Chisou Mayfair – Japanese

Classy Japanese food without any pomp

The grand finale of our day out ‘west’ (taking in the Summer Exhibition 2017 and a few cocktails) was a meal at Chisou. The main reason for choosing this Mayfair restaurant was seeing the grilled unagi (eel) dish on their menu which I’ve only had once as a main course (rather than as a sushi/nigiri topping) in Japan a few months ago. I love eel done in the Japanese smoked style with a sticky sauce – it’s up there as one of my all-time favourite foods.

So I’ve really been looking forward to eating here – would it (could it) live up to my hopes?

Small, appealing Japanese-style interior – main restaurant

Entering the main restaurant, it’s a small Japanese-style space with counter-seating and a few tables with Japanese wooden benches (the ones with lids so you can store your bags and coats inside, and keep the floor area tidy). But we were taken through to an even smaller backroom with closely arranged tables and no windows.

Befitting a hot, summer’s day we picked a chilled saké that goes really well with seafood, a Fisherman saké (more info here) @ £51.00 for a 720ml bottle. This went incredibly well with the food we ordered (mostly fish). Sipping from the small saké glasses, it seemed to last forever too.

Wagyu steak skewers

Crispy, fried gyoza

We ordered a few dishes to share, starting with edamame – young soy beans served with sea salt @ £4.50, wagyu kushi yaki – two wagyu steak skewers with teriyaki sauce @ £13.20 and gyoza – five crispy, fried chicken dumplings @ £7.90.

Next to arrive was the sashimi omakase selection – five kinds of chef’s choice ‘gohin sashimi’ @ £28.90. Totally divine and worth sharing two photos from different angles:

Gohin sashimi – tuna, mackerel, yellow tail, prawns, salmon and wasabi

Gohin sashimi –  tuna, mackerel, yellow tail, prawns, salmon

And then the much-anticipated grilled plates: saikyo yaki a ‘creamy’ black cod marinated in white miso paste @ £21.40 and unagi kabayaki – sea eel fillet in a sweet kaba yaki sauce @ £28.30.

Grilled creamy black cod marinated in white miso paste

Unagi kabayaki – smoked fillet of eel in a sticky sauce

Our waiter was charming – when I’d initially asked about the recommended amount of food for two to share (particularly sashimi portions) his advice was along the lines of ordering too much food is a shame but wanting more, we can easily fix. I liked that.

As an afterthought we ordered a portion of rice @ £3.40, to go with the grilled dishes. It arrived within moments.

Nice bathroom

Saké glasses and holders

For the sake of a thorough review (ahem) we ordered a bowl of ice-cream to share – the black sesame was particularly nice:

Ice-cream – Madagascar vanilla, black sesame and green tea

Partition between tables – fortunately, a cute little girl/toddler who “loved beans” (edamame soy beans) sat next to me; one even got flicked into my rice bowl which was amusing. But if you don’t like chatting to strangers over your dinner, this place may not be for you…

The verdict: Really high quality, excellent food and great menu options. The kind of ‘fine dining’ that doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. I’ll be back for the unagi (eel) and black cod again. Hopefully soon. And I’ll request a table in the main restaurant.

Restaurant info:
– Lardbutty rating: 4.5 / 5
– Type: Japanese
– Address: 4 Princes Street, London
– Postcode: W1B 2LE
– Nearest station: Oxford Circus
– Website + menus: Chisou Mayfair website
– Photos on flickr: images of Chisou Mayfair
– Location: Chisou Mayfair map

Chisou Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Roka Mayfair – Japanese fine dining W1

Robata at Roka – fine dining for treat times

For a special occasion this evening, K and I headed to Roka for some seriously special Japanese robata (charcoal grilled) food. We chose this branch for its menu (see Roka Mayfair menu) which includes black cod, a favourite of mine.

Tuna tataki, beef gyoza, tenderstem broccoli + chicken skewers

We ordered a bottle of dry white wine by La Croix Belle wine estate @ £34.00 – appropriate for a mild Spring evening, and spicy dishes and fish.

While the premium tasting menu looked quite appealing (10 set dishes @ £88.00 each) it seemed like a lazy option. We preferred the enjoyment of reading all of the menu and ordering exactly what we wanted.

As food was arriving at the neighbouring table, it was quite a challenge not to simply copy what they had – it smelt amazing. We took their recommendation for the fried aubergine salad, and were glad we did.

For starters, we shared these plates:

Age nasu no goma-ae @ £6.60
fried aubergine, sesame miso and katsuobushi

Yakitori-negima yaki @ £5.90
chicken skewers with spring onion

– Broccoli no shinme, shoga to moromi miso @ £5.60
tenderstem broccoli, ginger and moromi miso

Beef gyoza @ £9.30
with pickled cucumber and a soy based sauce

Nigiri unagi @ £6.90
two pieces of freshwater eel sushi

Fried aubergine salad with sesame miso + katsuobushi (tuna flakes) –  @ £6.60

This fried aubergine with sesame miso was a recommendation worth sharing. Absolutely gorgeous. And the eel nigiri (pictured below) was the best I’ve had in the UK – we ordered two portions.

Two pieces of nigiri unagi – freshwater eel sushi @ £6.90

Yellowfin tuna tataki – with apple mustard dressing @ £12.60

For main course, we shared:

Kihada maguro no tataki @ £12.60
yellowfin tuna tataki with apple mustard dressing

Gyuhireniku no pirikara yakiniku @ £24.30
spicy beef fillet with chilli, ginger and spring onion

and, saving the best ’til last…

Gindara no saikyo-jaki @ £37.60
black cod marinated in yuzu miso

Spicy beef fillet – with chilli, ginger and spring onion @ £24.30

Just divine. This black cod may seem a bit pricey @ £37.60 but it absolutely blew me away. And you can’t put a price on that.

Black cod marinated in yuzu miso @ £37.60

The kitchen is open plan in the centre of the restaurant, so you can see the food being cooked on the robata grills. It’s a bit like posh BBQ-ing really.

Men at work: robata grills in the centre of the restaurant


Roka Mayfair interior

Our total bill for two came to £185.21 including service.


The verdict: Perfectly prepared and beautifully presented food that’s so incredibly tasty, it blew me away. Full marks to the kitchen. Service was at odds (either too much – we went from different servers descending on us one after the other, to non-existent). If you like Japanese food, you’ll love Roka.


Restaurant info:
– Lardbutty rating: 4.5 / 5
– Type: Japanese, Robata
– Address: 30 North Audley Street, London
– Postcode: W1K 6ZF
– Nearest station: Bond Street, Green Park
– Website + menus: Roka Mayfair website
– Roka Mayfair photos: Roka Mayfair photos on flickr
– Location: Roka Mayfair map

Roka Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Benares – Indian in Mayfair, W1

Michelin starred Indian restaurant on Berkeley Square

Celebrity chef, Atul Kochhar may well be a familiar face, if you’re a fan of cookery programmes like Saturday Kitchen. And he’s the chef behind Michelin star restaurant Benares in London’s Mayfair, with a reputation for blending upscale Indian cuisine with British style.

Benares has been on my ‘to visit’ list for years. And GH’s arrival in London today (from the Caribbean) provided the perfect excuse to go and treat ourselves to a Christmas dinner with a difference. Starting with cocktails in the relaxing bar lounge this Friday afternoon, I had a gorgeous Saffron Daisy gin cocktail @ £14.00 (Sipsmith premium London dry gin with handpicked saffron, cardamom, sugar and lemon juice).


Benares bar lounge


Cocktails at Benares – saffron daisy gin (foreground), reverse vesper vodka martini (back), pineapple and ginger mojito (right)


We had a 2.30pm table reservation for our party of three. Not realising that the kitchen closes mid-afternoon between lunch and dinner sittings, we were politely hurried to our table (in the rather plain and dark restaurant) and encouraged to order quickly, as the kitchen was – very kindly! – being kept open for us. A bottle of picpoul de pinet (dry white wine) @ £29 and the two-course Christmas dinner menu @ £37.00 seemed appropriate for our festivities.


Benares interior – dark and uninspiring


Poppodoms and fruity chutneys + saffron daisy gin cocktail


For starters, GH and I both ordered vegetable and edamame bean seekh kebab with walnut chutney (a tantilising blend of flavours – just stunning), while GN had potato and pea samosa chaat with rose yoghurt and date and tamarind chutney.


Vegetable + edamame bean seekh kebab with walnut chutney


Potato and pea samosa chaat


For main course, GH and GN had grilled paneer with punjabi chickpeas, while I had kokum flavoured Mangalorean haddock curry with spicy tapioca mash, accompanied by a variety of rices and Indian flat breads (all of which was a treat for the senses and faultless).


Grilled paneer with punjabi chickpeas


Mangalorean haddock curry


While the portions might look quite small, we found them deceivingly filling (including complimentary bar nuts and poppodoms, along with sides of bread and rice, etc). Despite being full, it didn’t seem right to forfeit Christmas pudding so we shared one between us – a fab idea (Spiced. Perfect. Beautifully presented).


Garam masala spiced Christmas pudding with vanilla bean + brandy sauce with raspberries and holly-shaped fruity sauce


Novelty factor – expanding steaming flannels


Our waitress served what looked like a tray of mints, then poured hot water over them. The white balls started to expand, initially looking like something to eat, before fully growing into a tower – a steaming hot flannel – sterile for cleansing, and beautifully presented.

The verdict:
The food at Benares is Indian with a twist and is simply stunning. And there’s an excellent cocktail menu and wine list. While it’s a pricey, fine-dining restaurant, there are some affordable good wines on the list (eg. picpoul de pinet @ £29.00 a bottle). Eating here is definitely an experience that you pay a bit more for. And it’s worth it (our bill for three came to £270.00 including service).

Serving staff were on the ball, although – on our visit – there was an abundance of servers and, if anything, could have asked us if everything was ok less frequently.

While Benares is in a premium location on Berkeley Square in the heart of Mayfair, you wouldn’t know it once you’re seated in the first floor restaurant: there are no windows, it’s dark albeit with soft mood lighting. If the intention is ‘plain and simple’, I found the interior rather dull and uninspiring.


Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
~ Type: Indian
~ Address: 12a Berkeley Square House, Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London
~ Postcode: W1J 6BS
~ Nearest station: Green Park, Piccadilly, Oxford Circus
~ Website + menus: Benares website
~ Photos on flickr: images of Benares
~ Location: Benares map


Benares Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition 2015

The most noticeable differences for this year’s Summer Exhibition are:

1. Vibrant colours
Multi-coloured stairs lead to the turquoise Wohl Central Hall. Gallery III is pink, and the Lecture Room blue – a bold move from the usual all-white backdrops, serving to create a bright, summery feel when stepping inside the light, cool RAA on a hot day

2. Sipsmith gin bar
Iced gin drinks are available in Gallery III – a nice touch, adding to this traditional London summer experience – @ £9.00 for a top quality Sipsmith gin and Fever Tree tonic

3. Social media + browse exhibits online
For the first time, you can browse all exhibits online and add your favourites to a ‘My Gallery‘. You can photograph most exhibits (only a few have a ‘no photography’ sign) and are encouraged to engage in social media – share your pictures and thoughts via facebook, twitter and instagram. Free publicity, yes, but also a pleasing indication that this institution can blend tradition (it’s the RA’s 247th Summer Exhibition) with what’s relevant today.


RAA summer exhibition 2015 – my select highlights


Because there’s a ton of multi-media info out there already about this exhibition, I’m simply going to share a few of my favourites.


i. Secretly looks like home?
IMG_2713_174_At the gas rig_ClementinaRd_Gallery1_FAVE
#174 At the gas rig, Clementina Road by R.W.M. Hunt – my fave


That someone was inspired to create this colourful painting from a scene as mundane as a gasworks and a street lamp really draws me to it. There’s nothing of great beauty in the scene and yet there’s something touchingly simple and optimistic – it’s just ‘real life’ – reflected in the painting. The green character is appealingly simple too (East London’s answer to Berlin’s Ampelmann?). I really love it and I can’t stop looking at it.

Bottom line: It’s not just obvious beauty but also the mundane, the everyday life – even the dreary, that can inspire (provoke?) creativity.

And ironically – now I’ve looked up where Clementina Road is (E10) – it turns out that the first flat I tried to buy in London was near here (by the River Lea in the Lee Valley Park).

Perhaps it secretly looks like home?



ii. Hairy corset
IMG_2725_542_Cilice with my own hair_Gallery4_FAVE
#542 Cilice with my own hair by Clancey Gebler Davies


This appeals to me not least because I love corsets/basques but also because I could realistically imagine creating this from my own excess hair and hair balls (I’m constantly moulting).

I wonder how long it took to make?



iii. Looking up through a canopy of trees?
#500 Rainfall by Ermioni Avramidou


I love this because – when I first looked at it – it felt like looking up through a canopy of trees in a wood towards the sky, with daylight filtering through between the leaves. Beautiful.

At first look, K felt something underwater about it – looking up to the water’s surface.



iv. Cranes and construction in white
#530 From Vauxhall Bridge by Andy Finlay


Vauxhall Bridge is just up the road from my previous home of 7 years. I guess I like the white minimalism and that you have to work at it, to focus, and see the image details emerge.



v. Cute
#790 Rabbit by Tracey Emin


Because I’m a sucker for Emin’s animal sketches (even if it’s not as cute as ‘Space Monkey – we have lift off’, from summer exhibition 2009).



vi. Humument
IMG_2768_A Humument_Gallery10
#1111 Humument by Tom Phillips – pen, ink + collage on bookpages.


Tom Phillips’ work in progress since 1966 (continuously revised since 1973) – he bought a second hand book called A Human Document and altered every page using pen, ink and collage techniques to create a completely new version, A Humument (more info here).



vii. Etching featuring King Kebab + Tesco Express
#596 After Escher by Martin Langford


What’s not to like about an Escher style etching featuring a ‘King Kebab’ shop, Tesco Express, and a billboard’s accident insurance ad approved by The Society of Ambulance Chasers?



viii. Border illusion?
IMG_2705_142_Trance Map_in Gallery2
#142 Trance Map by Trevor Sutton


Are the blocks different ‘shades’ of white, or do the pencil borders create that illusion?



ix. Someone’s got a steady hand!
#2 Zobop by Jim Lambie – coloured vinyl tape


A colourfully striking welcome on entering the Royal Academy of Arts.



x. Old bin bags?
#1100 Erebus (man on fire version II) sculpture by Tim Shaw RA


In mixed media (painted foam, polythene and steel). In the blue Lecture Room.


That’s just ten exhibits that stand out to me. It’s an eclectic display with more than 1,100 works of diverse styles and mediums, created by both established and unknown artists (the Summer Exhibition is the world’s oldest open-submission exhibition – with over 12,000 entries this year), comprising paintings, prints, sculptures, architectural models and creations, and photography – a vibrant summer of colour.


~ Summer Exhibition 2015 – select photo highlights
~ Summer Exhibition 2015 – all of my photos
~ Summer Exhibition 2009 – LardButty blogpost, Aug 2009

Truc Vert re-visited (NOW CLOSED)

Update 29 March 2017: I walked past this restaurant on North Audley Street in Mayfair this evening and was sorry to see it’s closed down. It can only have happened recently as the furniture and contents haven’t been removed yet. Sorry to see you go, Truc Vert.

_ _ _

We paid another visit to Truc Vert (follow link for more info) last night. It was as good as it’s always been.

The marché area seems to have been cut back to make room for more tables (sensible idea, or perhaps it’s just because it’s winter so there’s no outdoor dining).

We were in time to take advantage of the ‘three courses for £25’ menu prix fixé before 7.30pm, which is great value given a starter is around £9 and a main course around £19 anyway.

For a starter, I had seared cod and salmon fish cakes with marinated fennel, beetroot, slow roast cherry tomato and horseradish sauce (a la carte price: £8.50), followed by roast venison with sweet potato, seasonal vegetables and peas with mint (a la carte price: £18.95). The venison was tender and slightly rich with a liver-like flavour.

roast venison + sweet potato

Another member of the party had roast Gressingham duck breast with mixed bean cassoulet, roast figs and dressing (a la carte price: £18.50) which was also tender and tasty, and not too fatty (as duck can sometimes be) and a definite hit.

roast Gressingham duck

A Viognier Le Versant, Vins de Pays d’ Oc dry white wine @ £20 a bottle went well with the fishcakes starter, as did the Argentine Malbec, Bodegas Los Clop red @ £21 with the red meats.

For the third course, we each opted for a cheese mixed platter served with fresh nutty bread and Truc Vert chutney, with a port.

A couple of jazz musicians were playing which was a really nice touch but made it slightly challenging to have a conversation and hear one other.


See full Lardbutty blog-post on Truc Vert, here.

Square Meal

Al Hamra – Lebanese restaurant in Shepherd Market

Three of us (at work) decided to go out for lunch today. It was a last minute idea and – this close to Christmas – wasn’t surprising that most nearby restaurants in the Mayfair/Shepherd Market area were booked up.

Fortunately, we were able to reserve a table at Al Hamra, which turned out to be fairly quiet over lunchtime.

Al Hamra in Shepherd Market

Al Hamra describes itself as “the finest Lebanese restaurant in London” (quite a superlative; quite a claim – we would see). Their menu has an un-customer-friendly warning that the minimum order is £20 per person excluding drinks, even at lunch time. And there’s a cover charge of £2.50 per person.

So, be warned – don’t come here if you’re after a light lunch in the region of £10 – £15, as you’d end up being charged £22.50 minimum (plus drinks and service) anyway.

The three of us shared a few dishes including:
~ Baba ganoush – smokey aubergine dip
~ Houmous and pitta – chickpeas + sesame seed dip
~ Olives
~ Grilled halloumi – Grilled Cypriot cheese
~ Falafel – ground chick peas, broad beans, etc rolled into balls + deep fried
~ Chicken wings
~ Foul Medames – mixed beans
~ Fatayer – pastry filled with spinach

Meze at Al Hamra

The total lunch bill came to £102 (so £34 each). While the food here is good, it’s probably a bit over-priced.

I suspect we’ll stick with our regular lunchspot, Ye Grapes (Thai) – also in Shepherd Market – in future.

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 3 / 5
~ Type: Lebanese, middle-eastern
~ Address: 31-33 Shepherd Market, Mayfair, London
~ Postcode: W1J 7PT
~ Tel: 020 7493 1954
~ Nearest tube station: Green Park
~ Website: Al Hamra website
~ Location: Al Hamra map


Nearby dining:

~ Ye Grapes – good Thai food in Shepherd Market

Al Hamra on Urbanspoon



Market Table at Cookbook Cafe, InterContinental London Park Lane

Market table – seasonal produce

The market table at the Cookbook Cafe is the kind of table I’d love to have in my own kitchen. A huge, solid wood table laden with the most tempting variety of seasonal foods: salads, antipasti, cheeses, fresh bread, and fish and seafood.

This is an ‘unlimited buffet’ with a difference.

Fish, meat, cheese, salads + more on the market table (cake table in background)

A first plate from the market table: mostly seafood and fish

Not only is there a great selection of seasonal foods but – my favourite – there’s a Japanese table:

Choose from fresh sushi / sashimi

…and a second plate of succulent salmon and tuna sashimi with wasabi + ginger

If you’re a desserts fan, there’s an appealing selection of ornate cakes. The only difficulty is deciding what to try! BK and I shared a couple of tiny nutty cakes (just for the sake of completeness), as – preferring savoury foods – we wanted to explore the cheese board. And, by this point, it was time to prioritise. Or burst.

The ‘market lunch table’ (helping yourself to whatever you like) is £18 and includes a tea or coffee. Wines start from around £30 a bottle (we had a bottle of Hugel Gentil Alsace white wine with the first courses of fish @ £28 and a Chakana Malbec @ £29 afterwards with the cheeses).

If you’ve got time to have a leisurely lunch and are in the Hyde Park / Piccadilly area, this is an idyllic way to spend a leisurely lunch but do allow a couple of hours. The market lunch table is served between 12 and 3:30pm.

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 3.5 / 5
~ Type: British, Japanese, international
~ Address: InterContinental London Park Lane, 1 Hamilton Place, Park Lane, London
~ Postcode: W1J 3QY
~ Nearest tube station: Hyde Park Corner
~ Websites: Cookbook Cafe website
~ Menu + online reservation: Market Table menu etc
~ Offers:tastecard
~ Location: Cookbook Cafe map

Cookbook Cafe on Urbanspoon