After a summer of working, working, working — where do the days go, my friends? — I am finally free for a bit. Hence my trips to Thailand and Venice, and hence my leisurely lunch with my friend John last Friday at Ristorante Frescobaldi off of Regent Street. Because you know, I haven’t eaten enough Italian food lately. Oh my goodness, the carbs.
John and I both made the same mistake at Frescobaldi — we tried to enter the restaurant from a corner of the building that is definitely not the entrance. So scan carefully as you approach. The entrance doesn’t seem to be where you might think it is. But once inside, everything is exactly where you’d expect it to be and THE CHAIRS. The chairs are amazing. I am immediately distracted by the chairs, they are so beautiful. Tables are spaced, well, spaciously, and you really get to see the chairs, which look Danish in their form. I spent a lot of time eyeing the chairs at Frescobaldi.
While I waited for John, I tried to order tap water. I tried three times before they actually brought me tap water and not bottled still water. I’m not into the miles or the price on bottled water when London tap water is totally a-ok.
The lunch special! That’s why we’re here. 25 quid for two courses from the very succinct lunch menu. Some lovely, lovely beef carpaccio for me to start…soft and delicious. And then the autumnal tagliatelle with mushrooms which I swear got more autumnal with every bite. Every bite. Many carbs were consumed — i.e., the entire bread basket — in making sure that tagliatelle plate was clean before it was returned to the kitchen. This was all washed down with a very affordable bottle of Frescobaldi’s own attractively-priced Chardonnay, a bottle that never seemed to end. Either that, or I am losing my ability to make half a bottle of Chardonnay magically disappear.
For a Friday afternoon, Frescobaldi was strangely empty during our visit. With the exception of the “Tap Water Incident,” service was prompt and friendly, although don’t mention Monica Lewinsky to them. (I, for one, am a fan of her anti-bullying agenda.) Ah…strangely amazing was the array of candy that was delivered to our table at the end of our meal. It’s like someone had run down to Sainsbury’s and picked up all the Halloween Candy they could. We ate it all, plus the homemade mini meringues and biscotti. I stumbled out of Frescobaldi in a glassy-eyed sugar coma. (John’s words, not mine.) Fascinating.
The Verdict: I like it here. I like the space, I like the chairs, I like the food, I like the wine, and I like the service. I don’t understand why there weren’t more people there. You should go.
I’ve been to Casita Andina three times now, once by myself, once with my friend Jen and her two-year-old, and once with my friend Karen from Chicago. And each time, I’ve ordered the luscious trout tiradito and wanted to bathe in it. Also, each time the service has been just so wonderfully sweet and friendly. If not for the fact that the loos are on the top floor, I would eat here all the time. (Top floor loos are a terrible idea.) If it’s a nice day, get there early so you can commandeer the outdoor patio on the 1st floor. We did that with Jen and her little one and it was perfect.
Casita Andina is part of the Ceviche empire. The 1st floor dining room is super cozy and cute — like lunch at your grandmother’s. One thing I didn’t notice until much later — the restaurant is gluten free! Ask for bread to mop up anything left over and the best they can do is quinoa bread. (It’s grainy.)
The first thing I notice about the all new House of Ho in Fitzrovia — the original House of Ho in Soho is now just called “Ho” — are the stairs. The all new House of Ho is set in an old townhouse, and if you’re not dining on the ground floor, there are a lot of stairs. And they’re creaky. The front of house staff have advised me to climb all the stairs to the top of the restaurant and wait for my party in the bar. My gym got rid of their last StairMaster a few months back, and as I climb the stairs, I start a strongly worded letter in my head, suggesting they bring it back.
Luckily, my party finds me before I make it to the top floor — we’re in the very lovely and serene private dining room on the 2nd floor — and a heart attack is averted — although I make a solemn vow to up my gym visits from .5 times a week to at least 1.5 times a week.
I’ve been invited to a social media night at the restaurant but of course I’ve forgotten my camera and my blog cards. What sort of blogger am I?? (Hint: An old one.) And there’s assigned seating at the dining table, which makes me wonder briefly about the conversations that must have occurred to put this all in place.
This is quickly forgotten when our servers plop a nice plate of bo la lot down in front of me. Bo La Lot is very, very special to me — I had never had them before visiting Cay Tre in Old Street back in 2005, and now I love love love them. (Don’t you love the effusiveness of my earlier writing style?) Like really love them. I hold myself to one piece at House of Ho, and it’s a great, high-quality version — the quality of the beef being deliciously higher than that at Cay Tre.
Bowls of duck and watermelon arrived early on during the meal and while I am not the hugest watermelon fan, this worked amazingly well, the light acidity of the watermelon combatting the richness — not that there’s anything wrong with that — of the duck. I could have had more of this.
Soft shell crab with chilis wins for most photogenic dish of the night. I wonder what do they do with all those chillis after each meal? As a huge fan of soft shell crab, I kept plucking and plucking at the bowl. It reminded me of Easter in America, where you would scrounge around in your Easter basket for the remaining jelly beans, knowing, hoping that there would still be something in there for you to enjoy. While the dish wasn’t listed on the menu at the time of our visit, it can be ordered by special request.
At the end of our meal, they leave us with these lovely little bowls of pebbles — chocolates really. A sweet ending to a very nice meal. Despite the stairs.
House of Ho is now commanded by Ian Pengelley, who used to be over at Gilgamesh in Camden many years ago. If you want another dip into my seemingly limitless archives, check out my visit to Gilgamesh many years ago over here. Good times. (By this point, it’s 2007 and I have discovered my writing voice and dropped the word “yummy” from my vocabulary.)
The Verdict: House of Ho strikes me as a great place to go if you need a private dining room and something different for everyone. I would return for more of the bo la lot and beef with watermelon.
I was invited to House of Ho for a dinner with other social media types. I did not pay for my meal. As always, my opinions are my own.
Hakkasan Hanway Place was seriously one of the first restaurants I ever went to in London as an adult. (My 1993 London visit while I was in university doesn’t count for anything. One day, I’ll tell you about the sleeping arrangements.) My first visit to Hakkasan was in 2001 when I was here from the States for six weeks for work and the “Design Guy” came over and took us all out to Hakkasan and paid too. He must have read about the restaurant in one of those design magazines because this was 2001 after all, before blogs and Yelp and all those other Internet-Web-App things. My, how times have changed.
All these years later though and Hakkasan itself has not changed all that much. It’s still the darkly sexy place it once was and I still get a little freaked out when I try to find the door to the loos. Ah! They’re behind that wall/door thing! I get it! Hakkasan has also expanded, thanks to our friends at the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, a very sovereign and very wealthy sovereign wealth fund. If I were Mr. Yau, I would roll around in all my money all the live long day. Maybe, just maybe, I’d buy a small island somewhere. A tropical one.
Only we really didn’t have to order much except for some cheung fun. Because Hakkasan Hanway Place is offering a new Sunday set brunch special. And it’s an amazingly good value, even though this is going to seem like a big number when I tell you the number…
It’s £58 quid. And it is so so worth it because…
For £58 quid, you get all this…per person!
Choice of cocktail
Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV Champagne, France 12% half bottle
Choice of after dinner cocktail
Crispy duck salad with pomelo, pine nut and shallot
Chinese chive dumpling
Duck and yam bean dumpling
Royal king crab and truffle roll
Baked venison puff
Smoked duck and pumpkin puff
Golden radish crab meat pastry
XO seafood and water chestnut lettuce wrap
Stir-fry black pepper rib eye beef with merlot
Ginger and spring onion fried rice
Selection of dessert
If that’s not amazing, I don’t know what is. For £58 quid!! I mean, like I said, I know that’s a big number, but talk about getting your money’s worth!! Sure, there are some misses on the menu — I didn’t die over the lettuce wraps — but there are more hits than misses and that counts for something. Check out the full menu online and then drop into Hakkasan on a Sunday afternoon and then roll yourself home! Vegetarian menu available.
The Verdict: Nothing not to like!
I was a guest of Fiona’s and Hakkasan. I did not pay for my meal but I did tip on the full amount.
The other week, A Girl Has to Eat and I dined at The Duck & Rice together and decided that rather than both write reviews, she would let me borrow hers! Here is the text of her review…I’ve added some of my other thoughts at the very end…
The Duck and Rice is the latest outlet by design supremo and superstar restaurateur Alan Yau who is best known for the Michelin starred Chinese restaurants Hakkasan and Yauatcha,and the high street dining chains Wagamamas and Busaba Eathai. With The Duck and Rice, Yau pays “homage to the ‘holy’ [sic] British drinking establishment” by converting what was once the rather shabby Endurance Pub into a modern day boozer on the ground floor and a funky Chinese restaurant on the first. (KN note: I don’t understand why the restaurant uses [sic] in that sentence on their website.)
It’s an interesting new approach to Chinese eating, and it certainly adds a new twist to the concept of east meets west. I went to The Duck and Rice with Krista from Passportdelicious.com and we both agreed that we loved the ambience of the restaurant. It was very COOL with a dynamic energy that made it a great dining venue. Krista was happy for me to order and so I did my best to order as much food as I could with the £50 that received for writing about the UNCOVER app.
We started with some sesame prawn toast (£6.50) which had been recommended in many reviews. These proved to be really enjoyable and had been expertly prepared with a generous spread of tasty and well-seasoned minced prawn topping. The sesame seeds worked well to complement the flavour of the prawns, and the toast was crispy and admirably did not taste oily.
Venison puffs (£4.80) are a take on another dim sum classic, the char sui (BBQ pork) puff, and here they were delicious, packing in lots of great flavour. The sauce in the filling had the right level of consistency and sweetness and was very authentic tasting. However the pastry was ever so slightly underdone and not quite flaky enough. A few more minutes of cooking time and these could have been perfect.
Jasmine smoked pork ribs (£14) were sublimely tender with a great flavour. But the ribs needed more sauce, and the sauce needed more spicing. Nevertheless, we really enjoyed the ribs. We both agreed it was better to have good quality ribs that were well cooked with not enough sauce, rather than badly cooked ribs with too much sauce.
A dish of wasabi prawns (£10.50) contained some good quality battered prawns that were sweet and meaty. But we didn’t enjoy the wasabi mayonnaise that came with the prawns as it was too rich and a little sickly. Serving the mayonnaise as a dipping sauce would probably have worked better. This would have also meant that the batter on the prawns would have stayed crunchier for longer.
Our final dish was the No23 (a reference to how in some Chinese restaurants you order by the number). The No23 was a chicken chow mein (£9.50) which we both found a little disappointing as it tasted flat. The dish lacked for that fragrant (香), almost slightly caramelised effect that you normally get with really well cooked Chinese wok noodles, and this usually comes from having the right level of wok heat.
We both enjoyed The Duck and Rice, especially for its great ambience and funky vibe. As for the food, notwithstanding some weak spots in the cooking, this was fairly tasty with the occasional glimpses of authenticity. The service was pleasant and friendly, and far better than what you would get in a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. Price wise, we were rather impressed with ourselves for managing to order as much food as we did for about £50. That said we found the 13% service charge (rather than the standard 12.5%) to be quite cheeky.
Food rating: 3.5/5
Service rating: 3.5/5
(Hi…it’s Krista again…)
So A Girl Has to Eat and I were pretty much in agreement on all of the dishes, although it’s fair to say that I probably would have rated this on an overall basis more like a 3 than a 3.5. When you start thinking that your local Chinese take-away does a better job than Duck & Rice, well, that tells you something.
Also, we had a small snafu when we first arrived that A Girl Has to Eat doesn’t mention, and I really want to talk about it. We arrived at the restaurant just in time for our booking, and I forget if I said this or if AGHTE said this but one of us said, “Oh, and do you have a note about our voucher with Uncover? There should be a note in our reservation about our £50 voucher?” We were very polite in asking this and remained polite throughout. The female host though was kinda rude. She told us that there was no note and she would know about it. At which point I said something like, “I have the email confirmation from the PR. I can show it to you…” and she really didn’t even want to see it, and repeated that if indeed there was a voucher, she would know about it. At that point, I think I said, “Maybe there’s a manager you check with? I really do have an email from the PR and I’d be happy to show it to you…” Can you guess what she said next? You guessed it…she reminded us that she would know about the voucher. She didn’t even give us a chance! Then, all of a sudden, a nice young man appeared out of nowhere and said “Do you mean the Uncover voucher? Yes, they called earlier. It’s all sorted. Follow me.” He apologized to us but I just go so mad at the woman at the front. I hate when people insist that they are right to the point of not even giving someone a chance. And well, once she realized she was wrong, I expected more from her.
That’s £16 alone for just the hand wash. Not available for sale at R&M.
Raw Sicilian prawns with some Instagram
Super delicious fritto misto.
Wine on tap!
For someone that is normally bang on time, I’ve been late to the Rex & Mariano party. Actually, I’ve been late to a lot of parties since I returned to London last summer. All work and no play makes Krista a very, very dull gal. So I am making up for lost time! Lots of lost time. I’ve missed Mr. Noodles and Su-Lin! It’s been too long. But there we were, just like it were yesterday (or, errr five years ago) helping ourselves to all the delicious things at Rex & Mariano with greedy abandon.
Because Rex & Mariano is delicious. Very delicious. Especially if you are like me and want to eat nothing but seafood until the day you die. (I will die slowly…of mercury poisoning.) And Rex & Mariano is not too pricey either! iPad ordering keeps their labor costs low. So that’s neat.
We ate a lot of things at Rex & Mariano and there were only two disappointments: the mushy salmon carpaccio and the courgette fries. So don’t get those, but get everything else! Especially the fritto misto. And the Sicilian prawns. All the Sicilian prawns.
Strangely, for a Saturday lunch time, the place was eerily empty. In fact, every time I’ve walked by Rex & Mariano, it’s been eerily empty. That’s more Sicilian prawns for me then!
Other lessons learned:
Pace your ordering. We ordered all our mains at the same time and, well, they all arrived at the same time. (Surprise!!) We could have used some spacing in between, given that we were sharing everything.
Wash your hands! You can wash your hands all over Rex & Mariano! It’s actually GENIUS. And they have Ren products in the loo if you really want to walk all the way back to the loo to wash your hands with very expensive stuff that smells really nice.
Wines on tap! Lots of wines on tap! Another genius idea! I want to hang out at the bar at Rex & Mariano just so I can drink from all the wine taps! That being said, I am a firm believer now in the £3.50 125 ml house wine. (That’s a £21 bottle. Just take a £10.50 bottle and put a 50% markup on it and then sell it by 125 ml pourings and you’ll get to £3.50.) I am going to forget the exact numbers on R&M’s menu, but the wines by the glass started more in the vicinity of £5 quid a glass.
I’ve been spelling focaccia wrong for most of my life.
I really should start cataloging the hand wash used in restaurant loos along with the cheapest wine by the glass. It’s fun!
The Verdict: GO. Eat all the Sicilian prawns and wash your hands multiple times.
Oh look, Urbanspoon is now Zomato so here’s the new Zomato spoonback…let’s hope these puppies load faster than the Urbanspoon ones…