So Sarastro – a theatrical dining experience

How do you describe a restaurant where the decor and theme is all things opera and theatre, and great Turkish food is served amid live entertainment? Delightfully quirky?

An unusual sight on a busy central London street, the immense greenery and flower-jungle on the outside is an indication of the eccentricity within; and the smell of fresh rosemary an invitation to enter.

Sarastro – Lardbutty restaurant of the week
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Once inside, Sarastro initially has the appearance of an old theatre props junk shop. All of the decor and tables (some are ‘theatre box’ boothes) creatively relate in some way to opera or theatre.

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Sarastro decor

Eating from the Tenor menu (pre-theatre menu @ £14.50 for two courses) this evening, H and I had mushroom borek (pastries) and hummus starters between us, and both opted for Anatolian lamb with mixed vegetables and mashed potato (slow cooked lamb shank which fell off the bone). Perfect.

Already, we’ve got intriguing, quirky surroundings; excellent value food, and very tasty too; a comprehensive wine list, and, at 8.30pm – live entertainment to complete the spectacle (musicians don’t play every night so check before visiting).

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 3.5 / 5
~ Type: Turkish / opera
~ Menu: Sarastro menus
~ Postcode: WC2B 5SU
~ Nearest station: Covent Garden / Charing Cross
~ Website: Sarastro website
~ Location: Sarastro map
~ Multi-media (poor quality mobile-phone video of musicians):

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Santa Maria – Lardbutty restaurant of the year 2010

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Santa Maria del Sur – Lardbutty restaurant of the year 2010

SW8’s best kept secret is well and truly out: Santa Maria del Sur.

In Gordon Ramsay’s F Word series 5 he told the world that the steak at Santa Maria del Sur was the best he’d ever tasted. Could there be a higher accolade? This small and cosy restaurant was always busy but now it’s advisable to book a couple of months in advance.


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Parrillada Deluxe – mixed grill for two comprising 350g sirloin steak, 250g fillet steak, Argentine-style sausage, black pudding + provolone cheese


I was introduced to parrilladas (mixed grills to share) on my first visit here in 2006. This is clearly what the restaurant specialises in, so I’ve stuck to them on every visit since, also sharing other plates and starters so I can work my way through the menu(!) without sacrificing the perfectly cooked meats.


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Parrillada deluxe meat fest with grilled mushrooms


The grilled tuna steak, empanadas (Argentine pasties), provoleta (grilled cheese), morcilla (black pudding) sausages, sirloin and fillet steaks are consistently perfect (with fillet outranking sirloin). Given the quality and size of the portions, £25 per person for the parrillada deluxe is well worth it. And there’s a good selection of reasonably priced wines (malbec from £15.50 a bottle – *update April 2014: excellent Famiglia Bianchi Malbec Reserva 2011-12 ‘world’s best wine’ @ £38*).


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Cosy interior – with soft lighting


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Pancake dessert


I’ve visited on different days of the week and at different times and all have been good. We spent a lovely leisurely Sunday afternoon here last September (for K’s dad’s birthday) when service was exceptionally good (perhaps because it wasn’t as frantic as it is sometimes in the evening). We visited last night, a Monday evening, with my parents. The restaurant was fully booked – people turning up on the offchance of getting a table were turned away. We left four very happy customers.

So, does any restaurant deserve full marks or is there always room for improvement? Santa Maria currently ranks top of the Lardbutty index, scoring 4.5 out of 5. It’s so close but doesn’t quite warrant the full 5 marks, as on one Friday night when the restaurant was packed and hectic, we were a party of five squashed on a table for four. We were short on table space for the parrilladas and shared plates, and the fifth person was seated in a busy gangway. We overlooked this slight discomfort – of course – as everything else was exceptional.


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Sample bill for two – as of April 2014


Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 4.5 / 5
~ Type: Argentine
~ Address: 129 Queenstown Road, Battersea, London
~ Postcode: SW8 3RH
~ Nearest station: Queenstown Road, Battersea Park mainline stations
~ Website: Santa Maria del Sur website
~ Photos on flickr: images of Santa Maria del Sur food
~ Location: Restaurant map


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Santa Maria Del Sur on Urbanspoon

Beniha-ha!-ha!-na

Eight courses for £22.50 – we’re all laughing!

It rained heavily across London last night like it hasn’t rained in a long time. I’d been shopping and had an American-style big brown paper shopping bag which got thoroughly sodden and disintegrated. Still, on the plus side I dried out and had a fabulous meal at Benihana, Kings Road.

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Hibachi grill at Benihana Kings Road – Lardbutty restaurant of the week

There’s an offer on at the moment: £22.50 for an eight course set menu. You get to choose two courses from steak, chicken, prawns, salmon, black cod or sea-bass – I chose blackened cod and steak and they were outstanding.

My favourite course – sashimi – wasn’t in this deal. Instead, there was an onions and veggie dish which was good to watch as the chef created a chimney-stack of onion rings and somehow fired some liquid underneath it, so it smoked. The chef did it all so quickly, I won’t be trying out his fancy tricks at home.

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 3.5 / 5
~ Type: Japanese
~ Postcode: SW3 4NX
~ Nearest station: Sloane Square
~ Website: Benihana UK website
~ Special promotions: Yes
~ Location: Benihana Kings Road map

L’Autre – Polish-Mexican in a City village

We had a work’s pub quiz on Thursday evening at Shepherd’s Tavern, a traditional pub with friendly bar staff, in Shepherd Market, Mayfair.

Shepherd Market is like a village square with a local community feel, even though it’s situated in central London. A short walk from Green Park and Piccadilly, you turn into White Horse Street and somehow leave the city behind.

Built on the site that once held the ‘May Fair’ (a 15 day fête banned in 1708 for the disorder and unruly crowd it brought) Shepherd Market was designed by Edward Shepherd – with paved streets, theatre and duck-pond – to attract a less rowdy class of people. There’s more about the history, and some literature that this area’s featured in, here.

Shepherd’s Tavern serves good sharing platters (sausages and mustard, fish wedges and chips) at around £13 a platter. Being slightly set back from the pubs on the main market place, it’s likely to be less crowded too.

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L’Autre – restaurant of the week

It’s hard to find any pubs or restaurants here that aren’t appealing. There’s a branch of Sofra (top quality Turkish mezes and fish dishes, etc) and several cosy cafes but on this visit to the market, a ‘Polish-Mexican Bistro’ caught my attention.

Its window display of wine bottles and fairy lights invited me into the warmth from the dark winter night, along with a specials menu offering the likes of roast wild boar and Mexican lamb shank. While I declined to enter Mayfair’s oldest wine lodge on this occasion I intend to visit L’Autre very soon, and consider it worthy of the Lardbutty ‘restaurant of the week’ title for combining two such different cuisines (Polish and Mexican) and being so intriguing…

Restaurant info:
~ Type: Polish-Mexican
~ Postcode: W1
~ Nearest station: Green Park
~ Website: n/a
~ Location: L’Autre map

Links:
~ Food and drink at Shepherd Market

~ Shepherd Market history

~ Shepherd’s Tavern

~ Sofra Mayfair

Gary Numan gig

30 years of The Pleasure Principle

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Gary Numan released a 30th anniversary edition of The Pleasure Principle in September (mentioned recently) and is currently touring, playing all the old tracks – initially recorded as Tubeway Army – along with newer industrial tunes.

Last night’s gig at Indigo O2 was immense (support band aside) – Numan’s still the king of electronic music. And while it was the most outstanding gig I’ve been to in years, there was – endearingly – a very high bald-head count!

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More:
~ O2 Indigo gig photos (professional)

~ O2 Indigo gig photos (my snaps)

~ Gary Numan gig, my video clips

~ Gary Numan’s official website

~ BBC’s music page on Gary Numan

~ Gary Numan, BBC radio 6 session

Make Michelin quality food without dirtying your nails

“At The Kitchen you experience, first hand, how to create great tasting food from the finest ingredients with Michelin Star Chef Thierry Laborde and his team” so says The Kitchen’s website.

This is true: you can book a session and create – or assemble – some really tasty dishes that are mostly prepared, in advance, by The Kitchen’s chefs. Only the best quality ingredients are used, and you can take the final tasty product away to cook at home.

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I went yesterday and “created” a mousaka. This involved putting the prepared meat mixture, sauce and cooked aubergines in layers into a tin, before handing the tin back to the chef for seal-packaging, ready to cook at home.

I also made a chicken masala as I love cooking Indian food and was keen to improve on my own recipes with that of a Michelin star chef. However, the masala sauce had been made in advance – my task was to slice an additional chilli (if desired) and stir.

When I asked for the masala recipe the chef had used I was told it could only be given if I emailed to request it later.

The food I took home was top quality and fabulously tasty, and I spent a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours with friends, doing something sociable that we wouldn’t ordinarily do together (while sipping wine).

I recommend The Kitchen to anyone who’d like a relaxing, fun few hours doing something a bit different with friends. But don’t expect to learn anything about cooking from this “new culinary experience” unless you’ve never been in a kitchen before.

More:
~ Recipease – cooking shops
~ Photos at The Kitchen

Bonfire night at Battersea Park

Bonfire night, or Guy Fawkes night is one of my favourite celebrations in the British calendar: the bonfire, home-made guys, fireworks, Yorkshire parkin and not forgetting mulled wine.

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This year is the 404th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot; the attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament and assassinate the monarch, King James I, and most of the British aristocracy at the state opening of Parliament in 1605. In the Stuart period, Britain – like much of Europe – was divided between Protestants and Catholics. Under Britain’s Protestant rule, Catholics faced oppression, and the Gunpowder Plot orchestrated by Robert Catesby sought to change this.

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The explosion and assassination will be carried out by Guy Fawkes, an expert in gunpowder explosives and a Roman Catholic from York in the north of England. Having enlisted in the Spanish army in the 1590s during the Wars of Religion in Europe, he’s learnt his skills from the Spanish.

Renting a cellar under the House of Lords in Westminster Palace (later to be called the Houses of Parliament), the revolutionaries secretly stash away 36 barrels of gunpowder over several months. It’s enough to blow up all of Westminster Palace and everyone in it!

By warning a fellow Catholic who’s attending the state opening, word of the planned explosion leaks out and reaches the king. During the night, early 5th November 1605, the King’s men search the cellar, finding not only the gunpowder buried under firewood and coal but also Guy Fawkes making his escape.

Arrested and tortured for several days, Fawkes is imprisoned in the Tower of London. In his trial, 31 January 1606, at Westminster Hall (the grand entrance to the Houses of Parliament) Fawkes is found guilty of treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered along with his comrades, at the very place they plotted to blow up.

Weak from torture but ever the hero, Fawkes declines the hanging choosing instead to jump from the ladder up to the gallows. Breaking his neck, he takes his own life.

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More:
~ Photos of bonfire night 2009
~ Guy Fawkes feature in T+C Weekly News Nov 2009