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French

438 King’s Rd
London SW10 0LJ
Opening Hours: All days 12:00 – 10:30pm

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We went to Medlar Restaurant on my trip to London in February, on the back of some very strong recommendations by friends and family. Like any careful diner, I googled the restaurant just to be sure. Now, most of the time I use Jay Rayner of the Guardian as my touchstone for all things food related. This is not even to mention that I am insanely envious of what he does for a living, that I covet his job, and I aspire to write as well as he does. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had his tongue insured for its weight in platinum – the man has a palate as finely tuned as his wit is sharp.

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Jay is normally a rather morose sort of person (watch this wonderful video of him introducing his new audiobook The Man Who Ate the World), but for Medlar he breaks with his usual dourness and has said some uncharacteristically bubbly things about the place.

The starter of crab raviolo, brown shrimps and samphire in bisque sauce was pure culinary brilliance. I think my brain went into a gustatory meltdown on first bite and I find myself at a loss to describe that wondrous glop of flavour that I vaguely remember sliding down my throat. A few words come to mind which I shall struggle to wrangle into a sentence: fishy; smokey; smooth; creamy; rich. Now, imagine a combination of those flavours and textures being conveyed to every corner and cavity of the inside of one’s mouth, and then picture yourself chewing happily on a nice fat Italian dumpling, with every bite releasing a gurgling gush of crab utterly saturated in that really agreeable seafood cream. That’s a happy thought, isn’t it?

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The other starter of scallop sashimi was a more zen-like affair, dipped in a ponzu dressing and topped with delicate oyster tempuras. It wasn’t so much explosions of rich seafood bliss as it was lullaby of soft supple sensations.

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The mains were classic French – generous servings of venison and cod complemented with plenty of carbo and greens, an approach that Joe Merce Nairne, part-owner of the restaurant, took with him from his days at Chez Bruce, another favourite eating place of ours (review to follow shortly!) All the meats were done to perfection, but here there was an indication that Medlar still has some way to go to match the innovation coming out from more bemedalled competitors like the Ledbury, which has become our gold standard to British fine-dining.

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Desserts were enjoyable. A soft passionfruit cheesecake with a pineapple slice on the side was a safe way to end, but which lacked the oomph to close the meal in as brilliant a fashion as it had started. But hey, I like my cheesecakes, so I was happy enough to snarf it all down. The passionfruit ice-cream topped with a blackberry compote and mini meringues was largely the same sort of thing.

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Medlar does not have a full degustation menu, which has allowed the kitchen to focus on churning out a rockingly consistent a la carte at an affordable price. The restaurant hasn’t gotten its Michelin star yet, but we suspect that if it follows the same sort of trajectory as Chez Bruce, that will just be a matter of time. The 3 course menu stays the same but the price changes depending on when you visit (from £26 for weekday lunches to £45 for dinners), so based on what we have had, this would easily be one of the most value-for-money set lunches in London at the moment.

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77 Hampstead High Street
London NW3
Hampstead Tube Station, Northern Line

Took a gander down to Hampstead Heath at the start of a rather late spring. For tourists looking for some sight-seeing and who tire from shopping, Hampstead Heath is easily accessible by the Northern Line (exit at Hampstead), and is a pleasant 15 minute walk away from the station. Particularly worthwhile if the weather is pleasant that day.

After a long winter, the light coming through the trees in the Heath were particularly bewitching that day. Made me forget for a moment that I was living in one of the busiest cities on Earth  Hampstead Heath_Shadows Signs of Spring peeking out from amidst the branches Hampstead Heath_SpringGolders Hill Park, with plenty of parents with hyperactive children and strollers in tow. Golders Hill Park

I’ve heard plenty about the famous Hampstead Creperie (or La Crêperie de Hampstead for all you francophiles) from friends before, so this trip to Hampstead was pretty much a pretext for me and my housemate to go try it out for ourselves. The creperie was difficult to find. We had thought that because the creperie had a number assigned to it that we were looking for a visible brick-and-mortar shopfront along Hampstead High Street. On my part I take pride in my navigational skills and try not to ask for directions when I’m in tourist mode. Gloria, on the other hand, would attest to the view that I am one stubborn son of a gun, which in this particular case worked adversely against me. I must’ve walked past the shop at least three times before I realised, to my mortification, that what we were looking for all along was not a shop but a tiny, white, plastic-pre-fabricated booth situated in the afternoon shadow of a pub.

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The shop is manned (or womanned, if you will) by a pair of hustling-bustling French ladies. Service runs like clockwork amidst a latticework of crisscrossing arms, tupperware and batter. Orders are taken in a fashion that would have made my parade sergeant major proud. Manners were immaculate though, replete with “pleases” and “thank yous” as you would expect from the French. I have never been barked at by a service worker but walked away feeling so good about it before.

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The food, you ask? Brilliant. Nothing warms the cockles of my heart like a toasty crepe stuffed full of melted chocolate bits and banana slices. The batter is seared perfectly and leaves the heating plate nice and crispy. It is best to share the sweet crepes – portions are generous and one can only eat that much chocolate before feeling saturated.

No such problems with the savoury crepes though. The cheese, spinach, garlic and mushroom combination was a gorgeous mix of salty and tangy. All crepes are served in a specially designed paper card holder, which proved remarkably effective in keeping the mess to a minimal. The Hampstead Creperie is well worth making the trip for, and we can think of worse combinations than a nature walk and crepes to spend your day.

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127 Ledbury Road
Notting Hill,
London W11 2AQ
Tel: 020 7792 9090

The Ledbury made its name this year when it stormed to 14th place on the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, behind Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner and The Fat Duck in the UK. Whilst we still believe the list is essentially a contest of who has the biggest budget to drink reviewers under the table with, the top 25, maybe 30 restaurants are a good guide to some of the best up-and-coming dining venues right now, if not of all time.

The restaurant has delivered outstanding quality and consistency on every occasion, with glowing reviews all around. Australian chef Brett Graham has brought his exquisite Sydney palate to the table, and we very much agree with the brightness and boldness of flavour in his dishes. Lobster with fennel and elderflower? Who would have thought, but yum. Venision of fallow deer with a massive dollop of bone marrow crowning each slice? Double yum.

Roast Scottish Scallops with Brassicas and Seaweed –  probably the best value starter on the menu that day. Juicy!

Hampshire Buffalo Milk Curd with Saint-Nectaire, Truffle Toast and a Broth of Grilled Onions

Heritage Tomatoes with Fresh Goat Cheese, Green Tomato Juice and Herbs

Notably, Brett does vegetables really well. The heritage tomatoes with fresh goats cheese and herbs is the restaurant’s signature, deceptively simple but good enough to trick the taste-buds of our tomato-phobe friend Freida momentarily. We also admired his ability to wrangle goats cheese into a form palatable to non-cheese connossieurs, re: mostly everybody in the world.

Mille Feuille with Mango, Vanilla and Kaffir Lime

Blueberry Cheese Tartlet

Passionfruit Souffle with Sauternes Ice Cream

For desserts, we sampled everything, and everything was good, but the standout for the night was the passionfruit souffle topped with sauternes ice cream – soft, delicate and very very airy. Brett is touted as a mean maker of souffles, and ours tasted superb. The preceding season’s raspberry souffle was ranked by the Fortnum and Mason’s guide as the third best dessert in Londontown (1. Marcus Wareing’s custard tart; 2. Dinner’s tipsy cake).

We like the Ledbury. Its location away from the bustle of central London was really welcome. We appreciated their flexibility in letting us have the largest table on the main dining floor. Ordinarily a group of our size would have had to pay significantly more to use the private room. They were also nice enough to prepare a chocolate tart dessert with the words “Congratulations” written on it to celebrate my graduation that evening. Service was warm, if a bit forgetful (they neglected to clear the crumbs on our table after the bread appetisers), but on the whole that didn’t detract from what was after all a wonderful meal.

5 Purvis Street #01-04
Tel: +65 6333 3121

Angel Hair Pasta with Sakura Ebi

French food anywhere hardly comes cheap. Considering the number of processes involved in making even some of its classic dishes, the price might even be justified. However, the two proprietor-chefs at Saveur Restaurant may have stumbled upon a happy solution to French dining’s price-quality dilemma. Following their move from a humble hawker stall along East Coast Road to their current premises at Purvis Street, Saveur has thrown down the gauntlet and (to quote Monty Python) now shake its fist in the general direction of fancier/pricier establishments like Garibaldi (No. 35) and Gunther’s (No. 36) down the road. Saveur is budget French dining at its most optimal.

Pan-fried foie gras with lentils and pickled onions, available in 35g and 70g lobes

Confit of Duck, Orange segments, Sautéed Shitake

The menu is simple to navigate, and not so fancy as to overwhelm. We strongly recommend the bestsellers: pan-fried foie gras with lentils and pickled onions ($7.50-$13), the angel hair pasta with sherry minced pork and sakura shrimp ($3.90), and confit of duck with orange segments and sautéed shittake ($8.80). We also had their premium offering of pan-fried monkfish ($23.90). The food was faultlessly prepared and tasty to boot, which really makes us wonder why it is that other restaurants still manage to murder their food at thrice the price!

Pan-Fried Monkfish

18 Xiaoyun Road,  霄云路18号, Beijing
Tel: 6595-5135 www.flo.cn

There is nothing exciting about Brasserie Flo. The food is predictable and reminds you a bit of your mother’s cooking. But that isn’t always a problem, is it? Sometimes you go to restaurants not to be excited or titillated, but to treat yourself to a familiar experience. Flo is a chain of upscale eateries originally from Europe, setting up shop in Beijing in 1999. It prides itself on serving classic French food in an oriental capital and does so with confidence. Also signature to the restaurant is its seafood counter, replete with air-flown oysters from France, fresh and plump as a baby’s bottom but never mind the carbon footprint.

Oysters

All this familiarity is a major selling point, especially with its recent move to spanking new premises along Xiaoyun Road, the heart of the diplomatic district in Beijing. The vaulted interior, spacious booths and ceiling-to-floor glass panels give a real sensation of space and a European charm.

Foie Gras, Plum Jelly, Fig Toast (not pictured)

We went for the Classic set menu (RMB 298), a selection of the restaurant’s best-sellers. The escargots were decent, meaning they were drowned in a lip-smackingly tasty herb butter, but not a terribly value-for-money dish. A much better option was the foie-gras, which was perfectly matched with fig toast and plum jelly.

Beef Tournade, Plum Tomatoes, Potatoes and Greens

Suckling Pig, Truffle Mash, Plum Tomatoes

The conservative ethos of the kitchen was clearly evident in its main offerings. The beef tournade was a simple and elegant plate of food. The meat came perfectly done (medium), with the plum tomatoes adding a splash of colour and freshness to the dish. The suckling pig was brilliant. The Chinese really know their pork belly, and Flo’s was some of the best we’ve had. The truffle mash actually had discernible slices of the black treasure in it, and went well with the pool of pork jus that had been cleverly “ponded” in the middle.

Belgian Waffles, Chantilly Cream, Strawberries

To end it off, Gloria had a slice of the Belgian waffles with Chantilly cream and strawberries. The waffle had a slightly chewy bread-like texture, not really what we’re used to but pleasant as well. The crème brulee, like the escargots, was good but not terribly value-for-money.

Of course there are better restaurants around, but one will find comfort in Brasserie Flo’s attentive service and ambiance. For a more affordable alternative, go on a weekday for their set lunch and power lunch options. (128 and 148 RMB respectively)

TRB,Temple Restaurant Beijing
No. 23 Song Zhu Si, Shatan Beijie,
Dongcheng District. Beijing;
(86-10) 8400-2232;
temple-restaurant.com

Welcome to the Temple of Ohmmm-Nom (nomnomnom)

Temple Restaurant Beijing is a showcase of two cities. The first is the old city, of a 600-year old temple that retains vestiges of its former architectural elegance, and of the bustling hutongs that surround its walled compound, a loud (and fragrant) reminder that lao Beijing is very much alive in a modernizing capital; The second is the new Beijing, of modern European cuisine served in a minimalist, grey-walled annex by a snappily suited Swiss intern from the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne. 

The juxtaposition was not lost on us as we came ambling in from the stewing chaos of the hutongs outside. We are fans of eating at places with a story behind it, and as stories go, the Temple Restaurant one is pretty good, with a brilliantly renovated restaurant complex as embellishment. Ignace Lecleir, a former GM under Daniel Boulud and now owner of TRB, has created an oasis of calm befitting of the venue’s original purpose many years ago.

The fancifuls: Cheese balls and bread/butter

There were flashes of brilliance in the lunch set meal (149 RMB) we had that day. The lobster mousse amuse-bouche was stunning in its depth of flavour. However, we encountered mixed fortunes with the starters.

Starters: Beef carpaccio and asparagus with quail’s egg

The carpaccio was accompanied with a nifty a soya jelly cube to complement the meat’s rawness. The white asparagus with quail eggs was pleasant, but the flavours were somewhat open-ended.

The mains: Grilled red snapper on remoulade; Basil risotto

As for the mains, the red snapper was competently grilled. As a matter of personal preference I didn’t agree with the remoulade that it was bedded on. The risotto came hot and moist, but too al-dente for our liking.

For Desserts: Caramel tart and the ‘snow egg’ meringue that made Glen a little upset.

The caramel tart ended the set in triumphant fashion. My only grouse was the misrepresentation of the “snow-egg” dessert. No matter how you bandy it about, half-cooked meringue just doesn’t taste that good. Our personal preferences aside, TRB provides possibly the best value lunch set in Beijing right now.

A nifty touch:  home made scented marshmallows

We enjoyed TRB immensely, but as we ruminate over this entry, we get the feeling its story is not complete. Ignace Lecleir has done a fantastic job in importing the brand of French dining he knows so well to Beijing, and his team didn’t put a foot wrong when we were there. The service of this restaurant would easily be on par with one-star Michelin restaurants anywhere in the world. This gastronomic fable could have been better climaxed with a menu that showcased a heavier Chinese influence. Places like Lung King Heen (Hong Kong) and Hakkasan (London) have shown that Chinese cooking is viable at the highest level of fine-dining standards, and we can’t think of a better place to have it served than in the eclectic interior of the Temple Restaurant.

And, here’s a little collage of us enjoying the meal! Glen’s face reads “Gloria is holding my camera the wrong way again…” :O

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