Afternoon Tea – Heaven in a trio
Pantry at 108 is located in The Marylebone Hotel, and serves both a lunch and afternoon tea menu. Indulge in this quintessentially British pastime daily from noon until 6pm, with a choice of three different options. The ‘Classic’ afternoon tea set (£28) includes all the natural elements – finger sandwiches, scones, and cakes – whilst the ‘Gluten free’ version (£28) is the healthier (lower dairy and sugar) alternative which is also coeliac-friendly. A third option, the ‘Indulgent’ afternoon tea (£38), adds Moët & Chandon.
A glass of bubbly wins me over every time; a scientific fact, as mystical as the mathematical value of pi (potential suitors, take note). Inevitably, it is towards the Indulgent afternoon tea that we drift. Although we are absorbed in sipping on our champagne spoils and congratulating each other on our preternatural intelligence in the menu department, we also manage to pick a few teas.
A veritable den of iniquity
The Lucky Pig is tucked away in the heartlands of Fitzrovia, and isn’t somewhere that you just stumble upon. The clandestine nature of this cocktail bar adds to its charm; the only notable sign of its presence is a modest poster above a set of stairs. Themed around the American Speakeasy’s of the prohibition era, this underground hideaway is evocative of 20’s New York, fitted out with plush leather armchairs, ivory chaise lounges and oddly matched furniture. Further in, you will find intimate arched alcoves – private areas within the bar for groups of upto 8, which can be screened off even further by closing red velvet curtains.
In stark contrast to some of this opulence is the more rough-and-tumble shell of the place – worn down walls, gritty fittings and crumbling brickwork, punctuated with a cacophony of oddities. Vintage typing machines and an old Sewer sit to be admired, whilst from the ceilings and walls hang delicate Chinese lanterns and risqué posters. The culmination of this decor is a space that is immersive and engaging, enabling a sociable group experience or more intimate connection in the cordoned-off coves.
A fresh take on Bubble Tea
In Soho, almost every corner has a bubble tea café. One of the newest to fling open its doors in this sipper’s heartland is Biju – apparently a bubble tea room with a difference. Nick Phan, the young and sprightly owner, is on hand to divulge what it is that makes Biju’s bubble tea different to the rest. Cross legged and poised on the stepped cork seating, Nick explains that instead of mass-making ingredients in huge batches, at Biju everything is made fresh. Tea leaves from Taiwan sit in espresso machines, waiting to be brewed for each individual order. For the flavoured juices, instead of using processed powders to imitate taste and colour, Biju uses ‘nectars’ – concentrated syrups of the fresh ingredients.
These specifics add up to make a set of bubble teas that are really quite lovely. For a creamy and uplifting tea, try the marvellously refreshing honey-dew melon with chunks of egg custard. The surprising intensity of the honey melon flavour is given tone and depth with the crème-caramel custard. Although it might seem like one of the more syrupy drinks, the sweetness levels are pleasantly in check. The sugar used in the bubble teas here are approximately half of what other bubble teas shops in the area use, and all the better for it.
Brilliant food in a not-so-brilliant room
Rivea doesn’t break the mould when it comes to hotel restaurants, even under the guidance of 3-Michelin starred chef-patron Alain Ducasse. The head chef who actually works in the kitchen here, Damien Leroux, is a former protégé of Ducasse and has clearly learnt his trade well; at Rivea the food is skilled and very accomplished.
Less likable is the subdued and listless setting – the basement room in which this restaurant is set does not lend itself to warmth. Although there are striking features here, they all seem to meld into a soulless kind of corporate uniformity. This is incredibly ill fitting, as the food philosophy is based on the sun-drenched shores of the French and Italian Riviera.
Surprisingly good stuff
For café-style Thai food in an informal environment, try the highly reliable Suda in Covent Garden. This oriental stalwart is set over two cavernous floors, giving it the potential to service the heavy street traffic with 150 covers. The restaurant is tucked away in St Martins Courtyard, a lesser known fold in the otherwise hectic and touristy area. The slight distance from the main thoroughfare is fantastic, giving diners the ability to eat in peace whilst observing the constant human flurry from a distance.
Whilst I enjoy a bit of people watching as much as anyone, Suda also provides reasonably authentic and affordable food. As a starter, there is little that beats the warming power of a bowl of powerfully spiced and steaming Tom Yum soup. Suda’s version manages to pack in the hot-sour taste that you would expect, and is searingly aromatic with the fragrance of lemongrass, coconut, lime, prawns and mushrooms.
Perfect for Bloomsbury-based students
This Bangladeshi-led restaurant sits in the blowsy district of Bloomsbury, on streets lined with Georgian townhouses and populated with students. The patrons of Salaam Namaste are probably working for degrees from nearby UCL and SOAS, with a set lunch buffet (£6.50) aimed squarely at them. A side table supports this utilitarian spread; six steel vessels hold the curries, pakoras and rice, with poppadums and salads on the side.
The A La Carte menu is housed in a heavy booklet and speaks of an extensive choice of food. There are around six full pages, listing dishes from the Indian subcontinent, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi chef-patron of this establishment, Sabir Karim, trained the chef at Salaam Namaste and also the chef at sister restaurant Namaste Kitchen. Karim now primarily spends his time working as an airline steward for British Airways, popping into his restaurants from time to time.
Strictly Neapolitan pizza, all the better for it
The origins of pizza are largely unknown; although widely accepted as hailing from Italy, the exact parentage is harder to deduce with such differences in variety. In Rome, the pizzas are diametrically expansive and thin to the extreme, whilst in Florence they lean to being meatier beasts. In London, however, the buzzword when it comes to trendy pizzas is Neapolitan, seen at GB Pizza Co, Pizza Pilgrims, and Franco Manca.
Naples, home of the Neapolitan variety, sets out strict rules when it comes to their pizza – this is serious business after all. The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (Association of Real Neapolitan Pizza) is responsible for outlining concise guidelines for exactly what a true Neapolitan pizza is. Purists will quote some of these strictures as: use of type 0 or 00 flour (with characteristically high-protein content); hand formed bases, and cooked at temperatures above 485°C in a wood-fired oven for no more than a minute and a half.
Not the way Mama intended it to be
Pizza Pilgrims is the shared endeavor of two brothers, James and Thom Elliot, who in 2011 shafted both convention and their office jobs for something infinately more pleasant. Life began afresh for them in the back of a three-wheeled van, which they used to make a pilgrim of sorts around Italy. Throughout their tour, they honed their pizza making skills and chose to bring the Naples variety back to London.
From humble beginnings selling their pizza out of the back of a van, Pizza Pilgrims then set up its first premises in Dean Street closely followed by a second in Kingly Court. It has been a while since their days of touring around Italy and eating authentic pizza, a fact which is beginning to show in the Kingly Court outpost. Naples pizzas are meant to be light and airy, with charred and fluffy crusts that graduate into chewy centres (try them here).
The solution to the age old question: what shall we have tonight, dear?
This neighborhood Italian restaurant is well placed to service the heavily residential Fulham area around the long and leafy Munster Road. The floor to ceiling picture windows allow views onto the Al Fresco terrace, perfect for outdoors dining. The inside of Locale is resolutely dependable with gastro-pub-like exposed brickwork, pleated wallpaper and a hearth of plush leather seating.
The menu speaks of regional Italian classics and is divided into Da Stuzzicare, Antipastis, Pasta, Carne e Pesce, Pizza and Insalata sections. From Da Stuzzicare, an effortlessly cool butter-soft burrata with summer vegetable caponata is a sign of great things to come. Follow this with a trio of perfectly pan-fried scallops with peas, mint puree and strewn rocket.
This newly opened restaurant fits snugly on Charlotte Street, comfortable in carving out its own niche in the booming burger market. Bobo Social burgers, those emblems of the dirty food movement, have cleaned up their act and are presented afresh. The burgers are petite and proper, appropriate against the flowery crockery and country-chic interior. Barely fist-sized, the waist conscious and fashion forward will have no guilt at indulging here.
The clientele at Bobo, short for Bourgeois Bohemian, is indeed the type who would fit into its gilted and whitewashed interior. These blonde, lithe, consummate gym-goers are the sort whose natural environment is more Made in Chelsea than studenty Fitzrovia.
The efforts at glamourous perfection extend beyond the beautiful bodies and onto the food as well. The provenance of ingredients and cooking methods are divulged in proud detail here. Rare-breed Dexter, Longhorn and Red Lincoln beef from Sussex are used for the patties, which are cooked in a Kopa Charcoal Oven to sear the meat instantly at temperatures as high as 300°C. This rapid sealing ensures that the meat retains every ounce of succulence, exemplified perfectly in the exquisitely ripe wagyu burger with Ogleshield cheese, confit shiitake mushrooms, truffle and onion compote and shaved truffles.