Listings and reviews (23)
Tucked below a generic bar and restaurant sitting canal-side in Paddington, Ayllu isn’t exactly hard to find, but it has the air of a hidden hideaway. You have to walk through said eatery to enter, but as soon as you descend the stairs there is a distinct vibe shift. Bright lights are dimmed; peppy pop is swapped for live beats; and generic becomes atmospheric with Amazon-green walls, gold-glowing lamps and warm woods. On a recent Saturday night, the live DJ was going for broke, pretending he was headlining in Ibiza, but I liked the commitment, as did the crowd – mostly tables of friends and even a few families. Tropical tipples garlanded in palms, crowned in flowers, and foamy pisco sours also did wonders for the vibe: everyone seemed to be there for the drinks as much as the food. Don’t miss Ayllu’s titular chicken fried rice, with truffle, edamame, and an oozing poached egg And about the food: Ayllu is one of London’s many nikkei (Peruvian and Japanese fusion) restaurants. Expect plates like tiraditos (raw fish, cut like sashimi and drizzled in marinade), bite-sized crispy tacos served with cured seafood, bao and ceviche sushi rolls with white fish and mayo infused with leche de tigre (tiger’s milk, a citrus-based, spicy marinade used to cure a classic Peruvian ceviche). I always ask servers for recommendations. Not what should I order, but what would they order. At most restaurants, this is a good tip, but at Ayllu it’s a necessity. The dishes really vary: the sushi is
Dandyism remains alive and well in London, thanks in no small part to the city’s best branding agencies. The Big Smoke is just clogged with theatrical, velvet-strewn venues named after and inspired by fin de siècle poster boy Oscar Wilde, so The Aubrey, which takes its name from Wilde’s contemporary, the darkly decadent illustrator Aubrey Beardsley, makes for a nice twist to the trend. While bereft of any of Beardsley’s Japanese-woodblock-inspired swirling ink studies, The Aubrey delivers a strong whiff of Victoriana with its maximalist interior of fringed lamps, ginger jars in curio cabinets and gold-framed Ukiyo-e prints. However, the food – earthenware sharing plates of deep-fried karaage chicken with zingy yuzu mayo, soy-licked edomae nigiri sprinkled with edible ants and charcoal-charred meats, pulled straight off the robata – is supposed to be inspired by an ‘eccentric Japanese izakaya’. Roughly described as after-work drinking dens serving sharing snacks, the izakayas of Japan are often pub-like and casual. The Aubrey, housed within the Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park in Knightsbridge, is decidedly not. Anything from the robata charcoal grill gets my vote With house caviar served with shokupan (Japanese milk bread), umami-packed A4 wagyu (which has more of a bite than the ultra-intense A5) and creative cocktails with prices that start with the number two, I would only deign to call The Aubrey ‘casual’ in comparison to, say, the Tokyo Imperial Palace. But that’s okay, es
When visiting Mayfair’s Pasticceria Marchesi – the sweet, petite designer dessert boutique owned by the Prada group – you should forget everything you think you know about panettone. Available all year round, like in Italy (not just for Christmas, like here), Marchesi’s version, made with a sourdough starter in a recipe that’s over half-a-century old, is one of the café’s signatures. It was good enough to make you love panettone even if you’ve never even liked it before: the sweet Milanese bread was fluffy and delicately perfumed with gems of candied orange peel and sultanas plumped in booze. Another signature, the vanilla-custard-based torta aurora, had that same impossible weightless quality while also being lavishly decadent. The hot savoury dishes that you can buy at lunchtime also excelled, though they do start at £18 (we liked the golden saffron sautéed risotto, with its Milanese-style crisped edges). But while we were braced for Mayfair prices, the bill truly exceeded our expectations, and not in a good way. A cup of coffee starts at £6 (we were told it’s by Illy, which is lovely, but hardly special – you can buy it in most supermarkets). A single candied chestnut smaller than a golf ball costs £6.50 (good but not nearly-seven-quid good) and wedges of cake kick-off at £11. Still, for seriously superior all-year-round panettone, you may just think it’s worth it.
Lowry & Baker
There’s not much to Lowry & Baker besides a handful of wooden tables, a minuscule open-air kitchen, and a parade of sweet treats on the countertop; however, this neighbourhood coffee shop manages to deliver top-notch artisanal breakfasts and lunches to its loyal legions. L&B’s build-your-own-breakfast is a fan favourite for good reason: the artisan organic sourdough was crispy and chewy enough to require a steak knife to get though, and the toppings (you can choose up to three for £9.50) like mashed avocado with omega seeds and lemon and chilli or wild mushrooms with fresh herbs are fragrant, fresh and supremely comforting. The strips of bacon had all the delightful pop and snap of a crisp. (More please.) The juices and hot drinks menu is almost as long as the food menu. Warming tipples like the pretty-in-pink Velvet Latte, made with a kicking jolt of fresh ginger, beetroot and organic almond milk smacked of sanctimonious healthiness while also being conveniently delicious and easy to drink. Go on a weekend, and expect a queue, but know it will be worth it.
Tucked away behind a curtain of tousled ivy, The Shed serves up small, resourceful dishes built with foraged and locally-grown ingredients from the countryside. Led by the Gladwin Brother trio, who have their own farm and vineyard in Nutbourne, West Sussex, as well as two additional London restaurants, their flagship Shed was quick to become a local neighbourhood favourite when it first opened in 2012. Though the menu changes seasonally, the original plates are still the best bet. (Note: everything is served tapas-style and 2-3 dishes per person is the recommendation.) The Nutbourne Cures – with generous piles of crumbly, aged chorizo and a swell of tangy labneh yogurt, plus kale and caraway crisp bread – held all the comforts of home, if you grew up in a bucolic farmhouse with a master chef for a parent. Plates like sharp pan-fried goat’s cheese – which sits under a pile of almonds, licked with local honey and thyme confetti – tasted of the wild, fresh farmland and dewy meadows from which it sprung. Sophisticated with a burnt butteriness, the Honeycomb Crunchie, served with whipped mascarpone and a faint sifting of tarragon sugar, was everything you want in a farmhouse dessert: nostalgic-but-novel, and damned delicious.
Bar Boulud, by world-renowned chef Daniel Boulud, is a jazzed-up French bistro in the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge. Its signature burgers are good enough to make ‘best of’ lists and even – on a good day – top them. The BB burger is a near-perfect triumph of juicy beef, pulled short rib, crunchy fried onions and buttery foie gras piled high on a salty black onion bun. Besides the burgers, Bar Boulud is also known for its charcuterie, which is sourced from artisan purveyors Maison Vérot in Paris and served either individually or in large and small selections. The small plate comes with three cured meats and/or pâtés selected by the chef, but little thought seemed to go into our assembly of duck rillettes, pâté and ham. I remember the dish with three adjectives: cold, pink and boring. The texture and taste of the three selected meats got very samey very quickly, making it feel anything but curated. Good thing there were excellent bistro staples like hot garlicky escargot and French onion soup to break up the meat monotony. Also, the old school French desserts – pillowy soufflé rustled up in a new flavour every other week and delicious gateaux served with creamy homemade ice cream – were good enough to make Julia Child proud. Service is proficient, but the ambience of the back seating area is a little lacklustre – the vibe is more generic business hotel than swanky Mandarin Oriental. And while sticky table mats should be unforgivable for somewhere with these prices, that bu
No. Fifty Cheyne
In this stretch of south Chelsea, there are few places more inviting than the robin-egg-blue exterior of No. Fifty Cheyne, an elegant rebrand of what was once Cheyne Walk Brasserie. Inside, the new look is timeless and classy: think high ceilings, sprigs of spring blossoms and flickering taper candles. It’s all very chic. Happily the modern European cooking is as plush and impeccable as the decor, without becoming fiddly or mean-portioned. Standout dishes included a creamy scallop lifted by an asparagus sauce, or the butter-soft rib-eye steak, which had been flame-licked by the wood-fired grill. As for the cotton-fluffy chips with crisp beef-fat crusts, these were good enough to get emotional over. Do watch the bill, though: that scallop starter cost £19.50, the steak a hefty £33.50 (not that the feathers of the well-coiffed Chelsea crowd seemed the least bit ruffled). Still, dinner here felt like pure magic, making the price tags worth it, particularly if you’re going with someone special. Me? I’d like to take my parents, just to show them that I’m all grown up.
Please note, Tom's Kitchen has now closed. Time Out Food editors, JANUARY 2020. The cooking at this chic but relaxed Chelsea hangout can be exceptional. But there’s a catch: you need to know exactly what to order, because that’s what makes the difference between ‘yeah, fine’ and ‘holy shit that’s great’. Here’s what to do: order off The Grill menu, or stick to one of the many meaty mains. Case in point: our juicy ‘Flintstones’-sized portion of grill-seared chateaubriand kicked the wimpy arse of the forgettable seafood starters (grilled jumbo prawns, Devonshire crab cake). As plate after plate of burgers, chicken sandwiches and schnitzels whizzed passed our table, it became quite clear that everyone else already knew what we would soon learn: It’s all about the glorious meat. Unfortunately, service was also laughably bad. Yes, we picked some bad dishes, but we certainly don’t remember ordering utter disdain, appalling apathy, and mistake after ludicrous mistake. It’s quite likely this was limited to our waitress, given how packed with regulars the place was. So yes, Tom’s has potential. With a quick edit of the menu and some work on the service, it could go from very good to absolutely great.
Once a neighbourhood haunt prized by Notting Hill locals, on a recent Saturday night Geales played host to only a handful of diners, many of whom seemed to be from out of town. We asked our waitress what’s good and she genuinely looked uncomfortable with the question. We should have just stuck with something simple, like fish and chips. The lobster portion of a surf and turf was rubbery enough to bounce, while the main flavour of the grossly overcooked turf, a rib-eye steak, was char. A slop of lobster linguini had the gluey texture of a microwaved ready-meal. Service was scatty and dessert took an obscene amount of time to arrive. The fresh-from-the-oven apple crumble with its salty-sweet bite was the best thing we ate but it wasn’t worth the wait, nor could it redeem the overall experience. There are plenty more fish in the sea – especially at this price point and in this neighbourhood.
It came of age during the red-velvet craze, but Notting Hill’s petite Hummingbird Bakery still sends the sugary hearts of cupcake fiends aflutter. On every day of the week, there are rainbows of American-style cupcakes in timeless flavours like Oreo, carrot cake, and (of course) red velvet, as well as vegan varieties and super-cute occasion cupcakes dressed in edible glitter and the like for whatever holiday is around the corner. There are supplementary treats like brownies, whoopie pies and layer cakes, but most people are here for the slick-looking cupcakes. Their appeal lies in the icing – that texturised buttercream crown. It’s not overly cloying and it’s well-proportioned with the sponge base. Unfortunately, not everything smacks of day-of-baking freshness. On a recent cupcake pit-stop (yes, that’s a thing), the cake base was just too dry and crumbly, tasting on the cusp of stale. Still, the icing was perfection. As this place is always full of bumbling tourists and there are only a handful of seats, we recommend that you take your cake to go and skip the extra eat-in charge.
Mulberry Street confidently bills itself as a New York pizzeria: a bold move. But this native New Yorker thinks that these oven-hot pies are the closest thing to the Big Apple that you can find in London. And that’s saying a lot. A few words of advice: order the 20-inch pie to get that good base that’s both chewy and crispy at the crust. The 10-inch pies aren’t going to disappoint anyone, but the 20-inch is a real crowd-pleaser (even if it’s a just for a crowd of two. No judgment). In terms of toppings, stick with something unfussy like the spicy pepperoni. Some of the pizzas just have too many garnishes, which weighs down the pies into a saggy, soggy mess. Mulberry Street knowingly provides shakers of dried oregano, garlic powder and chilli flakes – New York pizzeria staples – so take advantage and use them liberally. Make it rain. On a weekend night, expect all five tables of this frill-free, neon-lit pizzeria to be filled and a stream of orders getting ushered out for delivery. (In other words, don’t expect much in terms of service.) Also, the starters (salads and dippers) and desserts (chocolate cake and tiramisu) are uninspiring, which is all for the best really. Skip them, and leave more room for pizza.
A cool, beachy retreat, Bucket is a place of airy cabanas and breezy green fronds that serves sustainable seafood in cutesy metal pails (that is, buckets). It’s summer chic at its most effortless and inviting. The starters were the stars. An overflowing tub of buttery calamari was expertly cooked and served with an addictive roasted garlic aioli. The taramasalata was thick and smoky, and served with hearty sourdough bread that had been beautifully charred. A lobster, prawn and cheese toastie was inoffensive, but definitely didn’t warrant the £17.95 price tag. Nothing here could be classed as offensive, it was just that some dishes weren’t as impressive as others. But the service was, in a word, perfection. The team at Bucket genuinely want you to enjoy your meal. (So much so that when we gently mentioned that mussels dressed in lobster bisque and brandy could have done with more flavour, the item was struck from the bill and we were profusely thanked for our opinion.) When the bill did arrive, it was presented with two complimentary glasses of frosty limoncello. At its best, this place is a delight. Its bucket runneth over.