Over Indulgence and Fine Dining

London is full of great restaurants, there’s no denying that simple fact, although some really are in a league all of their own. ‘Chef Alyn’ Williams has long been known among the fine-foodies of London for the fabulous dishes he served during his 5 years at Marcus Wareing’s restaurant at The Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge. Now the man is making strides as an independent chef with his very own self-titled restaurant at one of London’s premier hotels, The Westbury Hotel in Mayfair. Alyn Williams at the Westbury has been open since late 2011 and has already earned itself a Michelin star as well as 3 AA rosettes; Alyn was also awarded ‘National Chef of the Year 20012’ and while all these fancy titles and awards may sound pretentious, they are undoubtedly well deserved since the food here is, if I dare say so, far better than that of his former workplace.

The price, quite surprisingly for such a fine establishment, is rather reasonable, which only adds to the appeal and gives you all more of a reason to try it – which I highly recommend you do. The restaurant itself is comfortable and quiet, the wood panels and carpeted floors are warm and inviting while still being clean and modern. My favourite part of the restaurant though, is the ‘private dining’ area which is situated in plain sight in the centre of the restaurant, and is encased by glass walls which double as wine racks and are stacked from floor to ceiling with fine wines (the room will only seat 8 guests, 10 at a squeeze). It’s not so much the room that I am drawn to as the concept behind it – when you book the area you are required to select your wines  for the evening in advance, you will then be served a customised tasting menu on the night to match your wine selections – I just love this twist on the usual wine-food pairing and the wine-encased dining room adds to the overall experience.

The food, as you might have guessed, was sublime. We were treated to a tour of the kitchen followed by our very own bespoke 16 course tasting menu, chosen by Alyn himself, which included a little of everything from the restaurants seasonal summer menu. A rather unexpected surprise and an absolute treat, for which I cannot thank him enough. This was quite simply one of the best meals of my life, and although I would love to share every detail, SIXTEEN courses would be quite a lot to write about in much detail and I simple couldn’t do it justice if I tried.

Alyn, along with his incredible team, serve up some of the finest food in London, the restaurant boasts a simple but carefully selected and very impressive wine list; and the service, well all I can say is that I’ve yet to experience better. All in all, an incredible experience, and one I will be coming back for much more of.

Favourite dishes: Risotto Balls and Tempura Oysters (canapes) – Chicken Wings and Sweetbreads with Baby Gems and Sherry Sauce – Langoustine with Watermelon – Slow Cooked egg served in a cup with Celeriac and Truffle Brioche – Wild Salmon with Sea Vegi’s and Oysters – Pork with Sweetcorn, Mushroom and Corndogs – Lamb with Chickpea and Aubergine – Strawberry Shortcake – Honeycomb and Passionfruit – THE BEST DISH IS THE WALNUT WHIP (which is why the picture above is dedicated entirely to this mind bending dessert)

Alyn Williams at The Westbury | The Westbury Hotel 37 Conduit Street, London, W1S 2YF| www.alynwilliams.co.uk | alynwilliams@westburymayfair.com | +44 (0)207 078 9579

 

Dalston Street Feast and THE RIB MAN

When it comes to ribs, there is always a great debate about how to cook them, where to buy them, what restaurants make the best ribs and why. Well there are ribs, and then there are the Rib Man’s ribs. I’d been avidly following the twitter account of @theribman whilst I was away in Cape Town and as soon as I arrived back in London I decided it was time to pay him a visit at the new Dalston Street Feast market (open on a Friday night) – although you can find him at Kings Cross on a Thursday and Brick Lane on a Sunday, or here on his very own website. This man is ‘The Real Deal’, his ribs are as good as they get; Mark does all the prep work and cooking himself and you can see he truly loves what he does and cares about the food he makes, where it comes from and how it’s prepared, cooked and served; be it the plain and simple rack, or stripped off the bone and piled high on one of his famous ‘rib rolls,’ topped off with lashings of his home made hot sauce. Simplicity is the key, and love – a lot of love.

When it comes to ribs this man can’t be beat – and his hot sauce is something you will definitely want to write home about – they say food made with love tastes better and there’s no denying that this man truly loves what he does. Each and every rack of ribs is carefully marinated by hand and lovingly slow-cooked to absolute perfection before being served to his adoring fans (customers).

Back to the hot sauce; I am a chili lover through and through, I was raised in South Africa and due to the huge influence of the Portuguese cuisine from our neighbors in Mozambique, we get some of the best peri-peri (chili) sauces in the world and Peri-Peri Chicken is a staple meal in any South African’s diet (just look at the guys who started Nando’s). As I mentioned before, the Rib Man makes his own signature hot sauce; there are varying degrees of WOW when it comes to heat in these magically hand crafted bottles of chili sauce and not only that, they are also made-to-order so they taste fresh and there is limited supply at the markets so order online (here) to guarantee you get what want. The signature ‘Holy-Fuck’ sauce is pretty hot, but there’s ‘Christ-On-A-Bike’ which gets the taste buds really tingling, and then there is the ‘Holy-Mother-Of-God’ hot sauce, which comes with this warning: The absolute hottest of my sauces to date! Do not buy this if you have a weak heart or are worried about your eyesight! 

All sauces are made with scotch bonnet chili peppers and – the hottest of the hot – and I would recommend approaching with extreme caution. If, like me, you LOVE chili, then please do yourself a massive favour and get yourself some of this amazing sauce!

THE RIB MAN | KINGS CROSS EVERY THURSDAY http://www.eat.st/kings-cross | STREET FEAST LONDON FRIDAY NIGHTS http://www.streetfeastlondon.com/#!home/mainPage | BRICK LANE EVERY SUNDAY  http://www.theribman.co.uk/directions.php

Ken Forrester and the Chenin story

It’s no secret that I like LOVE wine, and being in Cape Town has recently opened up an entirely new world of wine to me; I’ve been slowly working my way through the local liquor store’s wine racks and going to lots of little wine-meets (wine tastings with lots of food and music). There are a lot of wines I’ve never heard of, a large array of South African wines you wouldn’t necessarily find in Europe, or at least not in regular stores, and a lot of them are pretty amazing – it’s all about smaller producers and hidden gems in my opinion, although some of the main-stream wines can knock your socks off too so don’t discount them.

I’ve spent a lot of time listening to people talk, finding out what the local wine lovers think of South African wines and trying out all their favourites. I’ve also been on my own journey – an exploration into food and wine pairings, something I’ve never been good at (except the red with red meat and white with fish bit – and even that, I’ve discovered, can be wrong). I’m starting to appreciate both red and white wines in an entirely new way, in particular the whites that we make here in Cape Town, of which there are several – and so begins the story of my discovery of THE Chenin Blanc.

Ken Forrester is  an internationally acclaimed wine maker whose specialty is the Chenin Blanc and this week I was invited to his restaurant, 96 Winery Road, to have lunch with the man himself (and to taste the wines, of course)! I’d been looking forward to this lunch for quite some time; I’d been invited about two months before, but hadn’t managed to make it out until the day I was due to leave Cape Town on July 10th. I just knew there was a reason that I absolutely had to squeeze this one in before I left.

Ken and his family make both red and white wines, and the reds are pretty damn good, although the estate is known best for the ‘trio of Chenins’ they produce here. The first is the ‘Petit’ Chenin, one of 5 wines in the ‘Petit’ range (others include a Sauv Blanc, Rose, Pinotage and Cab Sav) this easy drinking white is fresh, crisp  and fruity whilst being exceptionally easy on the palate, it would go well with just about anything in summer, and is definitely priced right at around R40.00  (although in the UK it’s around £9.50 and can be bought online, along with all his other wines, from Wines Direct). The second on the list is the middle-range chenin, the Ken Forrester Reserve Chenin Blanc; a full bodied chenin with lots of distinct  flavours, most notably the apple and smooth caramel. This is definitely an evening white and it’s full flavour would be well matched with spicy seafood dishes.

The third and final wine of the trio is the undisputed heavyweight champion of the chenin blancs, the FMC. Robert Parker gives this 93 points – if you don’t know wine, that’s one of the best scores around when it comes to white wines – and is the highest score ever given to a South African chenin. This is the most surprising wine I have ever had the pleasure of drinking, it comes down to this; the wine is white, yes, but the flavour is that of a full bodied red, confusing, I know, but bear with me on this one. On first taste, the apricot and vanilla are noticeable, but there is a sense of wonderment as each time you taste this wine, the flavours change and mix and come together in an unusually delightful sensory experience. I haven’t quite figured out how best to describe this wine, I’m a little lost for words. If you like wine as much as I do, BUY this wine. It’s got a hefty price tag so save it for a special occasion, it’ll set you back around R325.00 in South Africa, and £23.95 if you’re buying it online in the UK. If you happen to be in Cape Town then I strongly recommend you take a drive out to the estate and do the full wine tasting, there is no shortage of wonderful wines here as the reds are almost as good as the whites, and if you like dessert wine then you absolutely must try the T, Noble Late Harvest (made for, and named after, his wife Teresa).

Oh I almost forgot the restaurant – 96 Winery road is fabulous, try the Duck & Cherry pie, it’s the best dish on the menu and a favourite of the regulars; the sticky date pudding is also pretty fantastic.

Ken Forrester Wine | +27 (0) 21 855 2374 | info@kenforresterwines.com | www.kenforresterwines.com

96 Winery Road | Zandberg Farm, Winery Road, Off the R44 between Stellenbosch and Somerset West  7599, South Africa – opposite the estate.

Organics are GO at the Foodbarn

Franck Dangereux has been one of my favourite chefs for many years, ever since he was showing off his refined style at the ever popular La Colombe (Constantia Uitsig) many years ago. That was before I left South Africa, and I have cooked many a meal from his cookbook (Feast) since then, which I believe is still on a shelf in my mothers kitchen.

Since being back in Cape Town I have been hearing all the wonderful news and reviews of his latest creation, The Foodbarn in Noordhoek; the brainchild of Franck’s collaboration with Pete de Bruin, the ever charming host. The two men created this restaurant from their combined passion for food and their love for their families, and it really is a place where the two come together in incredible style. The food is simple ‘French Bistro’ style food (as described by Frank), and yet it still has the flair and precision which this master chef is best known for; in addition, the restaurant has an exceptional wine menu, mostly local but perfectly matched to the seasonal produce available. There is a tasting menu available with or without wine pairings; an unconventional take on a ‘tasting’ menu, Frank chooses the dishes for you and it’s a bit of a pot-luck surprise when the meal arrives – I wouldn’t worry though, everything here tastes phenomenal, so if you’re the adventurous foodie type then this one’s for you.

I went for lunch on Sunday, which was beyond amazing; the de-shelled prawn tempura served on a confied tomato, aubergine and avo tian, finished with a chilli & red pepper syrup and basil salsa was the perfect start to the meal and I would recommend it to anyone. The second course was rack of Karoo lamb in a bread crust with an amazing chickpea flour cake or ‘panisse,’ which was finished with the most wonderful jus. My dessert was the Cocoa Millefeuille with chocolate Marquise and peanut brittle praline cream, served with vanilla sauce and salted peanut ice cream – This. Is. Amazing. I’m not normally one for peanut anything, I don’t enjoy the taste, but this combination is a sure fire winner in my books, and I hope to have it again before they take it off the menu! I might come back just for that.

The food here is locally sourced where possibly and much of the fruit and veg is grown by Frank and Pete in the restaurant garden or at home. You can taste the freshness in every meal and the flavours of each season shine through the menu as each meal is carefully crafted using the very best of the available seasonal produce available. This is taking organic, sustainable food to an entirely new height.

So, if you are in the area and looking for a really good meal, be it with family, friends, kids or your loved one, this is most certain the top of the list!

The Foodbarn Restaurant & Deli | Noordhoek Farm Village, Village Lane, Noordhoek, Cape Town, 7979 | tel: +27 (0) 21 789 1390 | www.thefoodbarn.co.za | info@thefoodbarn.co.za

Pure Luxury Breaks

Last week felt like it would never end, I was exhausted, worn out, and in desperate need of a break; by the time Thursday came knocking and the weekend was almost in sight I had already started planning my escape (some ideas were a bit extreme I’ll admit, particularly the one about hijacking a boat and sailing to Madagascar). I opted, instead, for a much safer and less complicated plan B – armed with 2 good books, 1 laptop, 1 iPod (complete with newly downloaded playlists) and 2 haphazardly thrown together outfits (1 smart-casual, 1 casual) all stuffed into a small overnight bag along with minimal toiletries, I headed for Franschhoek – a small and exceptionally beautiful town in the Cape wine region, about 75km outside Cape Town. The streets of Franschooek (French Corner) are lined with French restaurants, patisseries, small European clothing boutiques, wine shops and organic farm stores; perfect for a weekend getaway.

Perhaps I should have titled this post, ‘in search of perfection.’ I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I booked myself into La Residence, since this was my first time staying in the area and my first experience of any of the Royal Portfolio hotels. The hotel itself is situated on a private 30-acre estate in the heart of the Franschhoek valley and enjoys breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains as well as the private vineyards of the estate; once you get past the surrounding beauty you will notice that it boasts the most uniquely exquisite rooms, decadently decorated entrance way, phenomenal food cooked by their in house chef, and service on par with that of any true Royal residence (or at least what I would imagine Royal service might be like).

View from my awesome bedroom / balcony / palace

Despite the torrential rain and bitter cold outside, I felt as though I had just found my very own slice of heaven. Quietly tucked away in my palatial room with it’s underfloor heating and super king sized bed (the bed even has stairs, and even those have underfloor heating), I was as comfortable as I could possibly be and as warm as toast; with little to do except drink the complimentary bottle of bubbly, disappear into the pool sized tub and dive into a good book, I decided to do exactly that.

Everything about this unique property screams luxury – although perhaps luxury isn’t the most fitting description, it’s more than luxurious, it is a personal oasis; the entire place creates a feeling of euphoria and a sense of complete serenity, as if there isn’t really a world beyond it’s walls.

La Residence is part of a portfolio of three boutique establishments in South Africa, The Royal Portfolio, which was established and is wholly owned by Liz and Phil Biden; Liz Biden is considered a South African icon as well as a global hotelier of note. Before these properties were hotels however, they were once the family’s holiday homes, and each one has been entirely designed and decorated by Liz.

Liz has an exceptional eye for detail; from the moment you step into the entrance hall at La Residence you begin to notice the exquisite decoration, and the breathtaking interior design extends far beyond the main building as each of the 11 rooms is individually colour coordinated and decorated to specific design. The finishing touches are added on a daily basis by the hotels tireless staff who are on hand at all hours of the day to tend to your every need, and the hotel’s dining room is already famous in South Africa as one of the Wineland’s most accomplished.

From the very second you arrive, to the heartbreaking moment when you leave, this haven of luxury will put all of your worries at ease; from the mind-altering food and endless flow of drinks, to the warmth and hospitality of the staff at La Residence – it really is in a class all of it’s own.

I think this may possibly be the most exceptionally relaxing, purely indulgent, completely luxurious weekend I have ever had – a big thank you to the incredible staff who made my stay so unforgettable, you are one of a kind.

La Residence | Elandskloof Private Road, Elandskloof Farm, Franschhoek | +27 (0) 21 876 4100 | reservations@theroyalportfolio.com