - parsley a herb worth waiting for

In this 7th video Francesco Mazzei Chef Patron of the award winning L'Anima in London talks about parsley .

Again the selection of parsley is important to ensure the dish is balanced so the taste should not be too strong . Francesco prefers to use Southern Italian , Ligurian or Greek flat parsley and also likes to chop it roughly again to ensure the flavour does not overwhelm the dish.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

6th #vongole video :"emulsione" with "emozione"

In this 6th video Francesco Mazzei Chef Patron of the award winning L'Anima in London focuses on "emulsione" with both "emozione" and his unparalleled "passione".

This video beautifully illustrates the points of difference one gets with Francesco and his team at L'Anima . Here we see the extra effort and energy that goes into executing a perfect dish time and time again.

The "emulsione" is a kind of Gastronomic Alchemy produced by shaking the pan to and fro and combining the starchy pasta water with olive oil and the natural juices from the clams. The result is a true taste sensation !

Monday, September 21, 2009

5th #vongole video : how and when to add white wine

In this 5th video Francesco Mazzei Chef Patron of the award winning L'Anima in London explains when and why you add white wine during the cooking of Linguine alle Vongole.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

# 4th vongole video : extra virgin understatement

In this 4th video Francesco Mazzei Chef Patron of L'Anima in London explains why the choice of olive oil in this dish is so important.

Francesco recommends extra virgin olive oil that is quasi neutral in taste thus allowing the key ingredients of the dish to prosper and combine without being over powered by a strong flavoured olive oil that can "kill" the dish.

This lesson so to speak applies to practically all dishes and cuisines . How often do we find just that extra ingredient to many or that the balance of the dish is wrong because there is to much of something .

Being able to select, combine and balance the right ingredients to execute the perfect dish is one of the key points of difference one finds in great cooks and chefs .

Saturday, September 19, 2009

#3rd vogole video : it is essential use bronze die/cut pasta

Here Francesco Mazzei explains the reason for using better quality bronze die/cut pasta.

The quality and choice of pasta is very important as it affects the pasta water needed to create the perfect "emulsione" and determine retention ratio of this almost creamy sauce.

Better quality and artisanal pasta have certain key advantages over the key industrial brands . Firtstly they extrude their pasta through bronze dies hat leave microstriations (ridges, grooves, etc.) to capture and hold the sauce.

Second, they dry the pasta at lower temperatures. While this takes longer, it preserves the fine flavors of the wheat.

And finally I also have the impression that the quality of the starch in the pasta water (essential in this dish) is far superior.

I use Garofalo one of the producers from Gragnano reputed to be the best areas for dry pasta making as well as Guiseppe Cocco from Abruzzo another highly rated area . The latter is available in Waitrose whilst most good delis will sell at least one brand of high quality pasta.

Friday, September 18, 2009

2nd #vongole video – linguine or spaghetti: the necessity of long, slender & dry

In part 2 of “linguine alle vongole – the finer points of a perfect pasta”, Francesco Mazzei explains why it is essential to use a pasta that’s long, slender and dry.

1st #vongole video – “spurgare le vongole”: the ritual of cleaning the clams

“linguine alle vongole – the finer points of a perfect pasta” is a series of eight short videos starring Francesco Mazzei, the chef at London’s L’Anima. In part 1 of the series – spurgare le vongole – Francesco explains the ritual of cleaning the clams. In Italian, spurgare means “to clean, purge” and can apply to forms of purging other than the removal of sand from clams.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Linguine alle Vongole - The Finer Points of Perfect Pasta

I have gone on record to say L’Anima is my favourite Italian Restaurant in London here . In fact it’s now one of my favourite restaurants in the UK.

Through a number of discussions on Twitter with Daniel Young @youngandfoodish and Rejina Sabur @gastrogeek1 I got involved in a debate about Linguine alle Vongole that led to meeting and getting to know Francesco Mazzei the brilliant Chef and co Owner of L’Anima.

Eating regularly in a restaurant obviously tells you a lot about the philosophy and passion of the Chef. What is striking about L’Anima is the attention to detail be it the home made bread, choice of olives, the carefully constructed wine list and of course perfectly executed dishes that transport you to Calabria’s, Sicily and Sardinia.

What I like about Linguine alle Vongole is that like many Italian dishes it appears on the surface to be very simple, boil some pasta and throw in a few ingredients

Linguine or Spaghetti alle Vongole is an essentially contested dish just like many others that transcend regionalism and can be found in all corners of the country and beyond. Every aspect is debated and contested, rosso or bianco, chilli or no chilli, white wine or no white wine, choice and quality of pasta, fine or coarsely chopped parsley, cooking time and so on.

In reality when you deconstruct this dish you start to understand Italian Cooking, the importance of good quality ingredients and the dialectic between apparent simplicity and the combination of few ingredients to produce the synthesis of a perfectly executed dish.

Through this project I have been lucky enough to watch a master cook one of my favourite dishes, whilst explaining each of it’s finer points. I am of course even more fortunate to have eaten this glorious dish cooked by Francesco Mazzei from scratch in less than 12 minutes.

Now you to have the opportunity to see Francesco cook Linguine alle Vongole and then eat the dish at this unique event.

Francesco will demo and effectively deconstruct this deceptively simple dish through a series of short web videos and then at a special October 2009 tasting dinner in the private dining room of L'Anima. The first of the vongole vids, "Spurgare le Vongole: The Ritual of Cleaning the Clams" will begin appearing on Thursday 17th of September on youtube and twiddeo. 7 additional videos will be released over the next 7 days.

Tell us why you love linguine vongole in 140 characters or less and post it on twitter before the 25th of September, including the hashtag #vongole somewhere within your response. (If you don't use twitter, post your reply as a comment below). If your verse on vongole is voted the best, you and a guest will be invited by Francesco to attend the special linguine alle vongole tasting dinner at L'Anima in October.

L'Anima on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Hacienda Benazuza , La Alqueria

When we entered La Alqueria Rafael Zafra who is the head chef and one of Ferrán Adriá right hand men met us. Rafa greeted our boys who he had met the night before and promised them a great experience to rival anything they may have tasted in their short but nevertheless impressive gastronomic education.

Rafa was not wrong the food and wine combined with superb service was worthy of mention alongside my first experience of Pierre Gagnaire (in St Etienne) in the early 1990's or other unique experiences at Frédy Girardet (Crissier), Troigros and of course Ferrán Adriá.

Rafael Zafra a native of Seville is only 27 and apart from Ferrán Adriá over the last 5 years, he has also worked with Fernando Barcenas (Aldebaran) Daniel Garcia (Trabaguches), Toño Perez (Atrio), Gerard Swaiger (Tristan restaurant).

The tasting menu was really stunning and one of the most enjoyable 3 hours I have ever spent with my family. It's not always easy to choose your wine on such occasions but I decided to stick with Spanish and we drank 2005 Lusco do Mino "Pazo Pineiro de Lusco" Albariño, Rias Baixas and Vega Sicilia Unico 1990 the former was familiar to me and turned out to work well with the myriad of tapas and sea food centred part of the tasting menu whilst Pepe Garcia the Sommelier assured me that the 1990 as opposed to 1995 Vega Sicilia would be better suit with the meat centric part of the menu. 1990 is not one of the great years but nevertheless it's a remarkable wine that has never disappointed me unlike the over hyped 1995 Pingus.

The tasting menu was really a masterpiece not just on an individual per dish basis but how everything worked so well as a whole. The highlights were a mock baguette wrapped in Iberico Ham, tempura flowers, red mullet fillets with mango and lime sorbet, duck foie gras with an almost chocolate like reduction and an incredible frozen white chocolate cake. Many of the dishes are staples tried and tested at El Bulli before being replaced by the newly developed dishes. The real point of difference here is Rafael Zafra who as a native Andalucian adds his talent and creativity to the tried and tested dishes but also some of his own that are obviously inspired by the region of his birth.

In summary Hacienda Benazuza provided us with one of the best boutique hotel stays and breakfasts ever as well as a dinner I am happy to include in my top 10 to date.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Hacienda Benazuza , The Breakfast

The 7 course breakfast at the Hacienda Benazuza is an absolute delight and a wonderful way to start your day in this magical Hotel. If you have not yet dined in La Alqueria it gives you an early indication that there is some serious talent in the Kitchen.

Whilst eating some outstanding Jamon/Lomo Ibercico , Manchego as well fresh marinated Anchovies served with excellent crusty white (having arrived very late the night before) we noted that, both procuremnt and service was world class . Juan José Morán the "Director de Restauración " even asked us if for the following evening we wanted something "simple" for our boys as he knew the four of us were booked for dinner at La Alqueria.

Juan who is 33 was actually born in Sanlúcar La Mayor started working at the Hacienda Benazzuza in 1994 as an 18 year old and has risen through the ranks also spending two years at the Berkeley Hotel in London from 1996 to 1998.

Whilst chatting to Juan who was a consumate professional as well as being a delightful and engaging young man, I mentioned that the boys were very advanced gastronomically speaking, and mentioned a few restaurants and dishes they had already experienced. He then took our two sons to the kitchen as we finished our wine an excellent bottle of Silente from north of Seville. They came back delighted, saying that they had met the "head chef" and his team.

The breakfast is obviously designed to wake up all of your senses and everything from the outstanding pastries to superb juices , marmalades ,conserves, flavoured butters , marinated fruits , breakfast deserts to the finale of sumptuous egg based dishes.

When a Michelin starred kitchen brigade makes breakfast one can expect something special but when it's brigade from La Alqueira/El Bulli you get fireworks !

The rest of the day was spent realxing by the pool waiting in glorious anticipation for our tasting menu at La Alqueira.