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In Review: The 15-course tasting menu at HKK, London

hkk london
I wasn’t expecting to discover my all-time favourite beef dish at a Chinese restaurant, but it happened. It happened at HKK.

At the helm, Michelin-starred Chef Tong Chee Hwee has turned the Hakkasan Group’s abbreviated sibling into a banquet-style celebration of Cantonese cuisine. While HKK does offer a la carte options, the tasting menus are the restaurant’s pride and glory.

Two SLR-strapped women and a 15-course tasting menu each? It had to be done.

Knowing we’d have to table our cocktail habit to make our way through all fifteen dishes, we decided to kick things off with the horrifically named (but truly scrumptious) ‘Washing Potatoes’ – a zesty blend of kiwi, ginger, coriander, lychee and apple juice – before sticking to some good ol’ H20.

Now, the feast.

Priced at £98 per head, I had very high expectations of the tasting menu but was blown away by the delivery of each course. Every bite is a careful and intricate selection of flavours and textures that far exceeds all preconceived ideas of ‘Chinese food’.

Verbally, the introduction to the 15-course tasting menu reads a bit like heaven: whelk salad with Shaoxing wine jelly, then roasted Poulet de Bresse, foie gras and mandarin confit, the ‘HKK supreme’ seafood soup (a truffle-infused life changer), cherry wood roasted Peking duck (hand-carved tender flesh, crispy skin, and a moreish blend of salad and pancake), a dim sum trilogy (some of the best in London, served with a paintbrush to ‘paint’ your soy sauce onto each ball), chargrilled quail and Mui Choi rice, then a light sugar snap, lotus root and water chestnut salad.

Seven down, eight to go.

Before moving on to Number Eight, HKK pause to serve a Da Hong Pao tea ceremony and light palate-cleansers. As China is currently celebrating its mid-Autumn festival, Chef Tong Chee Hwee has specially created two exquisite moon cakes – a sweet moon cake with a lotus seed and red date enveloped by delicate pastry and a savoury and sweet snow-skin moon cake with a nutty, lotus seed centre – to be served with the ceremony until September 13th.

After nibbles, sips, and the feeling that The Force might indeed Be With Us, we pushed through to the next stage of the tasting menu.

For the ‘mains’, we were presented with an incredible plate of grilled New Zealand scampi in truffle miso sauce, Hong Kong style steamed lotus leaf halibut, seared Wagyu beef with Enoki mushrooms (absolutely, definitely the best beef dish I’ve had anywhere, ever), and Chinese-spiced Rhug Farm organic lamb. Almost definitively, each course was a gastronomic work of art.

Unable to retrain ourselves from leaving a single morsel behind over two hours, we were feeling 100 types of exhausted by the time we reached dessert. Alas, beautiful layers of strawberry, verbena cream and almond brittle still preceded a raspberry and dark chocolate delice with cocoa nibs and, dutifully, we attempted to fork our way through to the very end.

Staring (defeated) at our selection of petits fours, we took a second to reflect on the meal and go through my standard review of noteworthy positives and negatives (aka The ‘Is It Blog-worthy? Test’).

There were no negatives. Not a single one. HKK’s food, service, and atmosphere is immaculate. To be quite honest, I might consider moving within walking distance.


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In Review: Uni, London

uni london
Though I once considered sushi to be my ‘favourite food’, years of easily accessible lunch sushi has taken a little bit of glitter away from the Japanese speciality. When something becomes your ‘lazy lunch’ go-to, it is hard to count it as a favourite.

Thank heavens for UNI.

Though Uni can be pigeonholed into ‘sushi’ territory, it is actually a vibrant melange of Peruvian and Japanese fusion. Situated in the quiet backstreets of London Victoria (where food takes a backseat to tourism crossroads), the Andrew Martin-designed restaurant is as impressive as its interior design relations.

UNI was created by former Nobu chef Rolando Ongcoy and, in my opinion, trumps the Michelined Old Park Lane hangout on multiple levels.

First? The service. While UNI is designed to haute perfection (the bottled lightshades were a personal highlight), it is not stuffy or unfriendly. In fact, the staff deliver perfect knowledge, etiquette, and charm with each dish.

Of the dishes themselves? I’m not sure a careful compilation of words and photography could endear it as well as experience. Though we started modestly with edamame and a goma-dressed Kaiso seaweed salad, every plate – from the the yellowtail tiraditos (with kizami wasabi, yuzu, and fresh mint) to the Wagyu beef (with rock salt and chilli) – was an intoxicating blend of delicate, moreish, and unusual flavours. Flavours and ingredients so fresh it had me feeling like I was in a chewing gum commercial.

For this review, I feel it would be unjust to talk you through each dish. Rather, I simply hope you visit UNI and order at least one item from each section of the menu. It’s a divine exploration that even a sushi skeptic would gush over.

(Tip: Just, you know, don’t miss out on the crispy yuca seabass ceviche with chilli, amarillo, red onion. #CANTHELPMYSELF).

With pencil skirts tightening, my companion and I chose to leave dessert for a future visit, but I imagine it won’t take much of an occasion for me to return.

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uni london
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In Review: Drunch, London

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Due to its uber-Central location, I must have sped past Drunch hundreds of times before stopping in for a bite to eat.

‘A bite’ which transformed into ‘a feast’, natch.

The compact lounge turned out to be the ideal Central space for informal lunches and brunches; sensing this, I roped my hungriest male friend in for a catch-up between midweek meetings.

Settling into a booth, the first thing that struck me was the versatility of the menu and – having one of those all too common breakfastless mornings – how much I wanted try try a bit of everything.

With a fresh and handmade feel to their varied options, I ended up sampling Cecilia’s Detox & Cleanse smoothie (a sublime mix of green apple, pear, kiwi, ginger, lemon, avocado, mint, parsley and curly kale) while tucking into a small plate of crispy squid with seasonal szechuan peppers, garlic mayo, sweet chilli and spring onions. On a similar seafood wavelength, my lunch date chose the butterfly tiger prawns in a mild garlic and butter sauce alongside his banana, date and coconut milk smoothie.

A strange mix? Perhaps – yet this is the kind of menu that begs you to sample far and wide. This became blatqntly obvious by the waiter’s bemused reaction to our mains…

…post smoothies and seafood, we ordered breakfast food and burgers.

Specifically, the sweetly simplistic and flavourful Drunch Cheeseburger (served medium with salad and french fries) and Scrambled Eggs & Smoked Salmon because no respectable human can refuse a fluffy plate of fresh muffins,crème fraîche scramble, salmon and chives.

With my next meeting approaching, I decided to wrap things up with a signature latte (mad props for being the first place to incorporate an animal into their latte art) before being persuaded – by my gluten free brownie-stalking companion – that my day wouldn’t be quite as amazing if I left without trying the RIP Diet Cheesecake.

For a tombstone, it is rather dreamy.

And for Drunch’s unassuming reputation and demeanour, the lunch far exceeded my expectations. After all, anywhere that allows me to order like a mad glutton gets my vote.

drunch london
drunch london
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A Tour of Innocent HQ: The Art of Good Taste

innocent hq 1
Last week, I traipsed on over to innocent HQ (aka Fruit Towers) to spend the evening chatting, nibbling, learning, and juice-making – all in an ode to The Art of Good Taste.

Welcomed to the evening with my own Lela London-branded innocent smmoothie (I’m genuinely going to make this happen), I was then taken on a tour of innocent’s headquarters; all inclusive of lego walls, phone boots, juice labs, train track-covered meeting rooms, and more…

Between taste training and catch-ups with friends old and knew, we enjoyed moreish nibbles from The Dip Society (including a so-called ‘Crack Brownie’ that had everyone loopy like it was served with a side of Ryan Gosling).

After undergoing innocent’s official sensory training (I passed! #SUPERPALATE) and trying our legs at juicing fruit and veg with a cycle-powered blender, we capped things off with an interactive talk by the authors of the best-selling ‘The Flavor Bible’, Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg.

All in all, a fabulous evening.

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In Review: Vapiano Soho, London

vapiano soho london
The well-reviewed Italian ‘chain’ restaurant Vapiano recently opened their third UK site on Wardour Street in Soho.

Try as I might to avoid chains, my intrigue finally got the better of me.

Dragging my best and hungriest guy friend along for the ride, we decided to spend a long lunch hoisted on the bar stools of Vapiano’s least-busy location (the Great Portland Street restau is always heaving with The Lunch Crowd).

The concept, in theory, is ingenious: upon entering, you’re given a Vapiano card that gets charged every time you order an item from one of their various food and drink stations. When you’re ready to leave, you simply hand the card over to the F.O.H. team and settle your bill.

The issue? There is something lost in translation. Do you wait for your food to be made and take it back to your table? What if you have an issue with your food? What if you want multiple items – or courses – but don’t want to leave a conversation or wait in a queue? What if you’re in a large group and other people get their food much quicker than others (I saw this happen a few times between antipasti lovers and patient pizza lovers)?

Regardless of the card hoopla, I really enjoyed Vapiano. I found it to be great value, fresh, and a lovely atmosphere to dine in. The card system is simply not being executed in a way that does the food justice.

Lucky enough to arrive before the lunch rush, I got through a gorgeous strawberry and fresh spinach salad (dressed with goats’ cheese, red onions, pine nuts and homemade raspberry maple dressing), a plate of carpaccio, and the ‘death by chocolate’ cake – all of which totalled under £20. While my friend opted for a carby mix of bread-based antipasti, an ‘internationally inspired’ barbecue chicken pizza (topped with smoked cheese, red onion, tomato sauce, mozzarella, and barbecue sauce stripes), and a classic baked vanilla and lemon cheesecake, his feast was equally cheap and equally delicious.

My advice? Avoid the lunch rush, go with no more than three friends, and stagger your ordering. The food is worth it.

vapiano soho london review
vapiano soho london review
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