Month: June 2010

L’Artisan du Chocolat and Macallan

Last year I went to a whisky and cake event with Qype, Outsider Tart and Compass Box. I remember being so excited, what’s better than whisky? And cake? Together!  And then, as I began to gorge myself, my stomach started took revenge. That’s when I learned (coupled with the Londonist ‘Best Cupcake Recipe‘ judging contest a week later) that too much sugar in one go is very very bad for you.

So when I was asked by Billy if I wanted to be his +1 to a chocolate and whisky tasting from l’Artisan du Chocolat and The Macallan, I immediately said yes, and then immediately started getting nervous.  Had I learnt my lesson?

Yes. The key is moderation. Something I’ve previously not been very good at!

The event took place at L’Artisan du Chocolat, a very posh chocolatier in Westbourne Grove.  As you enter, you’re greeted by the most futuristic chocolate shop in the world. It could have been a room in Willy Wonka if the Willy Wonka factory was near the pod toilets at Sketch.

As I walked in I was handed a Cocoa Pulp Bellini. Very yum. The tables were laid out with four tastes of Macallan whisky: the 12-year, 15-year, Select Oak and the Whisky Makers Edition.

Now I don’t profess to be an expert on whisky, quite the contrary. I do, however, know my chocolate, so please excuse me if I focus more on that. If you’re interested in the whisky, Billy’s done a much more thorough job here on  Billy’s Booze Blog. I hope he’ll excuse me from using his photos too – I, of course, forgot my camera that night.

First up was the 15-year paired with Jamaican 72% Dark Chocolate. I was so-so on this until they brought out another chocolate to try with it: Lemongrass and Ginger, which really brought out the sweetness from the whisky, more so than the bitter dark chocolate. (Have I mentioned I actually like lighter chocolates than dark? Sacrilegious, I know)

The next whisky was the Macallan 12, paired with the Mole Chilli bar. While I wasn’t too keen about either the whisky or the chocolate, I did appreciate the pairing. Gerry, from L’Artisan du Chocolat, explained the art of making a chilli chocolate bar, and it showed. The flavours were completely blended, where as many are just full-on chocolate followed by full-on chilli.

Next up was the Macallan Select Oak, paired with the Artisan Almond Milk Bar, a delicious chocolate bar using almond milk, and thus, lactose free and vegan. The chocolate was surprisingly good. Very creamy and with just a hint of almond. With the whisky, it was easily the best combination of the night. The chocolate really brought out the creaminess of the whisky.

And finally the Macallan Whisky Makers Edition, a very heavy whisky that was a bit much for me. They paired it with a ‘secret’ chocolate. As we tasted it, I was overwhelmed with smokiness. It was Tobacco Chocolate. I’m quite proud of myself that I guessed this first. The chocolate was an experiment for theArtisan team, and it’s an experience I’m not likely to repeat. The after taste of cigarettes was too much for me to handle, though the only smoker at the table seemed to like it just fine. Go figure. Those who didn’t like the tobacco were given a Cardamom-infused chocolate. I liked this better, though I’m not sure it’s something I would seek out again.

After the whisky tastings, we were given special chocolate truffles made with a creamy inside and infused with the respective whiskies. By this time, however, my stomach was aching, and I’m sad to say I couldn’t quite handle any more.

The goody bag was stocked with a lovely assortment of chocolates, and the Macallan 15-year, something I’ll happily enjoy at a later date.

All-in-all a good night. Even if I wasn’t over the moon about each chocolate, it’s very evident that Gerry and the crew, know exactly what they’re doing.

Matsuri – St James

When I was a little one, my family and I used to go to the Benihana in Troy Michigan sometimes for Christmas (or was it Thanksgiving?). It was a special treat to see the stone-faced chefs showing off with their ginsu knives. I remember vividly being enthralled when he would chop off shrimp tails, catapult them up with the blade of what was nearly a hatchet and watch as they calmly landed in his chef’s coat pocket.

Matsuri is not that kind of place.

It’s teppanyaki, sure. You still sit around a table with six strangers (mostly tourists or visiting business people, it seems) while a very skilled Japanese chef cooks effortlessly in front of you. But the theatre? The whimsy? Not so much.

That doesn’t mean that they’re not big on service though. From the moment I walked in, I felt very welcome. The maitre’d smiled warmly, called me by name (I’m assuming we were the only reservation at that time), and showed to the bar where the boy had already had a glass of wine and a bowl of complementary wasabi peas and nuts waiting for me. Lovely start.

We were shown down to the restaurant in the basement, a dark sort of place where the geisha-like servers floated across the dining room. The decor was pretty outdated, but it sort of added to the charm.

We decided on the spring tasting menu for £35, plus one maki roll to get a taste of their sushi.

The ‘Hors d’oeuvre’ was a miso soup with flower-shaped daikon, spinach and tofu cubes.  It wasn’t an overpoweringly salty miso, so I like this.

Next we were served eel with grated cucumber, which I was told  – with my hand plugging my nose (cucumber, again) –  was very nice. I didn’t try it.

The salmon and avocado roll took a beautiful picture, but was nothing special:

The next dish was a bit of white fish I couldn’t quite put my finger on, wrapped in a banana leaf with rice, and a piece of prawn sushi.  I liked this alright, but again, it wasn’t anything you couldn’t get elsewhere.  The fish was good quality, but I always think putting a piece of prawn on rice is a bit of a cheap cop-out.

For the mains you had a choice.  I went with the seafood of Salmon, Prawn, Scallop & Squid with an upgraded egg-fried rice for an extra charge. I can’t remember what it was, but it was exorbitant – maybe £4?

The chef came out with some gorgeous looking fish and got to work.  Matsuri’s chefs make it look so easy.  Whiz, bang chop, fry, done. Food in front of you.

Unfortunately though, it didn’t live up to my hopes.  Everything was overcooked. Not to the point of being inedible, but part of me wishes they would have asked a temp on it.  The egg fried rice, however, was excellent.

We also had the Rib-eye Steak, which was far far superior to the seafood (even though it looks a bit sad in the picture)

Served gorgeously rare, the meat melted in your mouth. Juicy, flavourful with a touch of soy – this was very yum.

The dessert that came on the tasting menu – Rhubarb Sorbet – was also fantastic.

And for a £2.50 supplement, the Fireball ices cream.  Ka-pow!

I have to admit, the kid in me did enjoy the theatre in this.  Nothing like a giant fireball rising up in front of you.  The ice cream wasn’t what I was expecting. It was much more normal than I thought it would be, but still, it was good.  Served along some lovely dragon fruit, passion fruit and warm oozing pineapple, I was happy with it.

And then the bill came.

With the tasting menu, maki, two supplement charges, two glasses of wine and two itty bitty carafes of sake, the bill was £144.  Ouch.  It’s not like I didn’t know how much everything cost, and had I added it up in my head before, I don’t think I would have been as shocked… but over £70 a head?!  Let’s just say for that price, we should have seen some prawns landing in shirt pockets.

Matsuri on Urbanspoon

Barrica – Fitzrovia

How many tapas places are there around Goodge Street now? Seven? Eight?  I lose count.  All I know is that now, I *think* I’ve been to at least half.

Located in the former space of the doomed-to-fail-risotto-bar, Oooze, Barrica is the latest (it’s been there for maybe half a year?) Spanish joint to grace the oversaturated market of small plates restruants in Fitzrovia. I went there with my Romanian friend Mihnea who had just moved to London.  We originally just wanted to go for a drink, but the tapas looked to good to pass up.  Looking only for a snack, we split three small dishes:

Salt Cod Croquets:

Braised Veal Cheeks:

Slow-roasted pork and pimentos:

All were lovely, the the veal cheeks in particular stood out. Braised in the dark sticky sweet sherry, Pedro Ximenez, the veal was incredibly tender – served with a light fluffy mash that just melted in your mouth.

The service was adequate. They weren’t too busy, and we were sat at the bar, but somehow it was still difficult to get people’s attention.  I’ve come to expect that in London nowadays though, so no big deal.

I’d put Barrica on level with the Salt Bar, but certainly not on the level of the near-by Fino or (I hear, but have yet to try), Barrafina. A decent place, that I think would do better in my eyes had it not so much competition around.

Barrica on Urbanspoon

Viet Grill – Shoreditch

I love Sundays – especially since I’ve started my new Sunday hobby: Viet Grill. For the past couple months, every Sunday, you’ll find me there with the boy some time between 12:30 and 3pm, nursing a leftover Saturday night headache with the best Vietnamese food in London.

From the Goi cuon summer rolls…

to the Bánh gôi ‘Crispy Hanoi “Pillow” Dumplings’

…I’m in love.

I’ve been more adventurous with the starters, ticking them off one by one (or two by two!) as I return each weekend.  Today, we went for the Bò cuon bánh tráng starter. A sort of DIY sirloin steak rice paper roll that you cook and assemble yourself.  I don’t have a photo unfortunately, but I doubt I would have got a picture anyway, they went so fast. If you’re curious though, it looks like this. They were excellent.

For the mains, I’ve been a bit more predictable.  I just can’t stop eating the Bún Nem:

A gorgeous bowl of imperial and prawn spring rolls, served with grilled beef wrapped in grape leaves over fresh  vermicelli with mint, coriander, and a spicy fish sauce.

What amazes me about this dish is the fact that even after sitting in liquid for 15 minutes, the spring rolls are still CRISPY. Seriously as if just out of the fryer. They’re amazing.  I could eat this every day for the rest of my life and be happy.

Love Viet Grill. Love it.

Viet Grill The Vietnamese Kitchen on Urbanspoon