Dining in London

by artfuldiner on January 3, 2023

in Artful Diner Mini Review, Artful Diner Review, Breaking News, London, Opinion, Review, Wining and Dining

London - The Ivy 2“A gastronomic punchline…” is how Esquire once referred to the Dark Ages of London’s dubious dining scene. Indeed… compared to Paris, Rome, and other European culinary destinations, London has never enjoyed a particularly lofty reputation.

Over the past decade, however, there has transpired an amazing restaurant Renaissance. And the current culinary possibilities, discovered during my most recent sojourn, appear to be as diverse as they are delicious (please note that the restaurants mentioned below are listed in the order in which they were visited).

Ivy, The - Interior 1The Ivy (1-5 West Street): Located directly across the street from St. Martin’s Theatre, The Ivy, a West End institution for over a century, enjoys the well-deserved reputation as a haunt for London thespians. Or, as the Guardian euphemistically described it, “The Ivy is like a safari park in which the rare and exotic creatures are nurtured.”

But this attractive bohemian-style eatery – replete with sumptuous flatiron bar, iconic wood paneling, and harlequin mullioned windows – is infinitely more than just a theatrical-celebrities hangout. The Ivy’s kitchen, as we soon discovered, is quite adept at turning out an impressive array of traditional British fare with decidedly innovative touches.

Ivy, The - Cheese SouffleEntrées ran the gamut… from roasted & grilled items such as Slow Cooked Rabbit Leg & Spring Lamb Cutlets to miso-marinated Black Cod and a rather pricey Dover Sole, either grilled or meunière. My dining partner and I zeroed in on two traditional items: Deep-Fried Haddock & Chips and Shepherd’s Pie, respectively. Both were excellent. We then concluded dinner by sharing a first-rate Apricot and Bakewell Tart. The absolute show-stopper, however, was our shared appetizer, the Twice-Baked Cheese Soufflé (pictured). Nothing short of extraordinary.

Cinnamon Club - Interior 2The Cinnamon Club (30-32 Great Smith Street): Sequestered in the former home of the old Westminster Library, just around the corner from Parliament and the Abbey, the Cinnamon Club isn’t all that easy to find (there is no exterior sign pinpointing the restaurant’s location). However, if you enjoy fine Indian cuisine, it is definitely worth the effort.

Enthusiastically endorsed by several friends who had previously dined here, it seemed the perfect spot to enjoy a leisurely lunch following our visit to Westminster Abbey. As you may observe from the photograph, evidences of the previous occupant are very much in evidence – which only added to our enjoyment – but it was the outstanding quality and presentation of the cuisine that clearly placed this restaurant in a class by itself.

Cinnamon Club - Corn and Ginger SoupWe both decided upon the three-course menu priced at 35 pounds per person (plus beverages, tax & gratuity). My dining partner began with the Masala Corn Kebabs, Corn and Ginger Soup (pictured); I opted for the Chicken Seekh Tawa Masala (minced chicken in a spicy sauce) with Sheermal Bread (saffron-flavored traditional flatbread).

Cinnamon Club - Cauliflower and Cheese ParcelEntrées presented us with several intriguing possibilities… The Chettinadu-Style Duck Leg Curry with Pilau Rice (characterized by a variety of dark spices) sounded very interesting – especially to my dining partner who always enjoys this particular fowl – but was ultimately dismissed as a bit too over-the-top for lunch. We both were quite tempted by the Pan-Seared Pollock Fillet (similar to cod), Yellow Lentils with Coconut, Bitter Melon Chutney, but somehow just weren’t in the mood for fish. The Kadhai Vegetables (made in a kadai, Indian wok, this dish is a medley of onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, and other assorted vegetables combined with spices and cream) certainly appealed to me, but… The bottom line: We both choose the Cauliflower & Berkswell Cheese Parcel (similar in flavor to Pecorino & Manchego), Tomato Fenugreek Sauce (pictured), which was absolutely delicious.

Cinnamon Club - Mango Meringue Tart Spiced Puffed Rice, Smoked Berry SorbetDesserts, which are generally not given a second thought in most Indian restaurants, were just as up to the mark as their predecessors. My dining partner’s Royal Malai Kulfi presented with caramelized quinoa and raspberry crisp, for example, was excellent. Malai Kulfi is basically considered Indian ice cream, although it is somewhat denser in texture, similar to that of frozen custard. But even better, in my opinion, was the extraordinarily delicious – and photogenic – Mango Meringue Tart with spiced puffed rice and smoked berry sorbet (pictured).

TurnipsTurnips (43, Borough Market): Tucked under the historic arches of London’s iconic Borough Market, Turnips is a greengrocer selling high quality fruit and vegetables from independent producers across Britain, Europe and beyond… But it is also an haute cuisine restaurant offering patrons seasonally-inspired creative modern dishes featuring world-class vegetables.

This intriguing partnership was born of the collaboration between Charlie Foster, the fourth generation behind the vegetable stall, and Tomas Lidakevicius, former executive chef at City Social. The venture began as a pop-up in the middle of the 2020 Covid lockdown and soon morphed into a permanent operation. The restaurant’s small-plate selection and tasting menu both showcase a beautifully presented cooking style that follows the micro-seasonality of the ingredients. Definitively high-end, but totally accessible, Chef Lidakevicius’s cuisine remains in perfect harmony with the charmingly casual ambience of the market stall.

Turnips - Croquette, Outdoor TomatoWhile sipping glasses of white wine and taking in the seemingly ceaseless flow of human flora & fauna, my dining partner and I were treated to such remarkable luncheon creations as Wild Mushroom Croquette with mozzarella, Sicilian & Provence Outdoor Tomato garnished with walnut & gorgonzola (pictured together), and Britany Cauliflower crowned with Australian Black Truffle. All three were as photogenic as they were deliriously delicious. Haute cuisine… smack dab in the middle of the bustling Borough Market… Who would’ve thunk it?!

Galvin La Chapelle - InteriorGalvin La Chapelle (35 Spital Square): Located in St. Boltolph’s Hall, a 19th century former school chapel just off London’s Bishopsgate Road, the setting is, indeed, awe-inspiring… Vaulted ceilings, massive pillars, and grand buttresses dominate the scene, all complemented by dark woods and leather furnishings. The menu, the work of chef brothers Chris and Jeff Galvin, artfully combines classic French cookery with exceptional British ingredients and has collected a Michelin star along the way.

That being said, however, the night of our visit, the entire experience was somewhat less than stellar.  Not that it was “bad” per se; but it was definitely not up to what I would consider Michelin-star standards… For starters, although the restaurant’s dress code was specifically stated as “smart casual,” men in shorts & sloppy tee shirts and women in skimpy sundresses were very much in evidence. As a result, my dining partner and I – though properly attired – felt conspicuously OVERdressed.

Then there was the matter of service. Once again, nothing seriously amiss, just the feeling that things were slightly out of sync… For example, even though we told our server that we were not in a hurry and wished to linger over cocktails, he still seemed in an inordinate hurry to take our dinner selections. I also ordered a bottle of wine, but specified that it should not be served until our main courses arrived. Well, we were still nursing our cocktails and enjoying appetizers when – you guessed it – up pops Speedy Gonzales with the wine. Whatever his daily intake of caffeine, he would do well to decrease it by half.

Galvin La Chapelle - Foie Gras TerrineBut on to the food, which, like the service, proved to be something of a mixed bag… My dining companion and I both started with the Foie Gras Terrine with black garlic, caramel vinegar, and fermented cherry (pictured). The accoutrements were certainly interesting, but the foie gras itself lacked that excitingly rich, buttery, and delicate depth of flavor that one has every right to expect from this particular dish. The version presented here was, unfortunately, surprisingly bland… and a not-so-subtle hint that form was destined to triumph over substance.

Galvin La Chapelle - Herdwick Lamb… My companion’s Herdwick Lamb (pictured), for instance. The Herdwick is a breed of domestic sheep that is native to the Lake District in northwest England and is known for its uniquely flavored lamb and mutton. Once again, while the presentation – which included Cantábrico anchovy (made from Spanish anchovies, sustainably fished during spring in the Bay of Biscay, prized for their quality, meaty fillets, and perfect balance of olive oil, salt and fish) and courgette (zucchini bush) flower stuffed with soft cheese – was picture perfect, flavor was conspicuous by its absence.

And while I have never been one to complain about small portions, as you will note from the photograph, to call the amount of lamb “miniscule” would, indeed, be an understatement (just in case you’re having trouble with identification, that’s it on the upper left).

Galvin La Chapelle - Barbecued MonkfishOn the other hand, my Barbecued Monkfish (pictured) appeared positively simplistic by comparison.  Proving, once again, that matters piscatorial are best served by those accompaniments that intrude the least. In this case, a garnish of baby gem lettuce & sea herbs… However, it was an ethereal clam velouté that provided the pièce de résistance. Velouté is French for “velvety”; and it proved to be the perfect complement to this delicious denizen of the deep.

Monkfish is commonly called the “poor man’s lobster,” as it possesses a texture that is similar to that of the popular crustacean. Which also means that, like lobster, it is often subject to overcooking – a common mistake in the professional as well as the home kitchen – yielding an unappealing texture that is tough, rubbery, and about as ingestible as Clint Eastwood’s Rawhide saddle. Fortunately, that was not the case here, as the filet was prepared so beguilingly that it almost melted in my mouth. Kudos to the chef.

Galvin La Chapelle - Raspberry Manjari Chocolate DelicacyDesserts also received high marks. My Provence Peach Soufflé, for example, was as light as a feather on the palate and ingeniously spiked with Piment d’ Espelette (chilli peppers from the Basque region of France and Spain and named after the village of Espelette in France’s Nive Valley), Campari (an Italian bitter liqueur), and hint of orange. A unique combination of flavors, to say the least.

But even better, in my opinion, was my dining partner’s superlative Raspberry & Manjari Chocolate Delicacy (pictured). An incredible amalgam of Valrhona Manjari dark chocolate – made from rare cocoa beans from Madagascar – hazelnut praline, and honey, the result was both delightfully decadent and totally addictive. Rich, rich, RICH!

Dining at La Chapelle was certainly an interesting experience. However, Michelin star notwithstanding, given the character of the clientele, quality of both food & service, and the rather hefty prices – converting pounds to dollars, all entrées hovered at or exceeded the $50.00 mark – as my dining companion so aptly put it: “I don’t think I’d hurry back.”

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well


{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: