108 Brasserie | Dishes for Two in Marylebone Village

It’s taken me the better part of a year to get to 108 Brasserie, a bright, modern brasserie hotel restaurant located in the heart of Marylebone village.

Since January I’ve been receiving emails detailing each Dish of the Month, a featured main course designed to share between two. So far I’ve missed Josper grilled, dry aged tomahawk steak for two, with crunchy beer battered onion rings, homemade black truffle chips and a warming bone marrow gravy; roasted whole turbot with trumpet mushrooms, baby onions, spinach gratin and potato mousseline; roast Rack of slow-cooked neck of Devon lamb with spring vegetables; pan fried John Dory, fennel, pink grapefruit and tarragon vinaigrette and September’s Balmoral Estate venison Wellington with Savoy cabbage.

Luckily, October’s Dish of the Month was just as appealing – Josper grilled dry-aged porterhouse, baked bone marrow, hand cut chips and Stilton butter. Yeah!

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I’m always a little nervous about hotel restaurants – some are soulless places with menus designed to meet expense-account expectations. But I needn’t have worried. The Marylebone has an excellent location, surrounded by specialist food shops, cafes and restaurants and a good balance of office space and residential, which means the restaurant is extremely handy for a wide range of customers.

Although when we arrived, only two other tables were taken, within an hour, the place was almost full – impressive for a Monday lunch. People watching – a favourite pastime – had me guessing about which tables were business meetings (definitely the three men in suits that were posturing wildly at each other), which were hotel guests (perhaps the family of three on holiday in London?), which were ladies who lunch (the group of five?) and which might be clandestine romances or other more interesting rendezvous!

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Do not miss the home-made bread (£2.50) even if you’re not that hungry. Sourdough, Guinness brown bread and soda bread were all three very good but the Guinness brown bread was exceptional! Rich, treacly, moist with a deep flavour and just a touch of sweetness…

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And the good news is that it featured again in both our starters. The portion of Argyllshire smoked salmon was huge, though we ordered the smaller size (£9)– you can also order a larger portion and add scrambled eggs or avocado if you fancy, to make a perfect lighter lunch dish.

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Like the smoked salmon, my Dorset crab on toast (£12) came on toasted Guinness brown bread and with half a lemon handily wrapped and tied into muslin so the pips didn’t fall into my food. The serving of fresh, sweet crabmeat was generous, and I liked the balance of the lightly dressed watercress leaves and apple.

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On to the reason for our visit, October’s dish of the month. We ordered the Josper grilled dry-aged porterhouse, baked bone marrow, hand cut chips and Stilton butter (£65) to come medium rare, and it was cooked perfectly.

The dish was garnished with the Stilton butter (a really perfect addition to the beef), an additional jug of sauce – we chose Béarnaise – and baked breaded bone marrow, served in the half bone.

Also included is a bucket of fat golden chips – if you’re having starters and desserts, this will be more than enough, but if you’re just having mains, you may need an extra portion of chips – the same size bucket is also served to diners ordering a one-person meal such as the hamburger or rib eye steak. They’re decent too – crisp outside and fluffy within and wonderful dipped into the cheese butter and Béarnaise.

The beef, for those who like to know, is Scottish Aberdeen Angus dry-aged for 28 days and it was really very good. Great texture and flavour, excellently cooked; we enjoyed it enormously.

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I’ve been to more than one restaurant that excels at starters and mains but falls down on desserts. That’s definitely not the case at 108 Brasserie.

Lemon tart (£7) is a brasserie classic and this one was perfectly balanced between sweet and sharp and with that just-set texture to the filling that is so delightful to cut into.

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My favourite was the brown bread ice cream with caramelised walnuts and honeycomb (£7). As you might already have guessed, the ice cream is made using that delicious home-made Guinness brown bread and that really lifts it into the exceptional category – the crumbs of brown bread retain a dense chewiness that gives it a more substantial mouth-feel than most ice creams. The caramelised walnuts are sweet but with a decent bitterness from caramel properly pushed to the edge – a much needed balance to the super sweet honeycomb. I rarely go for ice cream when there are options such as warm chocolate fondant with peanut butter ice cream or baked coconut rice pudding with mango and passion fruit but in this case, I absolutely could not have been happier!

The wine list includes several very reasonably priced bottles and the presence of the neighbouring 108 bar means a wide selection of cocktails are also available.

Having already had positive reports from several friends, I was confident we’d enjoy our meal at 108 and yet I was still surprised at how much we enjoyed it – the menu is full of exactly the kind of food we really love eating, and the prices seem very reasonable for the quality as well as the generosity of portions.

Also worth mentioning is the set lunch menu, an absolute steal at just £17 for two courses and £23 for three, with a choice of three dishes for each course and all of them ones I’d happily order.

Kavey Eats dined as guests of 108 Brasserie.








Sagardi | A Taste Of The Basque Country

Already well established in Spain and Latin America, Sagardi have now opened a restaurant in London serving their well-honed Basque country cooking. The restaurant group was founded by chef Iñaki Viñaspre and focuses on traditional food from the region, which he promotes in association with the Basque Tourism Agency. At the heart of the menu are Basque ingredients, flown in daily from San Sebastián, with a focus on grilled meats and fish and seasonal produce.

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The restaurant is in Shoreditch, about ten minutes walk east of Old Street tube station. Just inside the door is a butcher’s counter, where the chefs can cut and prepare the meat. To the opposite side is a generous bar, and then one passes by the open kitchen to reach the main seating area.

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The interior is semi-industrial, with lots of bare concrete and exposed pipework but softened by lots of wood and leather; a kind of barnyard chic! I have no idea why there’s a vintage Basque fishing boat suspended to the ceiling – perhaps it represents the fish dishes on the menu? A large feature wine cabinet runs along the back wall.

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I struggle with the menu, partly because there are many things that tempt, but more because so many of the dishes I want to try are available only in large sharing portions which means we’re restricted to things that only both of us would enjoy. Steak, for example, is impossible to order unless at least two people want it for their main – they have no one-person cuts available. I’d really have liked to try the beef sweetbreads but again, the portion is a whole piece, listed as a main dish priced at £26 – I’d like to see it portioned so it could be enjoyed as a starter.

As we juggle through our choices for starters, our waitress tells us that all tables are being served a complimentary taste of the traditional pan-fried Orio txistorra – these thin little sausages are chorizo-like in flavour and a perfect taste-bomb to start with – so we are finally able to narrow our choices enough to pick two temptations.

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The charcoal-roasted Ibai pâté de Campagne (£12) is a really thick slice, served with a simple but delicious onion jam and some green leaves. I can’t detect any flavour notes from the charcoal roasting, but it’s a good, hearty pate. We enjoy it on excellent fresh sourdough bread (£2.50), served with the txistorra.

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I guess the assumption is that every starter is intended to be shared, rather than individual diners choosing different ones – The grilled morcilla from Biscay (£9) doesn’t come out until we’re just finishing up the pâté. In our case it’s not an issue but I often dine with fussy eaters who won’t eat half of what I fancy, so it might be helpful for the staff to ask whether starters are being shared or not, and have the kitchen time delivery accordingly.

It’s a really delicious black pudding, and I’m impressed by how thin the skin is compared to ones I’ve had before. If you’re a fan of morcilla, you need to try this!

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I would have preferred to order two different mains and taste a wider range of the menu, but as the smallest cuts of beef are huge, we went for one steak instead; it’s such a core feature of the menu. Two different options for Txuletón (Basque beef) are offered – vaca (ex dairy cows) and buey (Galician ox). After our helpful waitress Silvia showed us the two smallest cuts (so I could get a mental picture of just how enormous they were), we picked the 900 gram vaca, a ribeye on the bone, priced at £7/ 100 grams.

Cooked simply on the grill, it’s served sliced off the bone and laid out on a large plate. Salted to bring out the flavour, it’s a beautiful piece of beef, with a rich beefy flavour.

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There are a few menu items that appear in more than one section of the menu – the slow-roasted Tolosa-style red piquillo peppers (£16) being listed as both a starter and a side dish. These were silky soft and absolutely delicious but seemed a small portion for the price tag. Our other side dish was more substantial – homemade Sagardi style potatoe wedges (£5) which are basically skin-on thick-cut chips.

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I’m glad we decided to be a little greedy and squeezed in desserts!

This traditional Goxua sponge cake with chantilly cream (£7) is only for the sweet-toothed – a gorgeous sponge with a thick layer of cream, topped with a creamy custard and a cracking layer of bruléed sugar, it was super sweet, soft and very good.

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Our second choice was another winner, though less of a hard hitter on the sugar front. Poached peaches in txakoli sparkling white wine syrup served with lemon verbena ice cream (£7) were a last taste of summer. Even with the ice cream, they were a much lighter choice. The chopped fruit was perfectly poached to retain its shape and yet be pleasingly soft all the way through; the syrup had a good balance between tartness and sweet and the wonderfully smooth lemon verbena ice cream was just the right partner for the peaches.

On the drinks front, I liked the list of sixteen gins offered for gin and tonic – and a choice of tonics too – and that my G&T was made freshly for me on a trolley pushed to our table. As I’d expected from the wine cabinets across the back wall, the wine list is extensive, with a strong selection from the Basque Country, and there are several Basque ciders as well – Sagardi is named for the term for the smell of apples when made into cider, after all. Several cocktails feature Txakoli firewater, with some classics cocktails also available. There are beers too – with a good range of styles offered rather than lager after lager.

Overall, we really enjoyed the meal and I’d certainly go back, though only with a group of at least four people.

You’ve already picked up on my frustration that the menu is designed for larger groups – even with two of us, the portion sizes were a challenge. Of course, I am certain this reflects the way people dine in the Basque Country; larger groups of family and friends can order lots of dishes to be shared family-style. For me, a little adjustment to better cater for those dining in ones, twos and threes would be a positive move – especially when it comes to the grilled meat dishes.

What I loved the most was the focus on fresh ingredients, cooked simply to let them shine. Everything we had was delicious.

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Sagardi London.



The Ninth by Jun Tanaka

I like Jun Tanaka. I like his food, I like his approach and style of cooking, and on the occasions I’ve met him at a food event or cookery demonstration, I’ve liked his gentle and warm demeanour.

His latest restaurant has been on my To Eat list for several months.

Located on Charlotte Street in the heart of Fitzrovia – a neighbourhood full of restaurants, bars and food stores – this is The Ninth restaurant kitchen in which Tanaka has worked, giving rise to the minimalist name. The menu is all small plates, ideal for sharing but one or two dishes work equally well for a solo visit. The food is broadly French Mediterranean in style.

My visit coincided with one of the sunniest days of summer so the folding glass doors were pulled fully open to the breeze. Our table just inside the terrace afforded the perfect balance of blessed shade, fresh air and sunlight.

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Crisp red mullet, pickled carrots, fennel and shallots: a beautifully cooked piece of fish in a light, crisp batter, balanced nicely by the light pickled vegetables.

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Crisp lamb shoulder, tomato, watermelon and feta salad: I’ve come across watermelon and feta but wasn’t sure how well it would work with lamb shoulder and tomatoes, but of course it was excellent. Lovely crunch from little gem and cucumber and lots of flavour from softened red onions and a thick herby dressing.

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Pan-fried herb gnocchi, girolles and peas: Wish this dish had been a little more generous as it was superbly good. Soft, light, gnocchi packed with herb flavour, perfect coated in the thick garlicky sauce. The addition of girolle mushrooms and fresh peas was just the right choice.

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Salted beef cheeks, oxtail consomme, peas, broad beans and girolles: Another delicious dish, far more generous than the gnocchi so if you’re only ordering one or two, it may be worth asking staff about portion sizes. The salted ox cheek was soft, mildly salty, beefy and delicious with the vegetables of summer, shiny from the rich broth.

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Sorbet: the flavours of the day were strawberry and coconut, both packing a punch and both silky smooth with not an ice crystal in sight. We loved the extra touch of serving these in a freezer-chilled cast-iron serving dish, which kept them cool while we ate. The strawberry had that wonderful flavour of fully ripened fresh berries. Likewise the coconut was impressively intense, the sweeter of the two flavours.

The set lunch menu here is an absolute steal with two plates priced at £17 and three at £21. My friend and I ordered four savoury dishes and shared a dessert, making our food bill just £38 plus service. For cooking of this calibre, that must surely be one of the best deals in London right now?





Gatti’s Italian Restaurant | City Point

Last week I was invited to a blogger dinner at Gatti’s, an Italian restaurant that’s recently moved to a new City Point location close to Moorgate station. The restaurant, which opened in Broadgate in 1989, is believed to have been named in honour of Luigi Gatti, a successful London front of house restaurant manager who was appointed by White Star Lines to run their exclusive Ritz Restaurant for first class passengers of the Titanic. Only 3 of nearly 70 staff working for the restaurant survived the sinking of the great ship.

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Owner Jenny Carpenter took over the restaurant in 2013 but learned shortly afterwards that the building was earmarked for destruction. So she decided to move the restaurant to a new location just half a kilometer away, that move being completed earlier this year. In honour of the move, she has launched new and old set menus, one to celebrate the traditional classic dishes and the other to showcase more contemporary twists on Italian cuisine.

The restaurant has a partnership with Veuve Cliquot which features on both menus so we started the evening with a tasting of the famous champagne house’s new Veuve Cliquot Rich, a sweeter offering developed for use in cocktails. Most of my dining companions found it too sweet on its own but enjoyed it in cocktails. With my sweet tooth, I preferred it plain. That said I’d not pay the high price point for it myself.

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An amuse bouche of parmesan sabayon with black truffle and a parmesan shaving was a deliciously rich start to our meal and I appreciated having the fresh truffles shown to the table as we ate.

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My friend and I split two starters so we didn’t have to choose between them. Grilled scallops, asparagus, ginger, garlic and fresh chilli dressing with crispy Parma ham was a large plate of three generously-sized fat scallops with the coral still attached – this makes me happy as it’s so rarely served and so full of flavour. The asparagus was a touch overcooked for me, very soft with no vegetable bite remaining. The dressing was delicious though the ginger rather subtle, and no sign of the chilli whatsoever; I don’t think that’s a bad thing, it worked well as it was.

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Tempura di Mare was enormous for a starter, a dinner plate piled high with battered prawns, scampi and calamari. Served with a tartar sauce, I’m not sure why this was labelled tempura rather than fritto but it was a good dish, either way. My only complaint here was the inclusion of unshelled butterflied king prawns, the shells far too thick to be edible and quite a pain to extract from the batter and shell.

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A palate cleanser of lemon and prosseco sorbet was superb, well balanced between sweet and sharp, and a good antidote to the buttery dressing on the scallops and the tempura batter.

Linguine All’ Aragosta (linguine with lobster and fresh tomatoes) proved true to the pattern, an enormous serving – more pasta than we cook for two of us at home. Once again, a generous amount of lobster meat made this very classic dish feel rather decadent .

Other mains on the table included ravioli of confit duck leg and porcini mushrooms with grated foie gras – this was not a success with clumsily thick pasta and a dense and dry filling dominated by the porcini rather than the duck. Scottata di Tonno, a large fried tuna steak with sesame seeds and pistachio pesto looked wonderful, and perfectly cooked tuna too. The Scottish beef fillet was also cooked beautifully and the port wine reduction looked right up my street, though the person who ordered it found it a touch sweet.

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One of the things I really loved seeing was the Gatti’s old-fashioned meat trolley – with a different roast served every day, this is fabulously retro! We tried small tasters of the day’s roast beef and it was superb, very good flavour and cooked perfectly rare with an outrageously beefy gravy generously poured over the plate. However, my Yorkshire pudding was really overcooked; burnt rather than pleasantly browned. I left it uneaten.

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We were given a taster of three desserts, though if I go again I’ll choose from the desserts trolley – a wonderful throwback to a bygone era. The passion fruit panna cotta was OK, a little too much gelatin gave it a hard and bouncy set rather than the lovely light wobble of a good example. Chocolate mousse was a disaster, the pleasant chocolate orange flavour altogether cancelled out by a very grainy texture – perhaps the chocolate seized or the eggs cooked and curdled – whatever caused it, it’s a shame the kitchen didn’t notice and make a fresh batch. Best of the three was the tiramisu, light, full of flavour and a satisfying finish.

Overall, Gatti’s is a mixed bag. Some superb dishes, made with good quality ingredients, cooked well and full of flavour. Others that missed the mark and let the side down. A generosity of spirit in the portions, including the more expensive ingredients such as truffle and lobster, certainly make for a feeling of goodwill and hospitality; this is echoed by enthusiastic kitchen and front of house teams. Value is very good, with both set menus priced at just £34.99 for three courses plus a glass of Veuve Cliquot champagne. This would be a fun place to come with a group, especially for fussy eaters – I think Italian is one of those cuisines that nearly everyone enjoys.

Kavey Eats dined as a guest of Gatti’s restaurant.







Hatchetts Restaurant & Bar

Hatchetts Restaurant in Shepherd Market has quite the back story and to make a nice change, it’s a real one rather than a marketing fairy tale (albeit with no direct link to the new business). Built in 1703, Hatchett’s Hotel (with the White Horse Cellar pub in the basement below) was a popular stopover for cross-country travellers catching a horse-drawn coach to or from the West Country. Dickens mentioned it in his Pickwick Papers and the traffic jams caused by the flurry of mail and passenger coaches earned it the local nickname of Piccadilly Nuisance. For well over two centuries it ran as a hotel and pub, but the business failed in the 1950s. A few years later it was bought by an entrepreneur who turned it into a glitzy nightclub, music venue and restaurant (known as Hatchetts without the apostrophe); a glamorous hub for celebrities and party animals in the sixties and seventies.

This month, Hatchetts Restaurant and Bar has opened at nearby 5 White Horse Street (the street name no doubt being the tie in to the historic hotel and bar). It offers a small ground floor bar serving cocktails and small plates and an 80-seat downstairs restaurant offering modern British cooking. Owned, designed and run by Duncan Watson-Steward, an experienced pub restaurateur, the kitchen is run by Chef Andrew Evans who’s worked alongside many of the UK’s top chefs including Hix, Ramsay, Wareing, Hartnett and Henderson.

On a warm summer evening, with windows and doors flung open, the upstairs bar was full of boisterous customers but the basement restaurant was very quiet with just the two of us, and later one more couple. I imagine the too-loud music was an attempt to provide some ambience but I’d have been happier without it; I’m sure that will improve as the restaurant becomes better known and more popular.

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The menu is enormously appealing, making it really hard to choose – we skipped the small plates and salads and ordered from the more traditional starters, mains and desserts.

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While we were enjoying the fresh bread (with Netherend Farm butter), a lovely amuse bouche was served. Described as Modern Greek Salad, this sounded deceptively simple but delivered such intensity of flavours, it was quite a revelation. The fresh ripe tomatoes were, as expected, each distinct in flavour but it was the combination of whipped feta (with a texture like yoghurt), little cubes of pickled cucumber and powerful black olive tapenade that really made this dish shine – each one balancing so beautifully with the star-of-the-show tomatoes.

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My starter of Devonshire Crab & Nectarine Salad, Brown Crab Mayo, Cucumber, Samphire & Borage (£11.5) was another winner. I couldn’t imagine in my head quite how the combination of very thinly nectarine and crab mayonnaise would work but it did – the sweetness and texture of the ripe fruit complementing rather than disguising white crab meat mixed into a brown crab meat mayonnaise. On the side, a pretty salad of samphire, cubes of pickled cucumber, tiny rolls of fresh cucumber and lovely borage flowers and leaves. I sometimes find that unusual cheffy pairings of ingredients don’t work – there’s damn good reason they aren’t a classic combo – but this peachy crab duo was spectacularly successful.

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Pete’s Scorched Mackerel, Apple & Fennel Purée, Mackerel Tartare (£7) was quickly polished off too. The scorch-blackened  fillet was nicely cooked – crispy skin and silky soft flesh in every bite. Apple and fennel puree balanced the oily fish and the tartare on top added a welcome freshness.

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When ordering my starter I dithered between the crab and the Spiced Lamb Sweetbreads, Minted Peas & Beans, Lamb Jus (£8.5) so the chef kindly sent out a little sample of the sweetbreads for me to try. Sweetbreads, when cooked well, are a thing of beauty and these were sublime, meltingly soft with a deep rich flavour further enhanced by a rich gravy. Peas and pea shoots were a great foil, the slightly woolly broad beans less so.

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I could not resist the 12oz Shorthorn Ribeye on the Bone, Lyonaisse Potatoes & Bone Marrow Gravy (£24) and wasn’t disappointed. Shorthorn beef, dry-aged for 35 days, the steak was full of flavour and perfectly cooked to my requested medium despite the thin cut – I go medium rare for most cuts but prefer the extra cooking to melt the fat in a rib-eye. The Lyonnaise potatoes were delicious, finished in butter and mixed with properly caramelised onions, I ate far too many! A deep, rich chicken stock gravy and a pile of watercress finished the dish. When you serve a simple classic, it must be done flawlessly and for me, this was.

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The first thing I want to applaud about the Caramelised Onion Tart, Roasted Baby Beets, Braised Courgette & Watercress, Rosary Ash Goats Cheese (£11) is the price – how often are vegetarian dishes ludicrously overpriced to be in line with the meat and fish? Very refreshing to see prices reflective of the cost of ingredients! As for the dish itself – crisp and crumbly shortcrust pastry filled with caramelised onion and rich cream and cheese, though the filling was far sloppier in texture than expected. In the side salad, salty Ash goats cheese balanced sweet roastd baby beets, tossed together with braised courgettes and mixed green leaves. A really lovely summery dish with lots of flavour.

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Desserts were too much of a temptation, even though we were fairly full. My Dark Chocolate Marquis, Milk Chocolate Mousse, Cherry Glaze & Cherry Sorbet (£7) was decent – rich dense dark chocolate base, light milk chocolate mousse and a really punchy morello cherry sorbet – a new take on the flavours of black forest cake.

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Pete’s Buttermilk Pudding & Poached Rhubarb, Rhubarb & Hisbiscus Sorbet (£7) put a smile on his face. The wibbly-wobbly rectangular buttermilk pudding layered with poached rhubarb was panna cotta-like in texture, and nicely complemented by a ball of rhubarb and hibiscus sorbet. Also on the plate, little blocks of gin and tonic jelly, wild hibiscus flowers poached in rose tea syrup and some freeze dried yuzu. Attractive and unusual without being outlandish, this was a pretty and well balanced pudd.

Through all of the dishes we tried, the combination of flavours and textures and the skilful way everything was cooked were a delight. I’m certainly keen to go again in a few months and see what chef Evans does with autumn and winter seasonal ingredients.

I’m not a fan of noisy shouting-filled restaurants, but the ambiance and low-level buzz of more customers will certainly improve the experience, and that shouldn’t take long. I am sure it’ll be busier a few more weeks into business.

Be aware that, like many basement restaurants in historical buildings, there is no disabled access, nor would any but the narrowest of wheelchairs be able to access the ground floor facilities. There are (long term) plans to install a lift, but no ETA on that for the moment.

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Hatchetts Restaurant.




Shaking the Shakshuka at Cafe Loren, Camden

A dish from the Middle East that’s become increasingly popular in recent years, shakshuka is perfect for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner – a delicious bowl of eggs braised in a spiced tomato sauce, usually served with freshly baked bread. Cafe Loren owner Lee Penn is a huge fan which is why his Camden-based restaurant specialises in this one dish. He first learned to make the dish from his grandmother, who cooked it for the family often. But he soon branched out to innovate many variations, running his own shakshuka restaurant in Israel before moving to London and launching Cafe Loren.

Just under the bridge by Camden Lock, several small tables are nestled in the space beneath one of the arches, right at the heart of Camden’s best shopping and eating. It’s a cosy little space, warm and welcoming.

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The menu is short and sweet; eight different shakshukas plus a seasonal special that changes daily and a few sharing plates that make a great shared starter or a handy lunch for one on their own. There are also a few sweet treats if you want to pop in for a quick coffee break rather than a full meal.

Not all the shakshuka options include tomato – there’s a Green Shakshuka (£8.70) featuring spinach, leeks, green peppers, avocado and basil and a White Shakshuka (£8.60) that combines onions, mushrooms, feta and cream cheese.

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We start with the Mediterranean Plate (£5.50) of challah bread, homemade hummus, cheese burakas and olives. Also on the board are sharp salty olives, some crunchy slices of cucumber and a glossy pot of tahini. The hummus is delicious, fresh and with great texture and flavour. The cheese buraka is lifted by the properly tangy mature cheese within and the challah bread is wonderfully fresh and soft.

Lee explains that he buys the bread in fresh every day from a local specialist bakery.

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Red Shakshuka (£8.50) is a classic combination of eggs poached in a tomato, onion, red pepper, girl and harissa mix. It comes with olives, tahini and a delicious plump pitta bread. I find the sauce a little light and liquidy – I prefer my shakshuka sauce to be richer and more cooked down, but the flavours are delicious and wonderful with the pitta.

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The Green Shakshuka (£8.70) is likewise quite wet, though that works well for dipping chunks of the seeded brown roll. It comes with a tangy garlic sauce and I add a tiny pot of smoked salmon on the side (80p). I love this idea of a green shakshuka and the basil flavour of the sauce is delightful.

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Drinks include the usual hot teas, coffees and Hot chocolate (£2.85) plus a selection of freshly made fruit and vegetable smoothies and a list of iced coffees for summer.

Open a year this week, Cafe Loren has already built up a loyal customer base who drop by regularly for a tasty meal at any time of the day.  Open from 8.00 am to 8.30 pm, this is a lovely addition to the food options around Camden Lock.

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Cafe Loren.



Smoke & Salt in Residence at The Chapel Bar, Islington

Residencies are the latest evolution of the London dining scene. A venue with a spare kitchen and dining room rents it out on a short to medium term basis and the menu, cooking and service is handled by the resident(s).

In some instances, a residency is a step forward from the humble supperclub, a path into the catering profession for once-amateur cooks such as Asma Khan whose Darjeeling Express supperclub moved from her living room to The Sun & 13 Cantons Pub and Restaurant in Soho for 9 months. This gave Asma the opportunity to develop a much larger customer-base, many of whom are ready and waiting for whatever she does next and also helped her to hone the business skills needed to manage a project of this scale.

In the case of Smoke & Salt, a residency is a way for young blood chefs to get their cooking out to the public without the full expense of funding their own permanent restaurant, an enormously expensive endeavour.

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Remi Williams and Aaron Webster are the duo behind Smoke & Salt, which they created after meeting a few years ago when both were working in the same London restaurant kitchen. After a series of pop ups during the last couple of years, they have signed the lease on the upstairs space within The Chapel Bar and are offering a £38 tasting menu (available Monday to Thursday evenings) that showcases their interest in techniques such as curing, smoking and preserving, and their commitment to high quality British produce. They also offer a brunch menu on Sundays.

The drinks menu is provided by the landlords who run both the downstairs and upstairs bars and includes a good selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails, wines and soft drinks.

The tasting menu changes monthly, according to what’s in season. We visited in June.

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These Guinness-glazed pretzels served warm with with whipped olive oil butter were a superb start. Beautifully textured and great flavour and a little different to the usual bread offerings.

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Listed on the menu only as “Table Treats”, these consisted of a bowl of Smoke & Salt dry-rubbed mixed nuts, some house-cured biltong with a lovely kick to the spice and little pastries that we were told were thyme panelles made from chickpea and topped with roasted red pepper ketchup. We enjoyed all three snacks but both agreed that we’d swap the serving order, having these served to the table on arrival, to enjoy with drinks and then moving on to the bread as a start to the meal proper.

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The starter, called BLT, was a beautiful bowl of ricotta cavatelli (a small curled pasta shape), heritage tomatoes, grilled lettuce, bacon dashi, crispy bacon, sourdough and lettuce gremolata. It was a pretty dish to look at and enjoyable to eat, particularly the tomatoes and bacon, both of which were delicious.

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A ‘surprise’ mid-course of (Scottish) Wagyu Skirt Tartare was served next with pickled carrots and what was described as home-made marmite. The overwhelming flavour of the dressing was balsamic vinegar, indeed it was hard to taste anything else including the beef itself. The texture of the beef was great but I think the dressing needs work, as does the balance of how much is used for the small portion of beef.

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The main course was a real winner. Spring lamb cooked two ways – a few slices of perfectly grilled leg of lamb, served pink, and a crepinette of lamb reminiscent of a beef faggot. These worked well with a vivid and robust green garlic sauce, pickled okra and chewy roasted sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes) which were also served raw in very thin slices – they were crunchy like radish and a great contrast.

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Both my friend and I weren’t sure whether we’d like the dessert, as neither of us are fans of grapefruit but actually we both loved it, in fact I’d describe it as my dish of the meal. Pink grapefruit segments with a little charring, pink grapefruit curd, pink grapefruit gel, pink grapefruit sorbet, and candied grapefruit zest balanced with a lovely elderflower yoghurt and small chunks of pound cake. Full as I was, if they’d offered me a second bowl I’d absolutely have licked it clean!

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To finish, petit fours – a buttermilk fudge with buttermilk gel on top and coconut macaroons with (English) strawberries. The fudge was gorgeous but that sharp buttermilk on top didn’t work for either of us. The macaroons were delightful.

Remi and Aaron have forged a great partnership with both bringing different skills and ideas to the table, resulting in a very enjoyable meal. Overall I found the cooking very good, the inventiveness of the dishes and presentation intriguing and delicious and the ingredients were clearly of excellent quality.

For me, the pricing is a touch high and I’d rather see the ‘surprise’ course dropped in favour of reducing that headline price by a few pounds. Better still, make the table snacks an optional extra and bring the main menu price down another couple of quid. Including tea or coffee with the petit fours would also give a stronger impression of great value and potentially help bring people to the table.


Kavey Eats dined as guests of Smoke & Salt.






Giraffe’s Summer Menu | Guest Review

If you judged the nation’s eating habits from the contents of food blogs alone, you’d be forgiven for thinking we hardly visit restaurant chains at all. In reality most of my non-blogger friends, just like the wider population – especially those with young children – often favour chains, the best of which offer familiarity, family-friendly menus, a comfortable and pleasant environment, consistency (and hopefully good quality) of food and service, all at a known price point. And the truth is that us food bloggers visit chain restaurants too even if you don’t see it on our blogs very often; my personal favourites include Byron Hamburgers and Ask Italian, and I had an excellent meal at Jamie’s Italian last year. It’s just that it’s so much easier to write about (and let’s face it, more interesting and potentially more delicious to visit) one of the many exciting independent restaurants – and us Londoners are certainly spoiled for choice; our city has more restaurants than we could visit in a lifetime!

Today Kavey Eats is visiting Giraffe, a 60-strong nationwide chain currently owned by Tesco’s (but perhaps for not much longer, according to reports that they’re looking to sell).

Guest blogger Janine Marsh visited Giraffe’s London Spitalfields branch to check out some of their new summer dishes and cocktails, as well as a few menu stalwarts. An excellent writer with attention for detail and a nice turn of phrase, this is Janine’s first foray into restaurant reviews, and I think she’s done a great job of bringing the experience to life.

Over to Janine:

My lasting impressions of Giraffe were formulated from a trip once with a (now) ex-boyfriend who had decided that vegan was the best way forward for our relationship and for the ease of cooking. I would eat vegan at home (his not mine) and have non vegan food whilst eating out. This resulted in the exotic dish of Huevos Rancheros full of richness of eggs and cheese that turned me upside down and inside out and left me with a traumatic memory. Thinking it may have been food poisoning but actually now putting it down to my ex and his simple living ways, I have now returned to Giraffe a few years later as a newly reformed non vegan both at home and out and about, hoping to seek pleasure and comfort in a new summer menu.

It was early evening and the branch in Spitalfields was not very busy. Sometimes I have found this can make staff more lax in their service however it was the complete opposite during this evening service. The staff were welcoming and attentive right from the moment we walked in. I noticed everyone was keeping themselves busy cleaning, sorting and attending to the customers with a frequency that was not enough to overstrain anyone’s sense of personal space.

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My friend (a fellow foodie) and I started with a cocktails from the summer menu and decided to taste one each of the Grapefruit and Vanilla Daiquiri (£6.75) and Mango Colada (6.75). The Daiquiri had an immediate kick to it although you couldn’t taste the vanilla. The grapefruit was really refreshing and summery with sour notes. It was sophisticated and easy drinkable and as a result of its deliciousness, finished rather quickly. In contrast, the Mango Colada was more watery than creamy, with a strong pineapple undercurrent and absolutely no taste of mango. It’s been a while since I had one but let’s say it didn’t take me back to the paradise that I had it in. It slightly changed taste when sipped with the starter of Prawn Saganaki and became a little more intense but still not something I wanted to finish.

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There’s nothing to say about the Prawn Saganaki (£6.50) other than ‘bring me more please!’ From the minute you put the first prawn in your mouth which was succulent and full of flavour, the tomato sauce was simmered to perfection in a full flavoured and mildly spicy way. The feta cheese provided an amazing creamy contrast and depth to the tomatoes. The Tuscan bread was a little dry and not very flavoursome but worked well for finishing the juices off. I would eat that again and again!

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My friend counts herself as a semi officiado of Salt and Pepper Squid (£4.95 and for sharing £8.95) and has eaten a lot of this dish from the antipodean lands of her husband’s birth to the variety of Vietnamese restaurants up the road from this Spitalfields branch, in Hoxton. It’s unusual to have the chilli sauce as a dip and the batter was a bit heavy but the squid was cooked well and it had a nice peppery kick but not very salty although with today’s health warnings, the chef may have been thinking of the customer’s tickers. The portion size was perfect for one.

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We also shared the Tuscan Lamb Meatballs (£6.25). I have had a love affair with meatballs since the heady days of the 90’s as a twenty one year old in Little Italy in NYC. It’s now one of my dinner party dishes and I pack a lot of flavour in when I cook them. With these though, there was not a huge amount of flavour. The lemon yoghurt granita topping overpowered a flavour that should have been there if there was anything to counterbalance. It definitely needed to up the amount of seasoning in the dish. More parsley, thyme, and maybe some evidence of pancetta needed to make it authentically Tuscan? It would give it something worth eating for.

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During the starters, there were eagerly awaiting for our humble fingers, a couple of those Lemon fronted ‘FRESHER PACKET FOR CLEANSING’ sachets. My first thought is, we are definitely not flying first class. Please bring back finger bowls and lemon slices? Hot towels? Nothing at all? The ladies toilets were out of order so we had to form an orderly queue but very happy to refresh my hands using the normal soap and Dyson high speed dryer which is a pre-requisite for most establishments now considering everyone is always in a twenty first century rush.

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For the mains, the waitress suggested we try another of the new cocktails and also her personal favourite the Whisky Cooler (£6.95). We found during the evening that she was very well informed and knew her food and what was the best on the menu. Woah! A straight up your nose fizzy, fruity, whisky with a rounded flavour, passion fruit seeds (like bubble tea but less work) wonderful summer drink! The Whisky Cooler. Finished.

The El Diablo (£6.95) with ginger beer, lime juice, cassis and Tequila, according to my friend was both sweet and sour and refreshing, similar to that of an adult ice lolly. The Tequila gave a sourness and the ginger beer its fizz. Like fangtastic Haribos she said!

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So to the Bombay Chicken Dahl (available from 12-5, Monday – Friday, for £7.95 as part of lunch menu). A plate of Dahl. You lost me at Plate! For someone who regularly eats out with a dining club called the #EATUPCREW based mainly of South Indian food experts, this was Dahl with an identity complex. Black bean, chickpea, butternut squash (hard and watery), chicken (watery), (I hate anything watery) this should be labelled curry but even that is at a push. The tastiest part was the Pink onions on the salad. Salad? Where was the rice? This dahl really doesn’t really know what it is yet in terms of evolution. I felt sorry for it. I now know that I should never go for curries in a non-authentic environment.

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The Scandi Salad (£11.95) however was love at first taste! No celery or cucumber for those whose reflux is of a delicate nature. This salad was packed full of fresh dill, crunchy lettuce, slightly crushed potato, a scattering of salty capers and a vinegary sharpness. It was like the best potato salad you have ever eaten but better as it was topped with a substantial portion of a lightly fragrant poached salmon. It was summery, moreish, light and hearty all at once. It was ‘forks at dawn’ for my friend and I. Never normally going for a main course salad, this was massively substantial and has changed my mind. I would go back for it in an instant!

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We decided to try a vegetarian option in homage to my previous life and Bowl for the Soul (£7.50) came recommended although the waitress said this was not a popular choice with customers but one she had tasted and loved. The dish was vegetarian only because the lack of chicken or prawns which was an extra you could add from the menu. I think that they should think of something hearty like tofu to add texture but the overall dish was exactly what it describes itself as. A comforting Bowl for the Soul. Oozy fried egg with crunchy edges that gave a lovely sauce, fresh coriander, a nice hit of chilli, peppers, French beans that felt like they had been lovingly bubbled in a steamy sauna to crunchy fresh perfection. It reminded me of my first taste of Nasi Goreng in Kuala Lumpar. There could have been an option of soy sauce in the condiments basket but we settled for a splash of tabasco instead.

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There was also a small cheeky side dish of Sweet Potato Fries with chipotle mayo (£3.95) which was crunchy soft and definitely moreish.

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For pudding I ordered the White Chocolate and Passion Fruit Cheesecake (£5.50) and my friend, the Banana Waffle Split (£5.50). I was a bit confused when ice cream sundae spoons were placed next to a fresh napkin. I couldn’t taste the white chocolate and the unusually chocolatey base was crumbly but not very flavoursome. The passionfruit overpowered everything. More flavour in the cheesecake was needed. Give me a good vanilla cheesecake done well any day. Another fall back from my days in NYC.

My friend’s reaction to the first mouthful of the Banana Split Waffle was ‘Oh that’s good’! With a banana gooey caramel taste, chocolate sauce and caramel. There were different textures in one mouthful alongside the sweet crunchy waffle which maybe, on second taste could have been a little lighter on the batter but apart from that it was a waffly good dessert. Could also be good for breakfast, was a suggestion.

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My usual Giraffe Moroccan Mint Tea (£1.95), which was missing its normal sprig of mint in the glass, ended the meal whilst my friend’s chosen ending, a Flat White (£2.55) was too milky but that’s coming from someone whose husband’s antipodean roots invented the drink so she knows her coffee.

In conclusion, I think it’s ambitious to put yourself out there as a World Café. It doesn’t always work when you are selling a wide variety of dishes. I would say stick to simpler dishes that don’t take too long to create stronger flavours. Curries always need a lot of love and attention if they are to have the authentic taste. Make them authentic and bubble them for days, serve dahl in a bowl with a spoon. Be bold! That never to be mentioned again dahl had never even had a curry leaf wafted near it let alone in it.

There are certain world foods that could be created for the mainstream taste like Mexican although Wahaca has changed those flavour combos for me and constantly rocks my world. I will go back to Giraffe for the Prawn Saganaki, Bowl for the Soul (but for breakfast), my usual Mint tea and Halloumi Falafel Burger (a previous favourite) and of course breakfasts (my fave meal of the day) but until next time, I will dream of that Scandi salad. Did I mention that Scandi salad?

Kavey Eats reviewer Janine dined as a guest of Giraffe.

Captivating Kaiseki Cuisine at Hoshinoya Kyoto

Is there anything more charming than a restaurant to which one travels by small boat along a serene stretch of river in one of Japan’s most beautiful cities? One that also serves the highest quality Japanese cuisine, each dish a perfect balance between traditional classic and inventive modern?

If there is, I am yet to find it but it certainly has a hard act to follow in Hoshinoya Kyoto, a top-level kaiseki ryōri restaurant within the luxury inn of the same name.

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Kaiseki cuisine is a traditional multi-course meal consisting of a succession of seasonal, local and beautifully presented little dishes. Although its origins are in the simple food served as part of a traditional tea ceremony, it has evolved over centuries into a far more elaborate dining style now served in ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) and specialised restaurants.

Such meals usually have a prescribed order to what is served, though each chef takes pride in designing and presenting their own menus based on local delicacies, seasonal ingredients and their personal style.

A typical meal may include a small drink or amuse-bouche to start, a selection of stunningly presented small appetisers, a sashimi (raw seafood) course, takiawase (which translates as ‘a little something’ and is most commonly vegetables with meat or fish alongside), futamono (a ‘lidded dish’, often a soup but sometimes combined into the takiawase course in the form of a broth with simmered ingredients served within it), sometimes there is a small tempura item (battered and deep fried) or some grilled fish, all this to be followed by a more substantial dish such as a meat hot pot or grilled steak with local seasonal vegetables, then rice served with miso soup and pickles, and finally fresh fruit or another dessert.

If that sounds like a lot, it is! That said, most of the dishes are small enough that most diners are able to enjoy the full meal comfortably, albeit with very little room left by the time the rice arrives! And most kaiseki menus don’t include every single one of the courses above, though they usually cover the majority.

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Views of Hoshinoya Kyoto; the hotel grounds later in the evening

Hoshino Resorts is a family business launched over 100 years ago when Kuniji Hoshino founded a forestry business in Karuizawa. The area, nicknamed the Japanese Alps, became increasingly popular as a location for holiday villas and in 1914 Kuniji opened a ryokan there which is still one of the company’s flagship properties today, albeit hugely updated since Kuniji’s era. Today, fourth-generation family member Yoshiharu Hoshino is CEO of the company and has lead the business through two decades of transformation and expansion, modernising existing properties and purchasing several new ones that are marketed under the brands Hoshinoya, Kai and Risonare.

A few years ago Hoshino Resorts purchased a beautiful historical Kyoto property originally constructed in the 16th century as the home of Ryoi Suminokura, a wealthy merchant and trusted advisor to Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. Suminokura played a major role in the construction of Kyoto’s canals and river systems, earning him extended shipping rights within the city. He built his beautiful home in the bamboo forests of Arashimaya, on the banks of the Katsura River. In the centuries following, his home was turned into a traditional ryokan.

In 2012 the ryokan closed for two years while the company completely refurbished the property, retaining and enhancing its historical treasures.They hired Japan’s most skilled architects and designers to repair the existing property and to design and construct extensions in keeping with the original yet offering a more modern luxury and comfort. The best artisans in their fields were invited to repair original pieces and to create new furniture and artworks throughout.

The newly completed resort opened in 2014 and has been another flagship for the brand ever since.

At the helm of Hoshinoya Kyoto’s kitchen is Head Chef Ichiro Kubota. Kubota’s father was the head chef at one of Kyoto’s top restaurants and instilled in his son an appreciation of culinary excellence and Japanese traditions. Initially intending to become an artist, Kubota studied art as well as English language; indeed it was a two year stint studying in America that helped him better appreciate the beauty of Kyoto’s culture and cuisine, and to change his focus and career plans. Kubota went on to train as a chef under his father and in many of the region’s top kaiseki restaurants before heading to Europe. There he apprenticed at Paris’ three-star Michelin restaurant Georges Blanc where he perfected classic French techniques, also taking advantage of days off to eat his way around Europe. He was poached from Paris in 2004 to head up the kitchen of Umu, London’s first Kyoto-style banquet restaurant. After seven years (and a Michelin star of his own, awarded within a few months of Umu’s launch) Kubota accepted the invitation to head up Hoshinoya Kyoto’s new restaurant – keen to return with all the expertise and knowledge he had gained and receive recognition in the home of the cuisine.

Since then, Kubota has developed a truly incredible offering that brings many innovative touches to this most traditional of formats.

So often, when chefs try to modernise classic dishes and methods, it just doesn’t work – it’s either so far from the original so as to be virtually unrecognisable (in which case naming it as such seems a travesty) or it simply isn’t as good and is therefore a rather pointless change. But Kubota achieves what very few do, retaining all that is glorious about the best traditional kaiseki ryōri whilst also applying European influences and modern techniques, flavours and presentations to each dish he serves – and these innovations not only work, they positively shine!

A meal at Kubota’s table is one to keenly anticipate; his reputation – and Hoshinoya’s – have already earned him high praise and the restaurant has a consistently busy reservations book. Most of the diners are, of course, residents of the resort but others, like us, book in for dinner only. The kaiseki menu is priced at 20,000 yen per person plus taxes and service, very much in line with Kyoto’s high end restaurants.

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Arashimaya at dusk: tourists in kimonos, tourists on the river bank, a bride under the cherry blossom, our boat at the Hoshinoya Kyoto landing dock

The journey to Hoshinoya Kyoto starts at the Togetsukyo Bridge in Arashimaya, a famous West Kyoto district that is popular with locals and tourists alike. If you’ve not visited, a stroll through the famous bamboo groves followed by a visit to Tenryuji Temple are both umissable activities; Tenryuji’s garden is amongst my favourite of the Japanese temple gardens we have visited. There are many other attractions in this area too – more temples, a scenic railway line, tourist boat trips (including trips to observe cormorant fishing in season) and even a monkey park, if you are so inclined.

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On the boat to Hoshinoya Kyoto; views from the boat

The Hoshinoya dock is close to Togetsukyo Bridge and easy to find. We are lead onto a small boat with large windows around the passenger area to enjoy the view. The boat slowly putt-putts its way up the river taking about 15 minutes to reach the hotel’s landing dock, where we are greeted by guest relations manager, Tomoko Tsuchida.

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Arriving at the hotel by boat; the path up to the restaurant and hotel

After taking a few photos in the darkening dusk outside, Tomoko takes us into the restaurant and shows us to our counter seats, of which there are 8. The other 30 covers are at regular tables. Tomoko settles us in, gives us the menu for the meal to come (which lists each course in both Japanese and English) and serves our meal assisted by an army of polite, well-trained and quick-footed waiting staff. Each dish is carefully explained and any questions patiently answered; sometimes the origins or patterns of the artisanal tableware are explained too – traditional lacquerware with painted gold flowers and fish, sake cups from Shigaraki (a pottery town we visited just two days earlier), and other beautiful handmade plates, bowls and cups.

Throughout the meal we watch the two chefs stationed in front of us create the first three courses again and again. Other chefs work on other courses in other kitchen spaces and their dishes appear in front of us as finished master pieces, from the fourth course onwards.

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Before the first morsel arrives, we are served a glass of Kasegi Gashira, a junmai sake with a light, lemony flavour that is accentuated by the mugwort pudding that arrives shortly afterwards.

I’ve been learning in recent years, and shared my beginner’s guide to sake last year, but am still a novice when it comes to selecting sake from a list. Luckily Tomoko gave us some suggestions for the two sakes we choose to accompany the rest of the meal.

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The amuse bouche is listed as Mugwort pudding with white shrimp, chopped fern root, horse tail bud, lily root petal and umami jelly. Tomoko explains that Mugwort is a sign of spring, and the dish is the introduction to their very seasonal menu. Near the property is a field of greens and yellows with a lone cherry blossom tree within it; the construction of the dish has been designed to represent this scene. The dish as a whole is light and refreshing, though I’m still not sure I could describe mugwort to you – I’d say slightly bitter with a hint of floral.

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When our next sake is served, we are offered a box of sake cups to choose from, each one a very different design. I recognise the distinctive look of an unglazed Shigaraki piece and of course, I select that one. This sake, in the very pretty blue bottle, is a junmai daiginjo made by Eikun, a sake brewery located in Kyoto’s Fushimi district, an area known for sake production. It has a rich, deep flavour, strong and punchy, not at all like the lighter one we started with. It’s unlike any sake I’ve tried before, and I like it.

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The selection of appetisers served next are beautifully presented; each item listed separately on the menu.

From left to right: bamboo shoot and cuttlefish marinated with cod roe dressing, lady fish sushi, simmered hamaguri clam and river lettuce with umami jelly, deep fried Japanese dace, broad bean stuffed with shrimp dumpling, simmered baby octopus with sweet soy sauce with simmered sea bream roe with ginger

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The dace fish, Tomoko explains, is threaded onto the skewer in an Ƨ shape so that it looks as though it is swimming!

I don’t pay much attention to the little leaf sat on the octopus and sea bream, and don’t realise until later that one of the intense flavours I detect on eating this is from the leaf rather than the braising spices used to cook the seafood.

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The next course is one that the chefs at our counter are responsible for, and throughout our meal we watch them make it again and again; their intense focus and attention to detail as they construct each plate is a pleasingly practised choreography.

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Described on the menu simply as Seasonal sashimi Hoshinoya style, Tomoko is on hand to give us all the details. When she tells us the plate itself is a design known as ‘blossom falling in the wind’, I realise I’m so focused on the beautiful food that I didn’t even glance at the plate. A good reminder to observe all the wonderful details.

The two pieces at the edges are the same; the one in the centre is different. The two pieces are both baby melon on fresh seaweed, wrapped in sea bream with diced wasabi and sea urchin on top. The ‘crystal jelly’ spooned onto the plate at the two corners is made from konbu stock and the white foam ball is sakura flavoured. A home made soy sauce dressing is provided for the outer two pieces.

The centre sushi is a piece of fresh sea bream roe which has been briefly boiled and then grilled. On top is a tiny layer of pureed leek topped with a circle of Japanese tangerine jelly (the citrus fruit chosen for its exact balance between sweet and sour) melted over the top, and a single Japanese red peppercorn sat on the jelly. The plate is garnished with crisp sugar snap peas and edible leaves and flowers.

The entire plate is altogether stunning, especially the sea bream roe which melt-pops in the mouth as though it’s filled with a mild and creamy liquid center. This dish is about beauty, freshness, seasonality, texture and flavours and it’s delightful!

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As we open the poached greenling coated with Domyoji sweet rice crumbs in a clear soup with yuba cake and fern root Tomoko tells us to check for the fish artwork under the lid before explaining how best to enjoy the soup. First, on lifting the lid, bend over the dish and inhale the aromas released, especially of the fragrant sansho leaf sat on top. Move the leaf into the broth so it can impart a little flavour, then use your chopsticks to hold back the other ingredients as you sip the broth. Finally, enjoy the other ingredients in the bowl.

This time, when I eat the leaf it’s a knockout punch to the taste buds! Not only is the flavour intense, it comes with a tingling numbing sensation akin to eating Sichuan peppercorns – I wonder if the two plants are related? The numbness lasts for a good few minutes, so you may prefer to nibble just a tiny bit of leaf for a hint of the flavour, and set the rest aside.

Hoshinoya Kyoto Arashiyama in Japan on Kavey Eats-8599

Next comes charcoal grilled king fish glazed with rapeseed sauce. The fish is rich and meaty, and the seasonal topping of spring onions with rapeseed greenery is delicious. To visually represent the yellow of rapeseed flowers, bright yellow karasumi (salt-preserved mullet fish roe) is grated over the top – it contributes to the flavour too, of course. Also on the plate are baby ginger, shiitake mushroom and udo, a mountain vegetable.

Hoshinoya Kyoto in Japan on Kavey Eats-8612

Shiraki Brewery in Gifu are the makers of this unusual Daruma Masamune sake that has been aged at room temperature for 15 years. The flavour is incredible, reminiscent of mushrooms though that makes it sound unpleasant when it’s actually very delicious!

Although aged sake is nothing new, today’s market is predominantly focused on new sake, released every spring – to the extent that Shiraki faced both bemusement and confusion when they first started to sell their 3, 5 and 10 year old aged sakes in the 1970s. Aged sake is still not very common, but these days there are enough aficionados to make this a premium drink.

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The next course arrives in a very unusual dish, unlike any I’ve seen before. If you’re starting to feel full just reading about this multi-course meal, I can assure you, it’s exactly how we feel as the containers are placed before us and we wonder if we can do justice to the contents.

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Inside the custom-crafted clay container (with one clay lid and one made from wood) are pieces of beef fillet and simmered spring vegetables. Wasabi and salt crystals sit in the condiment spaces, though for me the beef is perfectly seasoned as it comes and it’s absolutely superb – full of beefy flavour, meltingly soft without being pappy and cooked to just the right point. Hard to beat beef (and cooking) of this quality!

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Lest you think the savoury courses are over because the ‘main’ dish has been served, as with any Japanese meal, the rice course is still to come. Tomoko brings out a black lidded dish of seasoned rice with bamboo shoot topped with charcoal grilled conger eel which is served with red miso soup, assorted Japanese pickles and green tea.

We ask for small portions to be served, and the eel is delicious, so we do dig in even though we manage just a few mouthfuls each.

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Next comes an elegant strawberry and mint financier, strawberry sauce and rich milk ice cream served on a chilled metal block. The flavours are vivid, and brought to life by the tiny fragments of mint on the top.

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But lest we think that a more traditional Japanese dessert has been dropped in favour of the French-style patisserie, a second dessert arrives of melon and papaya with mint, served with a cup of hojicha (roasted black tea).

The papaya is nice enough but the melon, oh my goodness, this is the most delicious melon I’ve ever tasted! I ask for more information and learn that it’s a green melon from the musk melon family and grown in Shizuoka Prefecture. It’s so perfectly ripe that the perfume is heady and the flavour intense, with a texture that is almost liquid in the mouth. It’s glorious and a genuinely revelationary experience!

Full to bursting, yet a little sad that such an incredible meal has come to an end, we are walked to the reception area to settle our drinks bill before one of the resort’s private cars drives us back to Togetsukyo Bridge for our onward journey back to our hotel.

On this trip, we experienced several high end kaiseki meals and this one was our clear favourite (though others were certainly excellent, more of which soon). Kubota’s delightful weaving together of traditional Japanese techniques, ingredients and dishes with global influences from his exploration of world cuisine, along with his whimsical, artistic, delightful presentation lifted this meal to another level.

Kavey Eats dined at Hoshinoya Kyoto as guests of Hoshino Resorts.

Mat Follas’ Bramble Cafe & Deli | Dorchester

If there’s one trend in the restaurant industry that’s really come to the fore since the turn of the century it’s the rise of the second-career chef.

Men and women who worked in all manner of highly successful, and often high-paying, careers – lawyers, doctors, engineers, corporate managers, computer programmers, management consultants, hedge fund gurus – choose to give these careers up for the hard labour and long hours of a professional kitchen. There are many routes to this journey from an informal start running supper-clubs, short-term residencies or street-food stalls to a more conventional training and graduation from a professional cookery school.

Some, like my friend Mat Follas, win a TV cooking competition and take it from there. In the UK, winning Masterchef doesn’t come with any prizes; no monetary bursary to put towards training or setting up one’s own business, no book deal, magazine column or paid apprenticeship with a top chef. But it does give you a readymade reputation for reliably good cooking and a short-lived celebrity from which to launch a new career should you choose. After Mat won Masterchef in 2009 he strode through that door of opportunity with an immense steadiness of nerve, opening his own restaurant within just a few months.

Beaminster-based, The Wild Garlic restaurant was immensely popular with locals and visitors from further afield and the food was excellent. Pete and I visited a few times; well worth the trek from London.

After the restaurant closed in 2013, Mat cooked at a number of other venues including a summer beach cafe and a local hotel in Dorchester. He also wrote two cookbooks, the first Fish: Delicious recipes for fish and shellfish came out last April, the second Vegetable Perfection: 100 tasty recipes for roots, bulbs, shoots and stems was published a few weeks ago, (review coming soon).

Now he has launched his latest venture alongside wife and business partner Amanda, and long time colleague and business partner Katy.

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The Bramble Cafe & Deli is located in a newly built area of Poundbury – the experimental urban development on the outskirts of Dorchester, built on land owned by the Duchy of Cornwall. The development ethos is to create an integrated community of shops, businesses, private housing and social housing and the architecture is a modern interpretation of classic European styles. As a fan of yellow brick, I like it.

Bramble fronts onto an elongated ‘square’ with all the properties facing in onto an open space, commonly used for parking. There’s a deep portico providing shade to the patio area in front; go through the front door into an airy interior with huge windows and plenty of tables. Behind the dining space is the kitchen, cosy and domestic rather than gleaming-metal; very much in keeping with the relaxed style of the space and Mat’s cooking. Everything is on one level, including the toilet, making disabled access straightforward.

The deli is set to open in a few weeks, with products to be displayed on a large set of shelves to one side of the main room. For now, the cafe is open Monday to Saturday from 8.30 to 4.30, offering pastries and cakes, light lunches and drinks. As of a couple of weeks ago, the cafe is also open for dinners on Friday and Saturday evenings; Mat offers a pared back menu with three choices per course and an affordable wine list to match.


During the day, customers can come in for a breakfast croissant, a hot or cold lunch, or perhaps an afternoon tea with a sweet baked treat.

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The macaroni cheese with smoked salmon is one of the best macaroni cheese dishes I’ve had. I’m not a fan of the thick style where a block of stodge can be sliced with a knife; I prefer my macaroni cheese to have a slippery-slick sauce full of intense cheese flavour, coating perfectly cooked pasta and that’s just how this one comes – with the added bonus of two generous slices of smoked salmon, made flaky by the heat of macaroni cheese below and grilled cheese above.

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Also superb is a crab and cheese toast. Crisped slice of bread is thickly covered with a generous layer of flavour-packed crab, heavy on the brown meat, and topped with sharp salty cheese, grilled till its bubbling. Served with some crisps and an unadorned salad, it’s perfect for a satisfyingly delicious lighter lunch.

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On the counter are a few indulgent bakes, flapjacks and gluten-free chocolate brownies on the day of our visit. These are huge slabs – my photo shows a half portion of the brownie I shared with Pete! It’s good, dense and fudgy with a lovely crisp surface on top.

I enjoyed my share with an extra chocolate hit – a Jaz & Juls hot chocolate; Bramble offer a dark chocolate or a milk chocolate option.


The Bramble is currently open for dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings. Walk ins are welcome but book ahead to guarantee a table. The menu changes seasonally, with a focus on locally sourced ingredients.

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Tempted by all three starters, we follow Katy’s naughty suggestion of sharing the Asparagus with hollandaise sauce (£6) as a pre-starter and then having the other two starters afterwards. The asparagus is excellent with lots of flavour, no woodiness, very fresh. And Mat makes a killer Hollandaise, glossy with butter and lifted by a real kick of lemon juice. Gorgeous!

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Not what we expect from the description of Smoked salmon, tomato and pea (£7), this dish doesn’t feature any smoke-cured salmon, rather it is fresh hot-smoked salmon served in a jar with tomatoes and pea shoots. The theatre of Mat opening the jar at the table to release swirls of smoke is fun, but the dish isn’t a favourite – perhaps because I had expected smoke-cured salmon instead.

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The Ham hock and wild garlic terrine with pickles and toast (£5) is enormous! Actually large enough for two to share as a starter, and could be the basis of a fabulous lunch plate too. Delicious soft and meaty pork with a hint of wild garlic, crunchy lightly pickled vegetables and crisp melba toasts.

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Pork belly, crackling, apple sauce and smoked mash (£14) is so very delicious. It may not look it from the photo but the (enormous) portion of pork is cooked perfectly till the fat is melty, melty, melty and the meat is soft and tender. Crackling is gorgeous, though a little too salty for me. Mash is rich and buttery and with just the right level of smoke. Apple sauce has the sharpness to cut through all the richness. I may need to get out my indigestion tablets later after all this butter and fat, but it’ll be worth it!

On the side, cauliflower and broccoli cheese (£3.50).

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Pete orders Rabbit cooked in red wine, served with a crusty roll (£13). It’s really not a pretty dish any which way you look at it, but it does deliver on flavour. The rabbit and vegetables are well cooked, the sauce full of red wine and meatiness, perfect for sopping up with the bread.

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We don’t really have room for desserts but cannot resist, especially with a bit of gentle nudging from Katy!

My Chocolate and marmalade orange tart with clotted cream (£6) is a grown up jaffa cake on a plate – rich, smooth dark chocolate ganache over a marmalade orange jelly, inside a crumbly pastry shell.

Pete loves his Lavender pannacotta with raspberry powder (£6), so perfectly judged that it wobbles most pleasingly yet yields like creamy custard to the spoon.

At no more than £30 for a three course meal with a side per person, this is fantastically good value. Of course I appreciate that prices are lower outside of London but for good quality ingredients and cooking like this, it’s still a steal.

We booked a wonderful B&B a few miles outside of Dorchester to make a short break of our visit and took the opportunity to enjoy some of the gorgeous gardens nearby. There’s so much to do in Dorset, look out for another post in coming weeks sharing my favourite attractions (and lodging) in the area.