We go grazing at Pascere

Is there any point in doing a day trip to Brighton on a cold, rainy winters day when the sea is a murky grey and the beach a bleak, uninviting wasteland of pebbles? Of course, there is because – haven’t you heard? – Brighton is a hub of brand new, exciting and must-visit restaurants.

Halfway down Duke’s Street and opposite a (saddeningly) bustling branch of Nando’s, lies Pascere. Opened in May of this year, the head chef Johnny Stanford (of Michelin starred The Pass and Edinburgh’s 21212) has already seen the restaurant awarded two AA rosettes within the first six months of opening.

Pascere

Pascere is situated in the unit that was previously occupied by the Cornish Pasty Company and spreads over two floors. The decor is dark yet the vibrant blue used for the branding gives the place a lovely lift. Our table happens to be the only one in front of the bar area which means we are uninterrupted by other diners for the majority of the night (the bar area is strictly reserved for those who will be dining at the restaurant). The only downside to this is that you are sat in the window which not only gives you unparalleled views of Duke’s Street on a rowdy Saturday night, but it gives all the passing revelers a great opportunity to have a good old nosey at you and your food. However, none of this managed to spoil our night here.

Tasting Menu

Tasting Menu

The decision over menus is another easy one at Pascere; a 10 course tasting menu (vegetarian option available) is priced at a staggeringly good £65 a head, while the à la carte options are not unreasonably priced either.

Decision as easy as one, two, three; our first two courses arrive along with two freshly baked bread buns. Clearly a trend at the moment, it’s another selection of onion and treacle breads with whipped brown butter. The addition of muscavado sugar and black sea salt to the butter gave this tried and tested combination a lovely crunch and provided deliciously contrasting sweet and savoury elements.

Treacle ~ Onion ~ Muscavado sugar ~ Black sea salt

Treacle ~ Onion ~ Muscavado sugar ~ Black sea salt

The butternut squash crackers were a delightful mouthful, however, it was the crab tartlets which stole the show here. Delicately thin cases of filo pastry held the fresh white crab meat, while a glorious shellfish custard sat on top.

Butternut squash Cracker

Butternut Squash Cracker

Crab Tart

Crab Tart

Excited doesn’t even come close to the feeling I get when I see Jerusalem artichoke on a menu. It’s similar to the feeling you get when the cheese trolley is rolled out and the waiter asks which you would like to try, and you think “can’t you just leave me and the trolley alone for a while?”. Anyway, a mash of Jerusalem artichokes made up the base of this pretty-as-a-picture dish. Fried artichoke peelings, raw radishes and cubes of amazing sherry vinegar set off a series of flavour explosions in my mouth. Far and away my favourite dish of the night.

Jerusalem artichoke ~ Sherry vinegar ~ Egg yolk

Jerusalem artichoke ~ Sherry vinegar ~ Egg yolk

An interesting dish of baby squid was up next. Sat on a perfectly cut out set square of parsley cream, were varying elements of baby squid. The body was simply pan fried, while the tentacles had been battered and deep-fried like calamari. The squid ink had been used to make a deliciously dark mayonnaise and to colour the tapioca crisp on top. Hidden under the body of the squid was a small pile of enocchi mushrooms which I assume were there to add a contrasting umami flavour to the plate. However, they were lost among the bold squid flavours and could quite easily have been left off.

Baby squid ~ Parsley ~ Mushroom Noodles ~ Cracker

Baby squid ~ Parsley ~ Mushroom Noodles ~ Cracker

This next dish is the epitome of why being a vegetarian could never be a lifestyle choice for me. Roasted pork belly, bacon jam bonbon, burrata mouse and a caramelised pumpkin purée, oh dear Lord this was a good dish. “How can you possibly improve bacon?” I hear you cry. Well, turn it into a sweet, sticky, meaty jam, then breadcrumb it and deep-fry it – that’s how. If these bacon bonbons were a bar snack, I’d have a permanently reserved spot at the bar.

Pork belly ~ Bacon jam ~ Pumpkin ~ Burrata

Pork belly ~ Bacon jam ~ Pumpkin ~ Burrata

The term velouté comes from the French. A word which here simply means velvet and that is exactly what this next dish was; a bowl of velvet sweet potato. I’ve had a number of veloutés in my time, but none have ever been able to hold their own shape quite like this one did, it was closer to a mousse than a soup and simply delicious. Roasted chestnuts and another inspired addition of vinegar pearls rounded off a fabulous dish.

Sweet potato ~ Chestnuts ~ Vinegar pearls

Sweet potato ~ Chestnuts ~ Vinegar pearls

A take on soup was followed by another take on soup, this time a clam chowder. This was a great example of a classic dish where the chef has put his own take on each ingredient. So instead of a soup-y chowder, we had a rich sauce; instead of boiled celery, it had been lightly pickled; the clams were pan-fried and the dish was topped with a shellfish foam. A very interesting and clever take on a classic; the only negative? Slightly rubbery and chewy textures from where the clams had been overcooked.

Clam Chowder

Clam Chowder

The last savoury course starred my favourite meat; duck. A perfectly cooked slice of duck breast with salivatingly salty skin sat in between crispy duck leg and a liver parfait. Slightly disappointingly, the parfait had been over cooked – clear from the grey tinge which is a telltale sign of overcooked livers. Despite the bitterness that this then had, the rich jus and the chicory purée underneath were enough to mitigate any great disaster that this could have done to the dish. It was also a nice change to see parsnips on the menu; a vegetable which I think is often treated like turkey and usually only seen during the dreaded Christmas dinner season.

Duck ~ Parsnip ~ Chicory

Duck ~ Parsnip ~ Chicory

The return of the black bowls marked the start of the sweet dishes. Not the best looking dish in my eyes, but the combination of lemongrass, pistachio and passionfruit intrigued me. Torn up pieces of vibrant pistachio cake were as light as air, as was the aerated lemongrass mouse which was on the slightly spiced side of lemon. Despite being a powerful element in itself, the passionfruit sorbet married really well with the other elements.

Lemongrass mousse ~ Pistachio ~ Passionfruit

Lemongrass mousse ~ Pistachio ~ Passionfruit

With the previous dish still erring on the savoury side of the spectrum, a sweet dessert was in desperate need. Cue, an apple parfait and blackberry sorbet finale. Although it is still my personal belief that a pudding without chocolate is not really a pudding, and if it’s fruit-based then it’s really more of a fruit salad, this was in actual fact, the perfect end to the meal. The apple parfait was a fantastic combination of rich, creaminess with that refreshing green apple cutting right through it. The blackberry sorbet was the quintessential accompaniment to the apple parfait and ended the meal on a zingy high note.

Apple parfait ~ Blackberry ~ Shortbread

Apple parfait ~ Blackberry ~ Shortbread

At this point of the night, the bar directly behind us was getting quite crowded, and one guy had even decided that it was OK to sit on the back of my chair while he waited, so it was a bit of a relief when the waitress brought the bill over. This was a really intriguing and inspired meal; some dishes were pure perfection while others could have done with a bit more attention to detail. Our experience certainly reflected the well-deserved two AA rosettes, despite the strange request for us to hold on to our cutlery for the first few courses… Nevertheless, Pascere is certainly good value for money and is a brilliant addition to Brighton’s food scene.

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We go all out pesc-y at Perilla

Celebrating three decades of someone’s life deserves something a little bit special, so a trip to Perilla sounded like a pretty good idea.

Perilla started life off as a roaming restaurant, enjoying sell-out residencies in Dulwich and Clapton in 2016. Thanks to the backing of some rather influential BNOCs (big names on campus) such as Phill Howard, Thomas Kochs and Martyn Nail, Perilla settled down permanently in Newington Green in November last year.

Ever the early bird, I was the first of our party to arrive. The beaming waiter showed me to our rustic table which was already laid out with menus, so thankfully I had something to read while I waited for my “we’re two minutes away, honest!” guests.

Perilla

Perilla

The menu set-up is a bit of a no-brainer here to be honest, especially if you’re thinking price-wise. On one side, you have the option of around six savoury dishes – priced from £10 to £24 – with the recommendation of two/three dishes each, while on the other you have a five course set menu at £38. Party finally fully assembled, we unanimously decided to opt for the pescetarian set menu (fish but no meat), despite this meaning we would forgo the grilled lamb breast on the main set menu.

Pescetarian ~ Vegetarian ~ Set Menu

Pescetarian ~ Vegetarian ~ Set Menu

The ample offering of wines was made somewhat easier by the decision to go pesc-y. However, we snubbed the standard white wine accompaniment to fish in favour of trying one of the orange wines on offer. If you haven’t tried any super trendy, on-point orange wines yet, than I personally wouldn’t lose any sleep over it. The main difference being that unlike in the production of white wine, the grape skins are left on, producing the tannins which give red wines their bitterness if not left to ‘breath’ before drinking. The end result is nothing particularly interesting, and, personally, I would rather have a glass (or two or three) of white or red wine any day.

Orange wine

Orange wine

It must have been no longer than three minutes after ordering, that a lovely basket of hot, fragrant seaweed bread arrived at the table, with an accompanying heap of lightly whipped brown butter. It’s worth noting that, had we not gone for the pescetarian menu, this seaweed bread would have been brushed with roasted lamb fat which, quite frankly, sounds amazing. Anyway, the whipped butter spread across and melted so satisfyingly into every pore of the bread that the resulting greasy hand was 100% forgivable and made up for the missing lamb fat.

Seaweed Bread ~ Brown Butter

Seaweed Bread ~ Brown Butter

A bizarre-looking dish of dried cauliflower was set down in the middle of the table. Barely distinguishable from the decoration, it turned out to be the snack of shredded cods head. This was four mouthfuls of delicate cod, wrapped in an unidentified leaf, accompanied by a contrasting crunch of nuts and seeds. Very nice.

Shredded cod head ~ Nuts and seeds

Shredded cod head ~ Nuts and seeds

Now to the most theatrical dish of the night, and quite possibly the most theatrical dish I have ever had that didn’t involve dry ice; burnt onion and cultured cream (think Crème fraîche) soup. Four rather large onions with charred skins were set down in front of us, before the tops were lifted off to reveal a small mound of shaved chestnuts. The onion soup was then poured into the onion vessel and we were left to savour the dish.

Onion soups are a thing of real beauty and this was no exception; it was hearty yet sweet, the cultured cream adding that tangy flavour needed to offset the sweetness and the chestnuts bringing the earthy element to round it all off.

Burnt onion ~ Cultured cream ~ Chestnuts

Burnt onion ~ Cultured cream ~ Chestnuts

The next dish, pot roasted broccoli with cabbages and hung yoghurt, was my favourite dish of the night. Hung yogurt is quite simply the thick yoghurt left over when you drain it through a muslin or cheese cloth suspended from a height. This makes it lighter than normal yoghurt and also gave this delightful vegetarian dish a beautiful acidic element.

Broccoli ~ Cabbages ~ Hung yoghurt

Broccoli ~ Cabbages ~ Hung yoghurt

Our last savoury course was the reason for forsaking the roast lamb offering in the original menu; roasted hake and braised greens with brown shrimp and parsley. Not a dish for Instagram-worthy photos, the hake and shrimps were parceled in the braised greens in an en-papillote style dish. The hake was cooked perfectly, its flesh flaking apart with ease at the slightest touch, and it was complimented beautifully by the citrus-y shrimp butter and parsley sauce. The only let down was the inclusion of some very long and stringy green leaves which tasted great, but made me thankful that I was wearing black so no one could see the green stains that they had peppered my top with.

Hake ~ Brown Shrimp ~ Greens

Hake ~ Brown Shrimp ~ Greens

Finally on to the dessert. As previously mentioned, we’ve fast become the kind of people who will not bother with a dessert in order to stuff ourselves with cheese, glorious cheese instead. However, at Perilla we decided to break with this tradition and forego the Stichelton course, and proceed straight to the slightly ominous yet very intriguing-sounding juniper and myrtle crème caramel dessert.

Juniper ~ Myrtle ~ Creme caramel

Juniper ~ Myrtle ~ Crème caramel

And oh my, what a treat it was. If you don’t like juniper, then you don’t like gin, and quite frankly you’re missing out on life. But for those of you that do, that wonderful juniper flavour was enhanced by the presence of the myrtle (a plant with leaves and berries that are similar in flavour), both of which worked surprisingly well with the crème caramel. A slight crunch and burst of saltiness came from a sprinkling of (I’m presuming here) Maldon sea salt on the top, and the whole thing was washed down by a rather quaffable (great word) glass of Riesling dessert wine.

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable trip to Perilla. It was great to see that our pesky pescetarian friend could be catered for, and it was a sign of some very good fish courses that the meat eating guests quite happily followed suit. There is also no chance of having the whole staff and unwilling restaurant guests wail their way through a tone-deaf rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’, which we were all extremely thankful for. The whole restaurant is very rustic which ironically means it’s also very modern, but most importantly, it’s very good.

For the love of carbs

Pasta and soft launches; two things that are guaranteed to make up one great sentence. On All Hallow’s Eve, we embarked on a mission to eat a tonne of pasta (for half price) at the latest restaurant venture from Stevie Parle; Pastaio in Soho.

At the pass

At the pass

Lying just off Carnaby Street, Pastaio is a pasta restaurant where the dedicated team of chefs make what must be – judging from the size of the queue we ended up standing in –  an obscene amount of fresh pasta, by hand, everyday.

Beautiful Carnaby Street

Beautiful Carnaby Street

The restaurant itself is thoroughly modern; stripped back, white and bright. In true Wagamama-style there are three big tables where – depending on your point of view – you are mercilessly forced to sit next to strangers, bang elbows all night long and end up overhearing their entire life story. Or if you’re more of a “glass half-full” kind of person, you get to “interact” with a load of other “guests” and hear “interesting” things about their lives.

Anyway, my own personal pet-peeves aside, this was a great night. The restaurant does not take reservations so yes, we had to queue for half an hour just to give our name and phone number to the waiter who promised another wait of “no more than an hour and a half”. So yes, we did have to visit a nearby pub for a couple of drinks while we waited, but all this did was make us more hungry for pasta, so in a way, it worked out quite nicely.

Two pints in, my phone buzzes announcing that our table is ready. We very classily down the remainder of our drinks and head back over to Pastaio where we are seated at one of the sharing tables. Now the menu here is very simple: we’re talking starters of bread and olives, heritage tomato salad, cured meats and cheese, while all the mains are pasta. The most interesting starter calls out to us and we just can’t ignore it; a fried mozzarella, nduja and honey sandwich.

Menu

Menu

How appearances can be deceptive. When the sandwich is placed in front of us, both had the same expression of “is this it?” stamped across our faces. I cut the unexciting-looking sandwich in half and, suddenly, everything changed. The smell hits you; that gorgeous, sweet sticky aroma of hot honey, the fried mozzarella seeps out of the bread getting your pulse-racing, and that nduja gives you that much needed kick at the end of your first mouthful. Delicious.

Fried Mozzarella ~ Nduja ~ Honey

Fried Mozzarella ~ Nduja ~ Honey

Regretfully, we ordered the salad of heritage tomatoes and basil as our other starter in what I think was a bid to try and up our daily vegetable intake. Heritage tomatoes are a thing of beauty; visually stunning and wonderfully tasty. These were not. There is a big difference between a green heritage tomato and a tomato that just isn’t ripe yet, and I have a strong suspicion that we were given the later. Unfortunately, this gave rise to another issue with these sharing tables; the very likely event of food envy. We could have opted to try the plump Buffalo mozzarella – like the girl next to me practically orgasmed her way through – or the clams cooked in butter and grillo (an Italian white wine), but no. We went for the healthy option, and it was not worth it.

Fried Mozzarella Sandwich ~ Heritage Tomatoes

Fried Mozzarella Sandwich ~ Heritage Tomatoes

But to the carbs, oh the carbs! I don’t have a single friend or family member that doesn’t touch carbs and I don’t ever intend to have one either. Pasta is everything; it’s quick, it’s easy, it’s versatile, and it’s downright tasty. It’s also ridiculously interesting. Did you know, for example, that there are around 350 different types of pasta? And did you also know that there is a variety called Stozzapreti, which literally translates to “priest-stranglers”? Or that October 25th is World Pasta Day – a day in which you are literally obliged to gorge on bowlfuls of the stuff? See, interesting.

For the love of carbs

For the love of carbs

Our waitress recommends three of the pasta dishes to share between two, and so we dutifully oblige. Unfortunately the wild mushroom tagliatelle was sold out, as was the grouse, rabbit and pork agnoli (a quick Google later told me this was a type of ravioli), but the crab fusilli, pesto cassarece and the Cacio e Pepe were ripe for the picking.

I tried one piece of pasta from each dish to get a feel for which was going to be my favourite. Perhaps to no great surprise, the Cacio e Pepe was the winner for me. A bowlful of cheesey bucatini (thick spaghetti-like pasta), topped with a generous coating of cracked black pepper and en extra addition of parmesan, what’s not to love?

Cacio e Pepe

Cacio e Pepe

The pesto dish is served on casarecce – the traditional pasta accompaniment to Sicilian pesto recipes. Not too oily, not too garlicky, the smell of basil was almost heady and provided a much needed herby relief to the cheesiness of the Cacio dish.

Pesto ~ Green Beans ~ Casarecce

Pesto ~ Green Beans ~ Casarecce

And finally to the crab. The beautiful smell of crab; the al dente courgette; the yellow tomatoes (which were red in ours); yes, a very tasty plate of pasta indeed.

Crab ~ Courgette ~ Fusilli

Crab ~ Courgette ~ Fusilli

The whole menu at Pastaio is simple, and I think that’s a wonderful thing. This is by no means a restaurant making gastronomic waves, but what it is doing, it seems to be doing well. Making fresh pasta everyday to feed customers in a restaurant this size is no mean feat. The use of British ingredients is great; I hope this ethos is what inspired the grouse, rabbit and pork dish which I have made a mental note to return and try at some point soon. Yes the tables are an annoyance to people like me and I really don’t appreciate a no reservation system, but if I find myself hungry and in desperate need of carbs while in Carnaby Street one day, I will certainly be thinking that Pastaio will be able to satisfy my hanger.

 

A trip to Pike and Pine

We took a trip to Brighton to experience the new venture from Matt Gillan, former executive chef and Michelin Star owner at The Pass restaurant at South Lodge Hotel.

Having spent most of my childhood and teenage years in Brighton, it is safe to say that this is one of my favourite places to be, however, it makes finding new places to eat at or drink at hard work. Fortunately, Brighton appears to be undergoing a bit of a foodie revolution with a swathe of new restaurant openings such as The Jetty, Etch (well, Hove actually but lets not get into all that), Pascere (which I will be making a beeline for soon enough) and our restaurant in question, Pike and Pine.

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Menu

The café-by-day and restaurant-by-night can be found in Kemptown in a bright white, marble space with luscious greenery hanging from the ceiling. When we visited, the dinner choice was either a six-, an eight-, or a ten-course menu (wine flight optional), however, the restaurant has recently launched an à la carte menu for those not bothered about tasting menus. We go straight down the middle and plump for the eight-course menu and two wine flights.

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Salmon Nigiri ~ Tomato Sphere ~ Sumac and Hummus ~ Tapioca Crisp

Canapés are brought out to us by one of the chefs who explains what we will be eating; a slightly confused mix of salmon nigiri, sumac shortbread with hummus, tapioca crisp with sorrel mayonnaise, and a tomato sphere with a minuscule crumb of goats cheese. All delicious in their own right (I have to say, the tapioca crisp with sorrel was a stroke of genius), however, the combination of cuisines and cooking techniques appeared to be more of a showcase of skill rather than a well-though out combination of flavours.

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Miso Butter ~ Malt and Onion Loaf

Individual malt and onion bread loaves were placed in front of us with a homemade miso butter. Still nice and warm from the oven, this bread and butter combo went down a treat. The first course then appeared: a beautifully constructed and vividly coloured salad of tomatoes, broad beans and yellow peppers, making us reminiscent for long hot summers on Brighton Beach. The chef pours over a highly concentrated chilled tomato consommé and the dish is complete. Tasty, fresh and very pretty to look at – the first course was a winner.

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Tomatoes ~ Broad Bean ~ Yellow Pepper

Then we get to the interesting course of ox tongue. Again, the kitchen team manage to pull off an absolute stunner of a dish, in spite of the fact that we are looking at a thinly sliced piece of tongue with the tip cheekily bobbing out from under its dressing. A fried quail’s egg sits at the other end and, while there is no denying the cuteness of this addition, I’m not entirely sure why it was there. The star of this dish was without a doubt the celery sorbet. Not having had any particularly strong feelings about celery before this encounter, I now find myself wishing that I could pop into a local supermarket and pick up a tub of this bad boy – yes, it really was that good.

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Ox Tongue ~ Quail’s Egg ~ Celery Sorbet

My favourite course of the night had to be the “carbonara”. Sick to death of seeing this Italian classic butchered on menus with the addition of cream and other ingredients that have no right in being there, I was looking forward to seeing what it was about this dish that required the use of quotation marks. Well, the absence of any pasta whatsoever probably plays a big part in that. A large slice of parma ham encircled what turned out to be enoki mushrooms (those ones with the really long thin stems) which replaced the spaghetti, while a sous-vide egg yolk sat proudly on top. Break through this yolk and the whole dish comes alive. You dare to mess with this Italian classic? If you do it like this, then all is forgiven.

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“Carbonara”

The next dish featured one of my favourite fish; pollock. It goes without saying that presentation was bang on again. The pollock was accompanied with charred, roasted and puréed broccoli – the last of which was unbelievably velvety and smooth in texture – and tiny translucent balls of lime caviar provided a burst of citrus relief. This delicious dish was, however, ruined slightly by the extremely greasy UFO (unidentified fried object) lurking underneath the whole thing.

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Pollock ~ Broccoli ~ Lime

Chicken and sweetcorn made up the last of the savoury dishes; a combination that always puts me in mind of Daniel Clifford’s banquet winning main course from Great British Menu. Chicken may be the humdrum, safe and easy go-to-option for many people, but cook a chicken right and you have one of the tastiest things on the planet. Crispy, salty skin; moist, succulent meat – this dish really sung, the cocoa nib sauce added an earthy element and the sweetcorn did exactly what it said on the tin, providing a sweet contrast to the fabulous chicken.

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Chicken ~ Sweetcorn ~ Cocoa Nib

Despite having a slightly worrying addiction to cheese, we decided to pass on the optional cheese course and instead moved on to the pre-dessert. A variation of peach flavours and textures, we enjoyed a refreshing sorbet, gels, fresh and poached slices, and a white chocolate ice cream. I have to admit that my love of desserts has steadily faded as my number of years has increased, and while this was delightfully refreshing, it failed to spark much excitement on my part.

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Peach ~ White Chocolate

Our meal was rounded off with another fruity dessert offering. The promise of a raw pumpkin seed pesto caught my attention and added an intriguing element to this tasty pairing of raspberry and lemon.

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Raspberry ~ Lemon ~ Pumpkin Seed

All in all, a very enjoyable visit. The staff were all friendly and seemed very knowledgeable about the food; our sommelier deserves a special mention for her attempts to pronounce the wines on our flight in the accent of each country of origin. It was also great to see the chefs and the man himself interacting with the customers instead of just being stuck in the kitchen. So if you’re heading to Brighton for a couple of days, I would definitely recommend adding Pike and Pine to your to-do list.

26 Reasons to Visit The Clove Club

  1. It is the 26th best restaurant in the world.
  2. A tried and tested concept. It began as a supperclub by the Young Turks above the Ten Bells pub in East London.
  3. Isaac McHale. The Scottish-born Head Chef has obviously learnt a thing or two from stints at The Ledbury, Noma, and with Tom Aikens.
  4. The Michelin Star. Received within only its first year of opening, and still holding on.
  5. No white linens. Despite the lofty status, the vibe is significantly less stuffy than similarly esteemed fine-dining rooms.  
  6. It is cool. Housed in Shoreditch Town Hall, having ceased to be a home for local government during the 1960s it is also a popular arts and events space. Very Shoreditch.
  7. Pay up front. The restaurant was one of the first restaurants in the UK to adopt a ticketing system, with reservations paid for in advance to reduce the dreaded no-shows.
  8. Luca. The team have already propelled their success into a second venture; a well-designed, all-day Italian eatery in Clerkenwell with a focus on pasta.   
  9. The meat room. As you enter Clove Club, you can see where its chefs cure their own meat. No sidestepping any effort here.

    Clove Club

    House cures

  10. Birthday card. Before even looking at the food, I was presented with a birthday card from the restaurant. A lovely touch to acknowledge a special occasion.  
  11. The ingredients. Menus change daily, but one thing you can be sure of is that that the focus will be on British produce (with a global flair).
  12. 5 courses. Or 9 if you’re really hungry. Though it is a set tasting menu, the chefs cater for a whole host of dietary requirements, from vegetarian, gluten-free and halal.
  13. Snacks. Honestly they each merit their own point but that would ruin my format. Delicious morsels individually presented; beetroot granita, crab canapés served on a spider crab shell, buttermilk fried chicken (that I’ll one day write a special ode to) presented on a bed of pine needles to accentuate the pine salt, and a haggis doughnut boxed like a pearl. 

  14. Cocktails. Rarely do I order a dinner with a stream of cocktails rather than wine but the care taken for these concoctions was almost on par with the food. House infusions, unexpected elixir combinations, thoughtful garnishes.   

  15. Hay smoked trout tartare, Jersey Royal and Sansho. Raw, in my humble opinion, is the best way to feature an excellent piece of fish. An ideal substitute for salmon, the trout was served alongside a creamy foam and matchstick chips for a balanced texture.

    Clove Club

    Hay Smoked Trout Tartare ~Jersey Royal ~ Sansho

  16. Extra birthday course. Spring Herb and smoked herring broth with dumpling. Excuse the photo, I was getting mildly overwhelmed.

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    Smoked Herring ~ Spring Herb ~  Dumpling

  17. Bread and butter. Never on the menu, always on the table. House-baked sourdough of course.

    Clove Club

    Sourdough ~ Butter

  18. Hazelwood grilled pollock, grelot onion, cinnamon & curry leaf. Delicately spiced, this dish showcases the sustainable fish in a more compelling manner than a normal ‘modern British’ establishment.

    Clove club

    Hazelwood grilled pollock ~ Grelot Onion ~ Cinnamon & Curry Leaf

  19. 100 day old Lincolnshire Chicken, creamed potato, morels & Ramson. As well as alluding to the welfare of the poultry, this dish also demonstrates a nose-to-tail approach to cooking, artistically plated were several cuts of chicken, a heart at centre stage.

    Clove Club

    100 day Old Lincolnshire Chicken ~ Creamed Potato ~ Morels & Ramson

  20. Service that’s not in your face. Corresponding to the decor, waiters don’t ask you if everything is ok every five seconds. You are free to dine at your own pace and enjoy the company of your companion(s) without interruption.
  21. Wild fennel granita, warm blood orange, ewe’s milk mousse. A savoury dessert course, my favourite kind.

    Clove Club

    Wild fennel granita, warm blood orange, ewe’s milk mousse

  22. Loquat sorbet, loquat kernel ice cream & puffed amaranth. Slightly outside the otherwise seasonal menu but suitably foodie enough to make a dining companion Google more than one element of a dish.
    Clove Club

    Loquat Sorbet ~ Loquat Kernel Ice Cream & Puffed Amaranth.

     

  23. A trio of petit fours. A sponge, a chocolate and boozy sweet dedicated to Fergus Henderson and St John.
  24. Extra chocolate. Yet another birthday treat. Spoilt.

    Clove Club

    Birthday Chocolate

  25. More than you bargain for. Though we only only selected 5 courses, I counted 14 different dishes with all the pre and post bites.  
  26. A special occasion. Not an everyday meal but it is worth the £75 a head for dinner, especially if you convince a friend to take you as a present.

The Test Kitchen

We took a trip to The Test Kitchen in Soho to put chef Adam Simmonds’ year long pop-up to the test. The premise of the restaurant is for Adam Simmonds to trial out new flavour combinations, cooking techniques and ingredients in preparation for his permanent restaurant.

The Test Kitchen

The Test Kitchen

Situated in the unit previously occupied by Barrafina on Frith Street, The Test Kitchen is an L-shaped dining room where all the seats are on the pass so you can see the chefs preparing and plating your food. The back wall is one long mirror where the chefs have scribbled down their ideas for dishes, a huge list of ingredients, and a portrait of the head chef himself.

Idea Wall

Idea Wall

The menu consists of a number of small vegetarian, meat or fish dishes; the waiter recommends around four each, which, when you work it out, is nearly everything on the menu. Instead we decide to go for two of the vegetarian, including the highly recommended salt-baked swede, two fish and three meat options. We also decide to go for a glass of wine each; in a surprising twist, our waiter allowed us to try each of the wines by the glass before making a decision.

The Menu

The Menu

Our vegetarian dishes arrived first; salt-baked swede with cocoa nibs and Ticklemore goat’s cheese, and almond tofu with peas and thyme oil. Always on the look out for a tofu dish that makes us like the stuff; our decision to order it was a risk. The result: worth it. Yes, the texture of tofu is gelatinous and not to everyone’s taste, but the flavour of the almond tofu was sweet yet subtle; the bold thyme oil and peas cut through the sweetness and the whole dish worked brilliantly.

Almond tofu ~ Morels ~ Peas ~ Thyme oil

Almond tofu ~ Morels ~ Peas ~ Thyme oil

The waiter-recommended salt-baked swede was really nice, although the cocoa nib purée was extremely rich. The idea of the blackberries was clearly to provide a sweet, fruity contrast to the richness, unfortunately it didn’t come through. We both agreed that a bigger dish of this would have been hard to finish.

Salt-baked swede ~ Cocoa nibs ~ Goat's cheese

Salt-baked swede ~ Cocoa nibs ~ Goat’s cheese

Fish next; the scallop dish was inspired by Japanese flavours and came with cubes of Nashi pear and in a dashi broth. The dashi was lovely and fragrant and the scallop was perfectly cooked, although the delicate sweet flavour of the scallop did get lost in the dish and the pear didn’t contribute much either.

Scallop ~ Nashi pear ~ Dashi

Scallop ~ Nashi pear ~ Dashi

Our favourite dish of the night was the cured red mullet with fresh almonds and green tomatoes. The dish looked stunning and tasted amazing. Curing fish is one of the best ways to eat fish in our opinion, and this didn’t disappoint.

Red Mullet ~ Green tomatoes ~ Fresh almonds

Red Mullet ~ Green tomatoes ~ Fresh almonds

We thoroughly enjoyed every meat dish. The veal sweetbreads were a real standout; they were cooked perfectly and came with that wonderful ingredient, black garlic.

Veal sweetbreads ~ Black garlic ~ Broccoli

Veal sweetbreads ~ Black garlic ~ Broccoli

The lamb dish came with two different cuts of meat; one tender and juicy, the other fell apart like butter. The giant stalks of the king oyster mushrooms and the salsify crisps provided contrasting textures. A small dish of quail with lardo and English asparagus made up our last dish.

Lamb ~ Salsify ~ King oyster mushroom

Lamb ~ Salsify ~ King oyster mushroom

Having eaten our way through seven dishes, we felt we still had room for another dish. Although the desserts sounded lovely, we felt like going against the grain. While we decided what to order, we thought we’d get the oyster dish to see us through. Wonderful salty oyster, with the most fragrant cucumber soup and caviar cleared our heads. In the end, we decided to end with the night in true European style with the cheese course.

Oyster ~ Oscietra caviar ~ Cucumber

Oyster ~ Oscietra caviar ~ Cucumber

We have to admit, we had to Google what the cheese course was. Tomme Des Prairies Du Fouzon; a soft, mould-ripened goat’s cheese from the Fouzon area in France. As cheese fanatics, this was the highlight of the night. It came with a beautiful pineapple purée and a tapioca crisp with a rosemary oil that really made the dish come alive.

Tomme Des Prairies Du Fouzon ~ Tapioca ~ Pineapple

Tomme Des Prairies Du Fouzon ~ Tapioca ~ Pineapple

So why did we go? To sample an evolving menu from a chef who came to our attention through Great British Menu.

The idea for the restaurant sounds intriguing, and the idea of being a guinea pig for these dishes was very appealing to us. We really enjoyed the food although some dishes worked much better than others, but that is the point of the pop-up after all, to test combinations out. The bill at the end was pretty steep, considering that we are helping the chefs to design their fool-proof restaurant menu – if you are wondering how you are asked to give feedback on your experience, a form is emailed to you after your visit. With all this in mind though, we will definitely be wanting to make a return trip at some point before the year is out to see how the menu progresses.

It is also worth mentioning that our visit came the day after a less-than glowing review of The Test Kitchen was published.  Our experience was the polar opposite of this particular reviewer, which in our minds, highlights the importance of coming to your own conclusions over restaurants. The lesson here: live your own experiences, not someone else’s.

The Greenhouse

The List of 12 Michelin Star restaurants consists of a selection of one, two and three star restaurants, ranging in prices and cuisines. Each restaurant has been picked for a specific reason with the ultimate aim of hopefully experiencing some of the best food in the world, as well as trying to work out for ourselves what makes a Michelin Star restaurant. The second addition to our list is The Greenhouse in Mayfair.

The main reason for my choice of The Greenhouse for The List, was as the restaurant of choice to celebrate my boyfriend’s 25th birthday. The Greenhouse is a Two Star Michelin restaurant in London’s rather expensive area of Mayfair. The restaurant is presided over by chef Arnoud Bignon; a classically trained French chef who started his career at the age of 15 in Paris.

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When you arrive at The Greenhouse, a beautiful oasis of leafy decking paves the way to the front door. The low lit dining room offers a wonderfully romantic setting, and, in complete contrast to Dabbous, white linen table cloths are present in abundance. The champagne trolley is wheeled over as soon as we take our seats, I order us a glass each of the ‘La Salamandre’ as we have a look over the menu. As it is a special occasion, we go for the tasting menu at a cool £130 each.

Seaweed Butter

Seaweed Butter

First up, we have the canapé selection; spherified shellfish bisque, and crispy chicken skin. The warm bread comes with a choice of seaweed or hand churned butter, with sea salt on the side.

Crispy chicken skin ~ Shellfish bisque

Crispy chicken skin ~ Shellfish bisque

The amuse bouche is put down in front of us; “egg fried rice” we’re told.

Egg Fried Rice

Egg Fried Rice

Well, it’s safe to say that this was like no egg fried rice I’ve ever had before. The rice was crispy and had been puffed up; a soy sauce sorbet sat on top of the light coriander dressing. Delicious.

The first course on the tasting menu was King crab, served with a velvety smooth celeriac purée and topped with a citrus gel.

King crab ~ Celeriac puree

King crab ~ Celeriac puree

An extremely rich and indulgent course of foie gras followed, served with a micro salad of herbs and leaves. While I do have my reservations about eating foie gras, I put them aside for this meal and really did enjoy the course.

Foie gras ~ Micro salad

Foie gras ~ Micro salad

Salsify tagliatelle followed and offered a fresh and clean almost palette-cleanser like contrast to the rich foie gras. Although not much of a looker, the pasta-inspired dish was refreshing and came dressed in a delicate halzelnut oil.

Salsify tagliatelle ~ Hazelnut

Salsify tagliatelle ~ Hazelnut

As expected of a Two Star menu, lobster graced our table next. The lightly poached white meat came with a beetroot consommé and roasted beetroot. While the lobster meat was sweet and tender, we didn’t feel that the beetroot quite complemented it but it tasted deliciously earthy on its own.

Lobster ~ Beetroot

Lobster ~ Beetroot

My personal favourite course came next; monkfish, sorrel purée and bottarga. This was my first experience of bottarga, salted cured fish roe, and it was fantastic. The couple of thin slices added a salty contrast the deep, earthy sorrel purée; the meatiness of the monkfish more than capable of carrying both flavours.

Monkfish ~ Sorrel ~ Bottarga

Monkfish ~ Sorrel ~ Bottarga

The final savoury course was lamb rump served with aubergine two ways; miso marinated and smokey purée. Lamb and aubergine is a classic combination and this dish was no exception, the smokey and sweet flavours of the aubergine perfectly pairing with the pink lamb.

Lamb ~ Aubergine

Lamb ~ Aubergine

A pre-dessert of sweetcorn sorbet topped with popped corn cleansed the palette before the dessert; a chocolate and yuzu combination with a mint granita. A selection of chocolate petit fours closed the show.

Chocolate ~ Yuzu ~ Mint

Chocolate ~ Yuzu ~ Mint

So what did we think? Well it was certainly a meal to remember and for a number of reasons. The food was delicious and the staff did everything they could to make our visit special, including presenting the birthday boy with an exquisitely decorated birthday plate. This was by far and away the most expensive meal I have ever had, and it was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime visit, but was it worth it? I would have to say yes, although I wouldn’t say it was the best meal I have ever eaten. We tried some ingredients we’d never had before and tasted some innovative combinations.

What makes The Greenhouse a Two Star Michelin restaurant? There’s a joke that goes around that says the only difference between a One and Two star restaurant is the white table cloths; well I wouldn’t say that here. The difference between here and Dabbous can be seen in the type of ingredients on offer; foie gras, lobster, bottarga. There is no emphasis on the sourcing of ingredients, only the finest ingredients are good enough. The cooking is of the same high standard, but the service goes above and beyond. Finally, the wine list sets The Greenhouse apart. The sommelier had an infinite knowledge of the wines on offer which was amazing considering the ‘list’ was the size of an epic novel.

 

Trawler Trash

There’s a new restaurant in Islington that is looking to tackle (please excuse the pun) one of the biggest sustainability issues in fishing: by-catch. The name Trawler Trash may not conjure images of beautiful fish and shellfish, but the premise behind the name is very laudable. Out of every haul of fish caught, approximately 15-20% never makes it to the table mainly due to people not being familiar with the species and not willing to buy it. Trawler Trash say they are trying to change this mindset by purchasing wasted fish and encouraging people to try new things.

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Trawler Trash

Now, not to put a downer on any of the above, but the GettingFeta team and chosen company for this dinner know a thing or two about sustainability in the restaurant industry. Having read all the hype surrounding Trawler Trash and watched the video explaining the concept on the website, expectations were high; what amazing under-used species were we going to see on the menu?

Well, as it turned out, not much that you couldn’t find on a large number of restaurant menus across the country. The presence of an eel dish was quite worrying considering this is a critically endangered species.

But to the food:

The menu offers 10 small plates designed to share, a handful of main courses and, of course, oysters to start, which, of course, we ordered.

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Jersey Oysters

To accompany these fine Jersey oysters, we chose charred cuttlefish, air-dried charred octopus, spiced potted clams, Loch Etive smoked trout, and a token vegetable dish of seasonal asparagus.

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Small Plates

The food was delicious although the presentation didn’t quite live up to the flavour delivered by each dish. The potted clams stood out for me; buttery doesn’t even come close to describing the texture of this dish. Having only really ever seen potted crab or shrimp on menus before, this was a delicious discovery for me.

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Potted clams ~ Rye Bread

The notoriously difficult-to-tenderize octopus was as tender as you can get, and married perfectly with green tomatoes and a hint of chili, although presentation was a bit of a let down again. The charred cuttlefish dish was tasty but was sadly hidden under the vegetable accompaniments, and in my eyes, too similar to the octopus dish to really stand out.

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Octopus ~ Green tomatoes ~ Chili

By far the most attractive looking plate was the Loch Etive smoked trout. Although salmon may be one of my all-time favourite ingredients, it was great to see trout on the menu which is just as flavoursome but used so sparingly in comparison. Fair warning though, if you do order this dish the wasabi accompaniment is HOT, and I mean HOT! Don’t try and show off with a big mouthful because you will just end up in tears.

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Loch Etive smoked trout ~ Wasabi

Having decided to share everything, our party of four decided to add the main course of cider mussels and the beer battered coley to our order. Our original choice of the ‘Trash Pie’ had unfortunately already sold out at 6.30pm on a Wednesday, so advice is to get in early if you want free reign of the whole menu.

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Cider mussels ~ Apple ~ Parsley ~ Clotted cream

Both main courses were cooked well and tasted great, although were nothing particularly special. It was sad to see that the mussels had not been cleaned; most of the shells had the white barnacles still attached which let the dish down.

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Toast Ale battered coley ~ Chips ~ Crushed peas ~ Tartare

So, why did we go? Well sustainability in the restaurant industry is of particular importance to us here at GettingFeta, having both worked in this area of the industry. The announcement of a restaurant claiming to be selling sustainable fish and seafood was an absolute must for us. Also, despite being an island, we seem to be pretty poor at serving and cooking decent fish and seafood in restaurants which instinctively makes me want to champion restaurants such as this one.

What did we think? The restaurant is beautifully decorated and the food was delicious; I could have happily tucked into all the small dishes on the menu given the opportunity. It was also nice to see the menu highlight the use of Toast Ale in the battered coley –  a beer made from surplus bread. The downside with regards to the restaurant itself was really just the service, which was painfully slow.

In terms of sustainability; I’m not convinced. Yes the premise sounds great; using up the by-catch so it is not wasted, but having a static menu with a critically endangered species on it cannot possibly be considered sustainable. It would have been nice to have been given some further information on this aspect of the menu, or have had the waiting staff explain it to us, but no such information materialised. But, the basic fact of the matter is this: trawling can never be considered a sustainable method of fishing.

Isaac At

Eating ‘local’ has become one of those buzz words over the last few years; as sustainability in the restaurant industry becomes more and more important, chefs are looking to showcase their local larder and to eat the seasons. Cue lunch at Isaac At in Brighton.

Potentially the smallest restaurant I have ever been to, Isaac At embodies local food, British drinks and seasonal produce. The talented team comprises three chefs, an expert sommelier and one waiter; all of who are in their early twenties (sickening, isn’t it?).

A scroll sits in each diners place. Inside is the set menu of the day, the drinks list, and a food menu, which lists each ingredient and the distance sourced from the restaurant.

Set Menu ~ Ridgeview

Set Menu ~ Ridgeview

We start with a glass of Ridgeview and freshly made bread; caramelised shallot and a treacle loaf. While enjoying the hot, buttery bakes, we watched our starters being plated on the television screen in one corner of the dining room.

Handmade butter ~ Caramelised shallot ~ Treacle

Handmade butter ~ Caramelised shallot ~ Treacle

As it is May, asparagus is of course, our first course. Finely sliced and dressed in a hazlenut oil, it is served with a foam of egg yolk. An unusual way of presenting both elements, the flavours complemented each other perfectly, although the foam had collapsed by the time it reached us – but this is the risk you run when using foams.

Asparagus ~ Egg yolk ~ Halzelnut

Asparagus ~ Egg yolk ~ Halzelnut

Next came one of my favourite fishes; John Dory. Hardly ever seen on menus, get it when you see it. Similar to monkfish in terms of being a meaty fish, John Dory is a delicately sweet white fish. It came with the silkiest celeriac purée, sea purslane and parsley oil. Light and delicious, every element worked beautifully together.

John Dory ~ Celeriac ~ Sea purslane ~ Parsley oil

John Dory ~ Celeriac ~ Sea purslane ~ Parsley oil

A main course of lamb chump, smoked baba ganoush (aubergine) and fragrant coriander followed. While this dish was delicious, the red wine pairing with this course made it. The wine was an organic Regent-Rondo from Sedlescombe, poured from one of the most beautiful decanters I have ever seen. The slightly smokey notes of this wine really brought out the flavour of the baba ganoush.

Lamb ~ Aubergine ~ Coriander

Lamb ~ Aubergine ~ Coriander

The dessert was another winner; Alexander Bud ice cream with dehydrated cherry tomatoes, puff pastry and a rhubarb soup. Alexander Bud is a plant similar to Cow Parsley and an ingredient I have never come across before. The flavour gave the dish a more savoury edge which allowed the sweet rhubarb soup to cut through it, helped by the rehydrated cherry tomatoes.

Alexander Bud ~ Tomatoes ~ Rhubarb

Alexander Bud ~ Tomatoes ~ Rhubarb

Lunch was truly enjoyable; the flavours were clean and the cooking was simple and certainly showcased some original ideas. The focus on local produce is always a lovely thing to see, but what was particularly nice here was the focus on lesser-known ingredients, such as the Alexander Bud. It really brought to light how little we see our native ingredients in restaurants. With a menu that changes weekly, a trip to Brighton can only be made better by a visit to Isaac At.

Dabbous

Having finally made the big move to London, I decided that I would create a list of 12 Michelin Star restaurants that I would eat my way through over a period of 24 months. The List (as it shall be known as from now on) is a selection of one, two and three star restaurants, ranging in prices and cuisines. Each restaurant has been picked for a specific reason with the ultimate aim of hopefully experiencing some of the best food in the world, as well as trying to work out for ourselves what makes a Michelin Star restaurant.  We kick things off, with Dabbous.

Let’s start with the big question: why Dabbous? Well, for starters, it has one of the best value restaurant menus that you could hope to find in London’s swanky Fitzrovia district, not to mention the fact that this place is the proud owner of one Michelin Star.

Five stars from London Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler within the first two weeks of its opening in 2012 saw chef Ollie Dabbous become one of the hottest chefs around. Several years later, what caught my eye when selecting ‘The List’ was the attention this chef pays to the sourcing of ingredients. Growing herbs indoors and at home; this is a true take on the local sourcing trend that we have seen gaining popularity in recent years.   

News reached us at the end of February, however, that Dabbous is to close its doors for the very last time in June this year. Cue, panic booking for a table as soon as we could find the time to fit it in.

Walking into Dabbous, you would have no idea that this restaurant has carried a Michelin Star for 5 years. If you’re seeking out white tablecloths, this is perhaps not the place for you. Rough around the edges it may seem to some; exposed brickwork and a lot of wrought-iron. Personally though, I found this to be a nice reprieve from your standard restaurant decor. While enjoying a cocktail downstairs in Oskar’s Bar, we opted for the four-course set dinner menu over the tasting menu, for a not-unreasonable £64 per head.

Sesame Rollin' ~ The hunt for red Octoberfest

Sesame Rollin’ ~ The hunt for red Octoberfest

At the table, the standard restaurant offering of bread was presented to us in a brown paper bag, stamped with the date and logo. Huge green olives were also provided alongside a beautifully sculpted piece of butter worthy of a photo.

Sea salt butter ~ Olives

Sea salt butter ~ Olives

Our first course, grelot onions (otherwise known as pearl onions) was sensational. The onions had been dressed with a light and fruity infusion, topped with Marigold leaf; a herb with a distinctive curry flavour that I had not come across before.

Grelot onions ~ Pistachio ~ Marigold leaf

Grelot onions ~ Pistachio ~ Marigold leaf

The fish course, a delicate broth of monkfish, mussels and cucumber, was the standout dish in my eyes. Beautifully presented with the most perfectly cooked mussels that I have ever had the good fortune to eat.

Monkfish broth ~ Mussels ~ Cucumber ~ Lovage

Monkfish broth ~ Mussels ~ Cucumber ~ Lovage

A simple but delicious main course of barbecued short rib of beef with roasted leek followed; an orange blossom doughnut closed the show.

Doughnut Dabbous

Orange blossom doughnut

So, was it worthy of The List? Absolutely. There is no question that sometimes the best cooking really is the simplest. Each course was wonderfully thought out; the presentation was simple but beautiful, and I loved the fact that there were never more than three or four ingredients on a plate. Nothing about Dabbous is uptight and stuffy, from the decor to the staff, it was a fantastic dining experience that I wish I could enjoy time and time again. In terms of value for money, £64 per head may not exactly sound cheap, but for a one Michelin Star restaurant, I think you would have a hard time beating it.

Would I go back again? In a heartbeat… if it wasn’t closing in June. However, fear not. If this has got you itching to try Dabbous, then you will still be able to taste Ollie Dabbous’ fantastic culinary creations as he opens the doors of his new restaurant ‘Henrietta’ at the Henrietta Hotel in Covent Garden today.

Finally, what makes Dabbous a Michelin Star restaurant? A difficult one considering no one really knows what the criteria is. The Michelin Guide aims to celebrate everything incredible about food and drink, and in my eyes, Ollie Dabbous lets the food speak for itself. The food is not messed around with and the flavours are just incredible; and I love the fact that this chef grows his own herbs to use in cooking. It’s exciting food but the kind you could go back again and again for, not a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Also, there’s no need to take out a loan for a trip here.