In Review: Hotel Chocolat Autumn/Winter 2014, Leeds

hotel chocolat
The menu read:

Ten years ago the founders of Hotel Chocolat bought an old
1745 cacao estate in the Caribbean called Rabot. The cacao
and the culture were the inspiration for this menu.

A dinner celebration with the Manfriend’s family wasn’t intended for review, but the second the Anglo-West Indian faire from Hotel Chocolat’s restaurant – Roast + Conch – hit the table, all bets were off.

I mean, if tuna tartare with cacao guacamole, lime-ginger dressing and crispbread doesn’t do it for you, nothing will.

The other half went for my old flame, the Not-So Scotch Egg, while the others swooned through bites of their new Yorkshire Pudding starter (filled with rare-seared parkin-spiced
beef, white chocolate mash and cacao red wine gravy) and a crispy duck confit potato cake (served with braised red cabbage, and cacao-orange sauce).

Whipping the SLR out was a nessecity.

For the main event, all three men couldn’t resist the chopped rump steak burger (served with aged cheddar, cacao beer braised onions, french fries, creole chutney and crisp dry cured bacon), and I can’t say I blame them; a single bite and I was making a date to return for one of my own. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy my own main, of course. My crapshoot order of pork faggot meatballs (bucket listed) was an elegant surprise; alongside pork belly, crisp dry cured bacon, cacao beer braised onions, white chocolate mash and roast jus. I was delighted with what could have easily turned out to be an unpleasant choice, just as the Manfriend’s mumma was with her Caribbean ‘fish run down’ (though the market fish used changes by the day, the light coconut curry and vegetables would be a flavourful friend to any white fish).

As indulgences go, we were all a tad overwhelmed by the idea of solo treats and opted to share the BAFTA dessert (50% milk chocolate mousse, cacao beer caramel, roasted mixed nuts, and almond dacquoise) and sticky toffee and cacao beer pudding (with insanely moreish cacao-infused whipped cream) between us.

Roast + Conch is a divine treat for chocoholics and foodies alike. Praise Cacao Jesus.

hotel chocolat
hotel chocolat
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In Review: Shake Shack, London

shake shack london
Since New York’s most infamously queued burger joint moved to London, I have spent more than a handful of lunchtimes at the Shake Shack in Covent Garden.

Most recently, I headed to the market building to sample the SmokeDog and Pumpkin Pie Oh My Concrete on their limited edition Halloween menu. Because nothing keeps an American from pumpkin pie.

Though I was craving a Shack Stack – their all natural cheeseburger and Shroom burger (a crisp-fried Portobello mushroom filled with melted cheese) topped with lettuce, tomato, and ShackSauce – on the day of this visit, the Manfriend’s SmokeDog – a flat-top dog topped with cheese sauce, chopped cherry peppers and Wiltshire cure smoked bacon – was more than worthy of permanent menu residence.

After polishing off a perfect little bucket of crinkle cut cheese fries, we decided to wrap things up with a Conrete procession. My choice – the ‘Pumpkin Pie Oh My’ – was a starred and striped extravaganza; rich and creamy vanilla frozen custard blended with a slice of pumpkin pie from Cocomaya. A swoon and a half. (The gentleman’s Sticky Toffee Concrete – a blend of vanilla custard, paul.a.young chocolate chunks, chocolate toffee, salted caramel sauce and malt powder – also received a rave review, though I may have been too engrossed in my own cup to dip a spoon in).

Today is the very final day the two Halloween specials will be available, so in the most American way I can offer, I suggest you haul ass to Shake Shack, like…now.

And for the foodies who miss the menu by a day or two – never fear! Next Sunday (November 9th), Shake Shack Covent Garden are collaborating with acclaimed chef Massimo Bottura (!) to release the limited edition ‘Emilia’ burger. There will only be 500 burgers available, but with the first 100 completely free, the burger made of a 100% Aberdeen Angus beef patty ground with cotechino sausage and parmigiano reggiano (and topped with salsa verde and Villa Manodori balsamic mayonnaise), AND Massimo himself in attendance, it is a burger journey well worth taking.

shake shack london
shake shack london
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In Review: L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, London

latelier joel robuchon 9
I have been thinking about this review for a number of hours. Fretting, almost.

The jist of the matter is not-so-simply that L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon showed me the best meal I have had all year, and putting something like that into words is never an easy feat.

Every single factor a restaurant could be judged on was inarguably faultless – even when presented with the ‘challenge’ of my vegetarian, alcohol-free, and nut-allergic girlfriend. Though we are both knowingly aware that her list of ‘can’ts’ throws up a challenge or two, the manager, chef, and kitchen team took it completely in their stride. And then some,

Opting to dine around the counter area on the ground floor (the first floor is a tad formal for a catch-up between two expressive women), we nestled in alongside our Michelin-loving countermates and gawked through the bar as we watched the chefs creating a flurry of meticulous masterpieces.

Variety may be the space of life, but I’m not sure anyone could convince me to sit away from the action.

Juiced from the arrival of a berry-filled mocktail and glass of champagne, we decided to leave our food choices up to gastronomic fate (while informing the chef of my dear accomplice’s food restrictions) and sat back to let the chips fall.

And this is where the review gets tricky. Something about chef Xavier Boyer’s menu feels sacred…experiential in a way that begs for trial. Some of the less extravagant-sounding dishes ending up becoming real highlights and pinnacles of innovation (rather than an afterthought, as I’ve experienced in quite a few Michelin-starred restaurants). I wouldn’t dare to review dishes on their own; the menu is ever-changing, seasonal, and merits fresh, explorative eyes.

(Though I will say you’d be a pesca-fool to miss out on the caviar-topped salmon tartare.)

As far as its Theatreland locale is concerned, L’Atelier is the only restaurant you’ll find where dinner is the show.

latelier joel robuchon 8
latelier joel robuchon 13
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In Review: Dirty Tommi’s at Dirty Bones, London

dirty tommis at dirty bones
From the very day my male best friend and I met, we bonded over an appreciation of ‘dirty’ food. In fact, for a woman who sings the praises of kale and spirulina to anyone who will listen, I have a penchant for massive dirty feasts whenever we catch up.

The second I found out about Dirty Tommi’s, he was guaranteed an invite.

Dirty Tommi’s, you see, is a limited time Sunday pop-up collaboration between Tommi’s Burger Joint and Dirty Bones. Being held at the latter, the pop-up combines some of Ross Clarke (Dirty Bones) and Siggi Gunnlaugsson’s (Tommi’s) most celebrated dishes alongside some special creations.

The evening went a little something like this:
– Oozing over my dining partner’s Dirty Bounty hard shake (Bacardi gold rum, Wood’s overproof rum, coconut cream, chocolate ice cream, milk, chocolate sauce) while sipping a rather dangerous cocktail of my own.
– Glazing my face in the homemade barbecue sauce of the sticky pork ribs and trading one for a lemon, chilli and spring onion-covered chicken wing.
– Diving headfirst into the incredible creation that is the Tommi’s Burger Dog; Tommi’s burger served doggy style with confit onion, Dirty Bones short rib, crispy shallots, dirty cheese sauce, and dill pickles
– Wishing I had the appetite to go for my companion’s Dirty Mac Burger; Tommi’s beef patty, Dirty Bones steak glaze, and charred lettuce, all topped with Dirty Bones mac and cheese
– Managing to get halfway through an order of Sloppi Dirty Fries before realising there would be no way I’d have room for the milk and cookies I had targeted on my earlier menu perusal…
-…but knowing that triple cooked fries covered in Tommi’s sloppi joe mince, Kimchi sauce, spring onions, and gravy (optional) was so worth it.

Dirty Tommi’s is open – for now – every Sunday (that’s tomorrow!) for lunch between 12-4pm and for dinner between 6pm-11pm. I urge you to go so I can keep Burger Dogs in my mealtime inventory.

dirty tommis at dirty bones
dirty tommis at dirty bones
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In Review: Afternoon Tea at Hotel Cafe Royal

hotel cafe royal afternoon tea 3
I have frequented Hotel Cafe Royal a number of times over the past two years and each visit – inclusive of afternoon teas, dinners, champagne and caviar excursions, et all – has been a pleasure.

Nothing, however, prepared me for this afternoon tea. Swapping the Ten Room for the gold-dipped Oscar Wilde Bar, Chef Andrew Turner’s newly-launched London High Society afternoon tea menu ticked every opulent box you could imagine.

I would endeavour to put the Oscar Wilde into words, but you simply have to experience it for yourself. ‘Royal’ is an understatement.

Settled in among a hidden congregation of fellow afternoon gluttons, The Manfriend and I cheersed our glasses of Veuve Clicquot and perused the tea menu before the amuse bouche was served. The ‘Low Sidecar Muffin’ was a fluffy and savoury delight accented by truffled cream cheese and a miniature pipette of jus.

Shortly thereafter, my pot of Queensbury (a refreshing, herbal infusion of lemongrass, fennel seed
and liquorice root) arrived alongside three tiers of savouries. For each person, there was a wild boar, crackling, pickled apple and mustard bun, a goat’s cheese puff with wine jelly, a Mary Rose prawn cocktail canape, a London Cure smoked salmon and quail’s egg pastry, and an artfully presented “Cucumber and cream cheese” sandwich…

…all preceeding a palate cleanser of chocolate marshmallows and a shot of fruit tea, of course.

Pausing to take a mid-tea teabreak (oh yes, there’s more) while the pianist tinkled the ivories to a few familiar melodies, we finished our pots and welcomed the sweets and scones with open plates.

Though neither of us has a particular sweet tooth, we are veritable SconeHeads so chatted, jammed, and clotted-creamed our way through the small basket of fresh scones between bites of the other fruit-filled treats.

High points: Absinthe green fairy macarons, edible flower pots, and individual tubes of lemon curd.

High society may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Cafe Royal’s edible version is instinctively praise-worthy.

hotel cafe royal afternoon tea 1
hotel cafe royal afternoon tea 8
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