Archive for the ‘Restaurant’ Category

Le Café Anglais

April 24, 2011

Being an avid reader of Rowley Leigh’s cooking column at the Financial Times Weekend magazine, when I was presented with the opportunity to visit his restaurant with one of my clients, I accepted without hesitation. I was anticipating to find an environment where everything – the food, the atmosphere, the service – would be tightly and meticulously crafted as the column he is contributing at the Financial Times.

I was a bit disappointed. Not because the food was not excellently cooked, but because the menu consisted of dishes you can easily find in many restaurants and did include many fresh ideas and experimentation. But Le Café Anglais seems to be catering for its audience, mostly the shopping crowd at the Whitely’s shopping centre and nearby businesses, and therefore needs to be unpretentious and serve uncomplicated food at reasonable prices.

Immediately after you enter the restaurant, there is a space resembling a cafe, with lots of tables and chairs, that come handy if you are just visiting the restaurant but you are not interested in lunch or dinner. On your right hand side, there is a bar serving cocktails and oysters. By proceeding past the bar, on your left hand side you will find yourself in the main dining area, decorated in art deco style, and on your left hand side you will see the kitchen-rotisserie where your food is being prepared and served. The combination of high-ceiling and large windows on the right hand side of the restaurant makes the whole atmosphere airy, amply lit and relaxed.

Le Café Anglais caters for every cuisine and every palate, by combining elements of French cuisine, English traditional ingredients and more oriental tastes. In this way, Imam Bayildi aubergines stand alongside fois gras terrine, parmesan custard and anchovies and smoked eel and bacon salad. For the main meal, there is a choice among fish, meat and items from the rotisserie. On the day we visited the restaurant, there was a lunch menu specifically designed for Lent, with low calorie choices and plenty of oyster varieties to choose from its bar.

The food that we ordered did not disappoint. The English asparagus with butter sauce melted to the mouth and released a bouquet of aromas and flavours. The main dish was also nicely cooked and meticulously presented. I finished my lunch with a very tasteful selection of sorbet flavours. Overall, Le Café Anglais food is comparable to other fine dining establishments, and represents a good value for money. The dining experience will set you back £30-50 (without wine and the optional 12,5% service charge).

Definitely a restaurant worth visiting if you are in the neighbourhood and interested in good quality food without extortionate prices.


P.S. Le Café Anglais is located at 8 Porchester Garden, London W2 4DB (Google map, Street View).

[image © website)


Franco Manca

May 6, 2010

If Wagamama is the best choice for fast, cheap and delicious Japanese food, Busaba for Thai food, Wahaca for Mexican, then Franco Manca should complete the list as the restaurant for inexpensive and simple Italian pizza.

We visited the Chiswick branch of this restaurant in Spring. The white wood-burning oven was the dominating element of the basic, white-tiled rectangular dining area. The only thing that interrupted this immaculately clean image was the brown basic benches scattered in the dinning area and pictures of raw ingredients, animal produce or pizza-making at the walls.

We noticed the relaxed and unpretentious atmosphere from the moment we were greeted by the polite and young waiters. At the dinning area, where we were shown to our table, we noticed the metal bucket at the middle of the table containing the cutlery, carefully wrapped in individual napkins and paper placemats which, as is typical for most restaurants of this type, double as menus. We visited on a rainy, Saturday early afternoon, so there was plenty of space.

The menu is pretty basic; there are only 6 different pizzas to chose from and some starters and a salad. Almost all the starters are based on dough and are oven-baked, which makes sense, as Franco Manca doesn’t seem to have an elaborate kitchen, other than the wood-fire oven. But what it lacks for variety οf dishes, it makes up for taste.

Despite the simplicity of the menu, all the dishes we sampled in the restaurant were delicious. The garlic bread had a welcoming but not overpowering flavour, and the baked aubergines were divine. But the real revelation was the pizza: prepared with slow-rising sordough that takes 20 hours prepare, and mostly organic ingredients, the pizza was baked to perfection and the flavours of the individual ingredients evident.

An even more daring step is to strip the menu off any artificial fizzy drinks. You can not order a coke in this restaurant, as it is not included in the menu. Instead, you could quench you thirst with fresh, home-made lemonade, beer or wine from a carefully selected – albeit limited- list.

Most importantly, a visit at Franco Manca will not cost you much. A lunch for two people excluding wine only cost us approximately 22 GBP (11 GBP per person). But it is the relaxed atmosphere and the delicious food that will bring us back; hungry for more.


P.S. Franco Manca is located at 144 Chiswick High Road, W4 1PU (Google Map) and at Unit 4, Market Row, Sw9 8LD (Google Map, Streetview) at Brixton.

all images © Franco Manca


November 22, 2009

When it comes to food, I always like it when I find a good bargain. In the past, I thought that I had found the perfect value restaurant for sushi (see the Taro review), but this month’s sushi restaurant is a revelation. If you have dined at Wong Kei’s Chinese restaurant at Chinatown, you probably did not chose it for the lushness of the surroundings or the politeness of the waiters, but for the fact that it serves uncomplicated, delicious and – above all – cheap Authentic Chinese food. Misato restaurant, a little bit further down the road from Wong Kei, is the Japanese equivalent but without the rude waiters.

If you go to Misato and not find a queue of eager diners waiting to be seated, you should consider yourself lucky. The first thing you will also notice is the windows would definitely benefit from some cleaning. Meanwhile, little Japanese waitresses run ferociously like little ants to take orders, deliver food and make the tables ready for the next people in line. But the true revelation starts when you are seated and handed the menu. Don’t get me wrong, the food is not equivalent to Nobu (if you still think that Nobu is the top sushi joint), but the food is plenty, tasty and above all cheap. Before you order, take a look at the tables nearby and glance at the portions the waitresses are carrying. Then delve in the menu and try to make a decision among the variety of bento boxes, rice dishes and noodle soups.

I ordered the Bento Sushi, the california rolls and the prawn tempura. While the tempura mixture could have been better and tastier, the other choices were more rewarding. In fact, I found it considerable difficult to negotiate all the food in the sushi bento, as it contained 7 sushi pieces, 6 maki pieces, 2 california pieces, crispy seaweed and a small salad with chicken, all for £8.80.

Only after finishing your food at Misato, you realize that even though it is nice to eat at a posh place, it can be even nicer to dine at a budget, yet delicious, eatery. And please consider leaving soon, as other people are waiting to be served.


P.S.: Misato restaurant is located at 11 Wardour St, London, W1D 6PG (Google Map, Streetview).

UPDATE 2011: Unfortunately, after visiting Misato many times the previous year, I have now come to the conclusion that the quality of their food has deteriorated below acceptable levels. I am unfortunately driven to change my recommendation and suggest that you do not chose this establishment for food. You will, however, find other restaurants I recommend for an outing.


September 2, 2009


Taro restaurant is the perfect choice for a sushi snack when you visit the centre with friends after work or returning from a shopping spree. Situated just some minutes away from Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, the restaurant avoids the pretentiousness and expensive nature of posh sushi establishments and the pre-packaged choices of high-street sushi chains. Indeed, it is not for the decoration or the famous chef that you have come to this place, but for the offering of simple and uncompromising quality of Japanese food.


The dinning are is small and simple, furnished with tables and chairs that look as if they have come out of Muji catalogues. If you are visiting the restaurant alone, we recommend that you sit at the bar, which has views of the open plan kitchen and its inner workings. It is fascinating to watch the chefs perform their rituals of preparing Japanese delicacies effortlessly and methodically, and can’t help to wonder that we would probably end up in an unnerving disaster when attempting to repeat the same actions at home. During our visit, we witnessed the preparation of bento sushi, delicious salads, sashimi and various teriyaki and noodle dishes.

The food is good value for money. It costs £8.80 to order a selection of the common choices of nigiri and maki sushi. Our bill topped £17.50 Pounds with the addition of a delicious miso soup as a starter, an avocado hand-rolled temaki and a glass of Japanese green tea.

Overall, although dinning at Taro is not recommended for a first date or to celebrate an anniversary, it is ideal when in need for a simple, yet tasteful solution for lunch at the city centre.


P.S.: Taro is located at 61 Brewer Street, London, W1 (Google Map, Streetview)

Fire and Stone

July 19, 2009


Fire and Stone deluxe Pizza restaurant in Covent Garden balances successfully between the classic Italian recipe for pizza and the stuffy, cheesy American counterpart, but with one small detail. Every ingredient used in the pizzas is not the ordinary ingredient typically found at the selves of a supermarket but a reworked, refined edition: slow cooked chutneys are used instead of sweet sauces, a recipe of cumin-ground spiced lamb instead of a plain one and rosemary-infused mascarpone instead of any ordinary cheese. In the end, Fire and Stone is not just an ordinary pizza joint like Pizza express, but brings whole new meaning to this humble food.

The experience starts from the moment you enter the restaurant. At your right hand, you will see the extractor pipe of the wood-fire oven situated at the basement of the restaurant. You climb up some steps and through a long wooden corridor you enter the main dining area, characterised by a long red couch in the middle and brightly lit bar at the right hand side. There is a smaller dinning area at the basement of the place, right next to the oven, overlooking the open plan kitchen where the deluxe pizzas are made.


The menu features some delicious Mediterranean antipasti and is dominated by different pizza choices. Indeed, if you have arrived at Fire and Stone expecting something more than pizza, you will probably be disappointed, as there is nothing else on the menu. The pizzas are named after cities and are grouped according to continents. But not all choices for pizzas are fantastic. Some of them sport weird combinations of ingredients that you might be best without. For example, steer clear of Bavaria or London pizza, unless you delight in German pork sausages with mustard or sour cream and sliced black pudding. Instead, if you are a fan of Peking duck, you will start wondering why hadn’t anyone though of making a pizza with those simple ingredients before. We also recommend focusing on the vegetarian varieties found in Europe, like Athena, with wilted spinach and barreled-aged feta and our personal favourite, Lombardia, with mascarpone, courgettes, artichokes and tomato chutney. Finally, there are two truly deluxe and quite expensive pizzas, Paris with roasted fillet of beef and Brittany with scallops and kings prawns.

The atmosphere of the restaurant is vibrant and very loud. Indeed, this is a place best visited with a lot of friends and not particularly suited for cosy,romantic dinners. And while the service is friendly, it might use a bit of an adjustment. On several occasions we have experienced delays in our food order and once they had even messed up with our reservation. Putting the problems with the service aside, however, a visit to Fire and Stone restaurant makes the experience of eating pizza out of the ordinary.


P.S.: Fire and Stone is located at 31/32 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 7JS (Google Map, Street view).

As Greek as it gets

June 30, 2009

Obelix used to say that food is like the Romans; the foreign is always the best. All others may agree that when it comes to food, there is no place like home.

But when you live or travel abroad and desire to taste authentic food from your country, things are starting to get dangerous. I admire the Mexican, who endure any cheap tex-mex variety on the high street, and the Italians, who have to make their way through all the self-proclaimed Italian restaurants to discover the appropriate Italian joint. When it comes to Greek food, trying to find an authentic restaurant abroad is no easy feat either.

In Germany, you would except to taste authentic Greek food because of the high numbers of immigrants from Greece, especially in Stuttgart and Munich. But it is not as easy as you think, as the restaurants have adopted their cuisine to the german dining experience. Sauces in dishes appear where they should not be and the main course is always accompanied by a small side salad. Those of you who have been to Greece already know it is inconceivable you keep the food to yourself especially when you are ordering mezedes (small dishes to whet you appetite like Spanish tapas). The salad is typically for more than one person and is majestically put at the centre of the table to shoare. But in Germany, even Greek food needs to obey the unwritten rules of the German: you need to keep the food to yourself so that you can pay for it separately at the end.

Fortunately, Greek food in London does not seem to suffer from the same drawbacks. Your chances to find authentic Greek food are better. This is not to say you don’t occasionally find an odd restaurant that prides itself for being Greek but its offerings are far from being authentic. In fact, there is a chain of joints and does exactly this: it names itself as the Real Greek but should be avoided by all costs. (It is, indeed, rather costly for what it offers). If you want to play safe you may chose any restaurant in the Greek area of Bayswater. I ‘d rather avoid this area, as any conglomeration of Greeks ends up reminding you of living a Greek life in a foreign country and never really getting to appreciate what London experience has to offer.

So, when it comes to tasting simple, authentic Greek food, there is no better place than “As Greek as it gets” at Earl’s Court. (Ok, I admit that I have not tried an exhaustive list of Greek restaurants in London, but this one is very close to the real food that you eat in Greece).

The traditional Greek souvlaki, called "First class" at the restaurant

The traditional Greek souvlaki, called "First class" at the restaurant

The moment you enter the restaurant, you realise that it does not live up to any of the clichés and the stereotypes of the Greek dining experience you typically encounter outside Greece. There are no posters of the “National Tourist Organisation” that advertise pristine beaches and beautiful places to visit, any ancient Greek statues or any form of kitschy ancient greek decoration reminiscent of the film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”.  The area is rather modern and simple, mostly in shades of green. There is just  chandelier, the walls of the stairs are decorated with numerous wooden laddles (not be best of decorations), and the place is full of black and white pictures reminscent of the pictures you typically encounter in a rural old Greek house.

You will be shown to your table by polite table attendants (not necessarily Greeks, but the restauarant is Greek owned) and you will be handed the menu. There you will find many Greek traditional dishes, such as moussaka, pastichio –pasta with minced meat and béchamel sause -, spinach pie and mezedes. But is it for the souvlaki – the pinnacle of characteristic Greek food – that you are here for. Apart from the traditional souvlaki, a piece of meat, typically pork, wrapped around a pitta bread with some tomatoes, onions and tzatziki, you have several variations: one with chicken, one vegetarian and one with low calories. While Greeks might say that £3 or £4 per piece might be excessive for souvlaki, compared to  the prices of other restaurants in London, I believe that it is a reasonable price to ask.

There are, however, some things I am missing. It would be good to refresh the menu every now and then and offer special dishes depending on what is fresh on the season. While you can also order the food for takeaway, there is not delivery service and worse, there is not website where you can take a look on the menu and the restaurant. However, a visit to “As Greek as it gets” will convince you that it is worth the hassle to come all the way down to Earl’s Court.


P.S.: As Greek as it gets is located at 233 Earl’s Court Road, London , SW5 9AH (Google Maps , Google Street View) and the nearest tube station is Earls Court.

[all images © LambdaPhage, special thanks to my friend, Lila K for giving me her camera]

Fancy a snog (without guilt)?

June 9, 2009


Caught you attention, didn’t I? Before you jump into any conclusion that I am so desperate to extend an indecent proposal to anyone just to get lucky (after all, I am not that bad, am I?), I would probably encourage you to read on. While a snog might have been a much coveted activity of our teenage years – and for some still is – there is no reason why we can’t appreciate a snog every now and then. Only the one I am talking about is a bit different. It comes in the form of frozen yoghurt with a choice of delicious toppings.

My first snog: Green tea-flavored snog with cranberries and chocolate nibs (and a green tea-flavored snog with cranberries and blueberries at the back)

My first snog: Green tea-flavored snog with cranberries and chocolate nibs (and a green tea-flavored snog with cranberries and blueberries at the back)

Instead of sugar and other artificial sweeteners, the yoghurt is sweetened with agave extracts – the Mexican plant that is used for mescal and tequila – and promises to be healthier than ice-cream.  This snog has low fat, low calories and a low glycaemic index. You can chose among the original flavor (with 72 calories per 100 g) or get adventurous with the green tea or chocolate flavor (with 79 calories). You can then add one or more toppings ranging from dried fruit – strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, blueberries, mangoes, bananas, kiwis and other fruit – or indulge in guilty pleasures like chocolate brownies, oreo cookies, chocolate nibs and hot espresso shots. However, note that agave syrup has a high percentage of fructose and a low percentage in glucose.  Thus, after you get over you sweet snog, you may crave some more.


To experience this type of snog, you will need to visit one of the immaculate-white and bright-pink little shops in South Kensington or Soho. The Soho shop we visited has a few tables where you can sit and enjoy your snog in the company of fellow snoggers (although we were not sure if sharing is encouraged). But the most striking feature was the arrangement of numerous, colour changing light bulbs at the ceiling.

It costs £4.20 for a classic flavor snog with two toppings, so we believe that there can be lots of opportunity for more snogging in the future. Fancy a snog, then?


P.S.: You can find Snog at 32 Thurloe Street, London SW7 2HQ (Google Map,Streetview) and 9 Brewer Street, London, W1F 0RG (Google Map)

(all pictures © LambdaPhage)

River Café

May 9, 2009


In many ways, when I set out to experience a fine dining restaurant, I expect to be amazed. Amazed by the careful choice of exotic ingredients and the unusual combinations of the chef creating interesting dishes. But to say that I have encountered this when I recently visited River Café restaurant in Hammersmith, is a gross understatement. In fact, River Café has challenged my notion of fine cooking to date. It was not that the restaurant did not offer delicious Italian dishes. Quite the opposite; the selection and the combination of ingredients had been carefully thought. It was rather the proof that everyday ingredients – pasta, rice, greens and beans – if cooked properly, may outperform more expensive combinations like lobster, caviar and paté, typically on offer at other restaurants.

The garden of the restaurant on a sunny April day

The garden of the restaurant on a sunny April day

The philosophy of simplicity is instilled in every corner in this restaurant. The dining, space, a big rectangular space is painted in tones of reassuring blue. The restaurant is bright, as one side is completely covered in windows overlooking the beautiful garden and river Thames. In fact, if the weather is nice, do not resist the temptation to dine outside. At one corner of the restaurant you will find the open plan kitchen and the majestic oven that is used to cook many of those wonderful dishes. In fact it looks as if you can easily walk to the kitchen – although we did not really try it – to see how your food is being prepared like you would in an Italian home. Etched glass and metal has been used extensively in the kitchen and the bar area, that cover most of one side and overlook at the dining area and the garden.

The oven at the open plan kitchen, © River Café

The oven at the open plan kitchen, © River Café

The service is impeccable, friendly and simple, without any signs of authority. And when it comes down to food, I do not remember experiencing something so delicious, yet so simple. As it happens with all the restaurants of fine dining, the menu changes daily, depending on what is fresh in the season. I visited the restaurant in April and the menu featured a variety of green and beans combined with fish and meat. We tried a spring pea risotto, spinach ravioli and spaghetti with Devon crab for first course and wood-roasted turbot, chargrilled sea bass and slow cooked osso bucco –veal- for main course. But it was neither the primi nor the secondi that have left me such a lasting impression – although they were cooked to perfection. It was the antipasti, the simple dishes offered at the start of the meal to prepare you for what is coming next. In the menu, prosciutto di parma with peas looked like a straightforward dish, but in reality, the saltiness of the meat with the sweetness and the oily texture of the slow cooked peas and cipolline onions, lifted the dish to a different level.

Whereas River Café is not exactly cheap, paying £50-70 per person (service inclusive) for a two-course lunch with antipasti and desserts represents a good value for money. It is only after you taste the food at the restaurant that you will realise what the restaurant truly has to offer.


(all images © LambdaPhage, except for the image of the oven)

P.S.1: One week after I visited the restaurant, I read that River Cafe is regarded the 8th best restaurant to eat in London and in the top 100 restaurants in the world. Yes, it all makes sense.

P.S.2: River Café is located at Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, London, W6 9HA (Google map, Google Street view) and the closet tube station is Hammersmith.


April 3, 2009

Imagine yourself immersed in a Moroccan market, filled with food, people, dust, noise, camels… This is the sensation you will experience the first time you will set foot to Del’Aziz, a Mediterranean deli close to Fulham Broadway tube station. As you enter, you will notice vast amounts of food on dispay at the counter, Mediterranean deli products and cookware at the stalls and long benches, where you will be offered a sit to experience a fantastic brunch. The atmosphere is loud, vibrant and full of colours and smells.

One of the food counters at Del'Aziz

One of the food counters at Del'Aziz

The deli offers diverse breakfast choices: the French will be satisfied with eggs Florentine or eggs Royale; fitness enthusiasts will delight with Berber pancakes served with any of three toppings and the English will not be disappointed with the provision of a full English breakfast. If you feel adventurous, we recommend that you try “the frying pan”, a combination of mushrooms, chorizo, bacon peppers, melted cheese and eggs or even break away from the comfort of the fixed menu choices and create your own breakfast with a wide variety of omelettes, sandwiches and pastries. And once you have settled in with your choice of breakfast, do not spoil the ambience by just ordering a frothy coffee in typical Western European fashion. Instead opt for the refreshing choice of Moroccan mint tea served in colourful tiny glasses.

The bread counter at Del'Aziz

The bread counter at Del'Aziz

Del’Aziz tends to get busy during weekends, so be prepared to wait if you have not made a reservation. But do insist to sit at the small deli and not the adjoining restaurant space, as part of the experience lies in the ambience of the surroundings. And make sure that before you leave that you visit the food counter, for a wide variety of cakes and homemade breads to take home.


P.S.: Del’Aziz is located at 24 -32 Vanston Place, London SW6 1AX. (Google map).

(all pictures © LambdaPhage).

Cha Cha Moon

March 16, 2009


On my way to my favourite shopping street in London, Carnaby Street, I bumped into this colourful entrance. At first sight, I could not tell what it was just by the name Cha Cha moon in blue neon lights at the red door. But having looked closely at the blue transparent glass panels next to the door, where people seemed to be working in a kitchen, and having read the small print, I soon realised that Cha Cha moon was a Chinese restaurant.

It was, indeed, very strange that the owners had chosen to put the kitchen instead of the dining are at the restaurant façade. But worse was that apart from the neon lights, not even a sample menu was in sight at the entrance. I admit that I was captivated and decided to be adventurous and try it.


As I entered, a long dimly lit corridor led me to the dining area. On the left side, similar colourful, transparent panels as the entrance allows you to glance the inner workings of the kitchen. When I arrived at the end of the corridor, I was greeted by the friendly table attendant who showed me to my seat. The dinning areas was reminiscent of Wagamama, and I began pondering the differences: this one was much more colourful, less minimalistic and with shorter benches than the Japanese counterpart. Little had I known at that time that Cha Cha Moon is the latest enterprise of restaurateur Alan Yau, famous for the Michelin starred restaurants Hakkasan and Yauatcha, but also for reinventing the Japanese noodle industry by establishing his highly successful chain of Wagamama restaurants. I guessed that Cha Cha Moon is an attempt to provide delicious, cheap and effortless Chinese food.

Come to think about it, there are not many places in London where you can have a decent bite of Chinese food. Of course there is Chinatown, but many times I have been left wondering whether the restaurant I am visiting is one of the good ones or just one for the tourists. Cha Cha Moon is a nice departure from the stereotypical Chinatown restaurants, where you can eat simple food in a relaxed atmosphere.


I was handed the red menu to choose my meal from a wide selection of soup noodles, liao mian and wok dishes. In a typical Wagamama fashion, you can complement your main dish with side dishes, which, albeit a bit pricy, are cooked fresh and delivered to you when they are ready. The Szechuan wonton I ordered was bathed in a ginger & chilly sauce and the small parcels had the right consistency and felt firm to the bite. But it was in the main dish that I decided to put Cha Cha Moon to the test. I don’t like crispy noodles with shredded chicken in most of the Chinese restaurants I have visited, as I usually have difficulty in eating the crispy, fried noodles. Cha Cha Moon’s edition of the dish was a welcoming departure of what I had tasted so far. The dish was covered with right amount of liquid to soften the crispy noodles and make them pleasurable to the bite. But the best highlight of my dining experience was a cup of lemon tea. When it arrived, it made me wonder whether the chef clumsily chucked a load of lemon slices, but just a sip rewarded me with a pleasant lemony-taste.
The waiters, dressed in simple purple t-shirts, were fast and friendly. My only negative experience was that I had to wait for 10 minutes to get back my change when I paid the bill. Cha Cha Moon, however, left me satisfied and made me want to come back for more.


P.S.: Cha Cha moon is located at 15-21 Ganton Street, London, W1F 9BN and a second branch has just opened at Whiteleys.

(all pictures © LambdaPhage).