El Camion Mexican – Soho, W1

Impressive cocktail list and fresh Mexican food at El Camion and The Pink Chihuahua in Soho.

Probably the first thing to make you smile on entering this basic cafe-style restaurant is the vast collection of pepper sauce bottles on four shelves that run right along the back wall, and the Mexican wall art including day of the dead paintings.

The second is likely to be the impressive cocktail list – it’s vast! I ordered a cadillac margarita (tequila with lemon juice and grand marnier) @ £9.50 and H had a tequila espresso martini (tequila with kahlua, tia maria and espresso) @ £9.50. Along with the friendly service, this was an excellent start.

 

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Cadillac margarita and tequila espresso

 

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Margarita and tequila drinks selection from the extensive cocktail list

 

This Mexican menu takes inspiration, apparently, from the Baja Peninsula in North West Mexico.

We ordered a few starters to share (we thought they’d be light but they were pretty filling): guacamole – a generous bowl of fresh guacamole @ £3.50, tortilla chips again, a generous portion @ £1.50, chipotle salsa – very hot and fiery pepper sauce @ £2.50, and chicaron described as being like pork scratchings but probably more like Quavers (we left most of these), a large portion served with a bowl of guacamole @ £3.95.

 

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Chicaron – ‘pork scratchings’ with guacamole

 

For main course – along with a bottle of Malbec red wine @ £26.00 – we ordered mixed botanas a sharing platter comprising three tacos, three tostados, three quesadilla slices and three jaladas (jalapeno chillis with cream cheese, or ‘poppers’) @ £24.00, and you can choose your own fillings.

 

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Mixed botanas – 3 tacos with slook cooked pork, 3 tostados with slow cooked chicken), 3 quesadilla slices (spinach + mushroom) + 3 jaladas

 

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Jaladas – jalapeno chillis stuffed with cream cheese, deep fried in bread crumbs

 

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That’s a lot of pepper sauce!

 

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Basic cafe-style interior with colourful table coverings
 

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Loos by the Pink Chihuahua cocktail lounge in the basement

 

Too full for dessert, H had an amaretto @ £8.00 (a double) and I had a sparkling wine @ £6.50 as a digestif. Altogether, our meal for two came to £114.41 including service.

 

The verdict: No fuss, no frills Mexican food with an enticing cocktail menu.

 

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 3.5 / 5
~ Type: Mexican
~ Address: 25-27 Brewer St, London
~ Postcode: W1F 0RR
~ Nearest station: Piccadilly Circus
~ Website + menus: El Camion website
~ Photos on flickr: images of El Camion
~ Location: El Camion map

 

El Camion Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Lotus – classy Indian restaurant, West End

It’s 30th December, and it’s our new tradition to dine at a classy restaurant on this date (then stay in and eat home-made food on new year’s eve). After last year’s visit to the excellent Gordon Ramsay’s Maze we had wondered where to treat ourselves this year, when LardButty received an invitation to "go try out Lotus in Covent Garden” with a voucher issued on behalf of Chef & Manager, Bhaskar Banerjee, a ‘seasoned’ chef (doh!) who trained with award winning premium brands in India before creating an “inspired collection of signature dishes” in the UK.

Lotus:
• opened just over three months ago in August 2015 and already ranks #36 of 18,000+ London restaurants on TripAdvisor
• is named after India’s national flower (a water lilly representing beauty and non-attachment, reputed to smell of myrrh, that – importantly – lends its shape to India’s mother temple in New Delhi)
• sits in the Indian fine dining category alongside the likes of Benares, Cafe Spice Namaste and Cinnamon Club restaurants.

We arrived early for our 6.30pm reservation, following a visit to the Big Bang Data exhibition at Somerset House and shopping at Selfridges, full of the joys of the Christmas holidays.

 


 

Fine dining Indian restaurant between Leicester Square and Covent Garden

Arriving early this evening (with the intention of enjoying a leisurely cocktail at the bar if our table’s not ready) we are greeted and seated promptly. We not only order a cocktail each – a Nai Dilli Darbar for K: Indian whiskey, lemonade, black salt + lychee @ £9.75 and a Sames Margarita for me: tequila and cointreau @ £9.75 – but our waitress brings us complimentary proseccos as an aperitif too (really lovely prosecco served in impractically shaped, top-heavy flutes… we’ll say no more about that though).

 

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Bar area at Lotus

 

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Cocktails – Nai Dilli Darbar (Indian whiskey, lemonade, black salt + lychee) and Sames Margarita (tequila and cointreau)

 

While we’re leisurely reading the menu, our waitress (who seems very knowledgeable about the menu and specialities despite having worked here for only a few weeks) brings us Corn Chaat Golgappa – corn puffs filled with sweetcorn and herbs, normally @ £3.75. She tells us to pour the fresh jaljeera and tamarind ‘chutney’ (a runny green sauce) in to the corn shells, and – when it becomes fluffy – to eat straight away (in one mouthful! too messy otherwise).

We are also served rice, potato and finger millet poppadoms with fruity chutneys (mango and apricot, mint, red chilli and green tomato) – normally @ £2.75.

 

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Amuse-bouche/bite-sized hors d’œuvres: complimentary corn chaat golgappa with jaljeera + tamarind sauce and poppadoms + chutneys

 

The starter menu has some inspired offerings ranging from tandoori partridge and rabbit kheema to pigeon masala dosa and chicken wing tulips.

 

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Starter menu

 

To share, we choose cod cheeks, bream and tuna coated with semolina, curry and coriander dip @ £8.75 and butternut squash + chilli samosey with red beans, dates and tamarind chutney @ £6.75.

I love all of the ingredients of the samosa – particularly tamarind, and while the pastry initially looks quite dense, it really isn’t (it’s perfectly crumbly). While I thoroughly enjoy the samosa, the flavours are denser and much less subtle than those of the cod cheeks starter which are more delicate, lighter, and simply divine.

 

Starter recommendation: cod cheeks

 

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Cod cheeks, bream + tuna starter

 

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Cod cheeks, bream + tuna starter

 

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Squash + chilli samosey with red beans, dates + tamarind chutney

 

After all of the aperitifs, amuse-bouches and starters we have a breather before the main course and enjoy sipping gruner veltliner, one of my favourite dry white wines from Austria @ £31.75 a bottle (this one is a perfect accompaniment to spicy food).

Bhaskar Banerjee pops over to introduce himself, see how we’re doing, and talk a bit about the influences and style behind the unique dishes he’s created. It’s a nice touch (and something that I really like about my favourite restaurant, Nancy Lam’s Enak Enak where Nancy always does the rounds and talks to her customers, giving it her personal touch. Done well, it goes a long way).

For main course, K orders 23 karat gold lamb shanks khorma (neither of us are convinced that the gold leaf – which, we are told “aids digestion” – is necessary – but the lamb is amazing, slow cooked and falling off the bone with gorgeous spicy flavours) served with roast potato mash, papaya pickle, spices, green cardamom and cashew @ £21.75.

I order red snapper kebab with mustard essence, crisp Bengal gram and dill yoghurt @ £13.75 and a raita cucumber, rose petals + pomegranate @ £1.75 (gorgeous!).

And we share some sides:
palak pudhina paneer: spinach, coriander, fennel + mint scented sauce @ £6.75
dal maa dumpukth: black lentils simmered overnight with garlic, tomato, butter and cream) @ £5.7
saffron and green peas rice @ £4.75
house bread basket: variety of Indian flatbreads @ £3.75.

 

Main course recommendations: lamb shanks khorma and red snapper kebab

 

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23 karat gold lamb shanks khorma with roast potato mash, papaya pickle, spices, green cardamom + cashew

 

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Red snapper kebab with mustard essence, crisp Bengal gram + dill yoghurt

 

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Saffron + green peas rice

 

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Dal maa dumpukth – slow simmered black lentils + raita with pomegranates (right)

 

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Palak pudhina paneer – spinach + cheese

 

It probably won’t come as a surprise to hear that we’re too full for a dessert… but in the interests of reviewing every course (!) we sample a raspberry and cranberry shrikhand with dumroot halwa @ £6.75 with two spoons (lovely, deep fruity flavours). Oh, and then there’s a complimentary sweet pastry to squeeze in (really nice).

 

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Raspberry and cranberry shrikhand

 

And, as if that’s not enough, there’s just one more amuse bouche taster-stylie-dessert:

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A final, complimentary taster sweet-pastry course

 

This meal for two would have been £184.00 including service so roughly £90.00 per person for a shed load of absolutely gorgeous, tasty (and taster) dishes and drinks.

The verdict: Great, classy Indian food with a difference. Good choice of drinks (without being overly extensive) and wine pairing recommendations. Really good service. Our table (table #16) was on the edge of the bar thoroughfare and server-station/till area where serving staff inevitably wait and can be quite busy, so – if booking a table, I’d recommend requesting a table in the rear area (where there are some booths and less people-traffic).

The memory of that lamb shank and red snapper will stay with me. I left feeling very full but wanting to return and try more of the menu. I’ll definitely be back…

 

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
~ Type: Indian
~ Address: 17 Charing Cross Road, London
~ Postcode: WC2H 0EP
~ Nearest station: Leicester Square
~ Website + menus: Lotus website
~ Photos on flickr: images of Lotus food
~ Location: Lotus map

 

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

 

Gordon Ramsay’s Maze – Mayfair

Gourmet five-course tasting menu experience – French and Asian cuisine

This five course dinner tasting menu with champagne for two was a very generous wedding gift to K and I earlier this year, from my old and much-loved university friend G.


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A red letter days experience


The night before new year’s eve seemed like a perfect time for the booking – following an afternoon of retail therapy (mostly K’s) on Oxford Street, during our long Christmas holidays. And hopefully a climactic LardButty entry to end 2014.


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Bar area purple decor and Christmas decorations


Arriving early so we could relax in the cocktail bar, K had a barrel aged old fashioned (Woodford Reserve bourbon, sugar, angostura and orange @ £15.00) and I had a margarita with salt foam (excellent Don Julio Blanco tequila margarita with all the salt but no mess @ £15.00 – the salt foam is made from salt, egg whites, xanthum gum and nitrous oxide and had a real novelty factor while looking like a lemon meringue pie too).


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Cocktails – orangey old fashioned and salt foam margarita


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Tasting menu – click on photo to see enlarged copy


On being shown to our table, a waiter then sommelier explained the choices (with the vast wine list being presented on an ipad). We started with champagne, an amuse bouche of crumbly cheese, onion and salmon and some light and tasty cracker breads (mixed seed, chocolate, cheese, prawn cracker, paprika, and a variation on peas pudding).


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Cracker breads + amuse bouche – a cheese, onion + salmon canapé


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Flight of three wines from regional Spain – Louro, Navarra + a Priorat


To accompany a variety of foods, we chose a flight of three Spanish wines starting with a nicely dry white Louro, Rafael Palacio from Galicia, followed by a red Navarra, Emilio Valerio (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Grenache blend) and a Priorat, Planetes, Nin Ortiz (Grenache and Carignon blend).

The first taster course was the English breakfast. How elegant does this look? Digging down into the shell, was a treasure trove of tomato and bacon pieces.


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#1 English breakfast – egg, bacon + tomato served in an egg shell with soldiers and crunchy ‘hay’


For the next three courses, there was a choice of two dishes. We ordered one of each and shared so we got to try everything.

The cured salmon was served with mango, pickled onion and tempura crisp – an outstanding treat of flavours, while the octopus had the appearance and texture of a meaty sausage (albeit very tender), served with Szechuan pepper, tomatoes and rocket mayonnaise.


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#2 Choice of octopus or cured salmon


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#3 Choice of dumpling (seafood) or sea bream with enoki mushroom


The light, melt-in-your-mouth, gyoza-style dumpling was packed with lobster, tiger prawns and salmon. And the sea bream was just amazing – served with enoki mushrooms, dashi (miso soup base) and ginger, some of my favourite ingredients. For me, the sea bream dish was exceptional.


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#4 Choice of pork belly or duck breast


On to course number four. Could it possibly get any better? Somehow it does, as each course thrills and delights just that little bit more.

The tender pork belly with a thin crispy crackling top was served with smoked bacon, tiger prawn and miso broth and decorated with bean sprouts and spring onions.

Again, the duck breast was tender with a perfectly crispy skin (we were so pleased to have recently discovered we both like duck breast) and was served with romanesco (beautiful edible green flower bud that tastes somewhere between broccoli and cauliflower), wild mushroom and lemon.


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#5a Blackberry + apple sundae with custard


Swiftly following the blackberry and apple sundae (the first part of the fifth course) came profiteroles with chocolate, Baileys gel and ginger ice cream (divine) and cheesecake – a white chocolate log with ice cream, sprinkled with coconut and Szechuan powder (pepper) on a thin bed of pineapple (which was difficult to cut and could have benefited from being served with a sharp knife – my only, and very minor, criticism of the evening).


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#5b Choice of profiteroles or cheesecake


To accompany the desserts we shared a glass of white Castelnau Suduiraut @ £13.50 and a red recioto corgegiara @ £11.00.


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Dessert wines + a happy new year y’all


Everything about this experience was simply stunning from restaurant comfort, decor and atmosphere through to service, food and wine. I can’t see how our evening could have been improved. For that reason, Maze gets 5/5 in the LardButty index.


Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 5 / 5
~ Type: French/Asian
~ Address: 10-13 Grosvenor Square, London
~ Postcode: W1k 6JP
~ Tel: 020 7107 0000
~ Nearest station: Bond Street
~ Website + menus: Maze website
~ Photos on flickr: images of Maze food
~ Location: Maze map


Maze on Urbanspoon

Kettner’s – Soho

Kettner’s in Soho dates back to 1867, when Auguste Kettner (chef to Napoleon III) created his restaurant from four Georgian town houses.

Entering through the main doors in to the hallway, it feels – even today – like stepping into someone’s rather grand home with a sweeping staircase before you (leading up to first floor function rooms), a door to the left through to the bar room, or another doorway to the right leading into the main dining rooms.

Passing the pianist playing a white grand piano, it’s easy to imagine the high society of a bygone age hanging out here.


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Glamorous style


What makes it especially appealing is that, while the style is glamorous, it’s slightly shabby round the edges. In a good way. The beautiful parquet flooring is well worn and the marble table-tops look like they could tell a story or two. It looks and feels lived in, and is instantly comfortable (further helped by the abundance of waiting staff who all acknowledged me as I was taken through to our table).


Starters:


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Grilled Crottin goats cheese topped with parsley


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Beef carpaccio


For starters, S had grilled goats cheese with a parsley topping and salad @ £7.95, while I had Scotch beef carpaccio with truffle mayonnaise, capers, shallots, rocket, and Parmesan @ £10.50 (I loved the variety of little extra flavours, especially tangy capers).


Mains:


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Seared tuna steak salad – generous portion


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Chicken with wild rice


Sticking with my preference for raw foods on this particular evening, I homed in on the seared yellow fin tuna (lovely chilli and aniseed flavours in the searing crumb) with green beans, new potato, egg and anchovies @ £13.95 for main course (a generous portion) while S had corn-fed chicken with wild rice, garlic, and a tarragon cream sauce @ £16.50.


Pudding:


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Mango + passion fruit pavlova


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Kettner’s classic crème brûlée


We’d enjoyed our first two courses so much, it would’ve been a shame not to check out Kettner’s puddings too. So S had a mango and passion fruit pavlova @ £6.50 and I had a crème brûlée (divine) @ £6.00.


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Sample menu – Oct 2014


Kettner's sample menu - Feb 2015
Sample menu – Feb 2015


Kettner’s offers a pre and post theatre menu – two courses @ £18.50 or three courses @ £21.50. Or, if ordering from the a la carte menu (as we were) Tastecard is accepted – 50% off food for up to four people but you must book in advance (no weekends) [as of 2015, Tastecard is no longer accepted]. Our total bill for a three course dinner for two including a half litre of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc @ £16.95 with a Tastecard discount, came to £62.00 (which includes a 12.5% service charge). Great value.


The verdict: smart old brasserie but there’s nothing pretentious or twee about it. Nicely informal, impeccable service and great French-inspired food.


More of the menu

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Baked goat’s cheese with beetroot marmalade


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Crispy pork belly, braised red cabbage, celeriac puree, calvados jus @ £18.50


Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
~ Type: French, international,
~ Address: 29 Romilly Street, Soho, London
~ Postcode: W1D 5HP
~ Tel: 020 7734 6112
~ Nearest station: Leicester Square
~ Website + menus: Kettner’s website
~ Photos on flickr: images of Kettner’s food
~ Location: Kettner’s map


RELATED LINKS
More Soho dining:
~ Andrew Edmunds
~ Asia de Cuba
~ Cây Tre
~ Criterion


Kettner's on Urbanspoon

Criterion – Piccadilly

It’s worth seeing inside the Criterion restaurant just for its opulent gold and marble decor. The Neo-Byzantine architecture is stunning and it feels like stepping into a bygone age.


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Neo-Byzantine architecture


I first came here in 2001 on a work’s party night. We had a large table at the back (near the loos) and were entertained by a magician. It was a great experience. K and I returned shortly thereafter and ate from the pre-theatre menu (an extremely limited set menu and the food tasted so dry it was as if it had been prepared well in advance and left out all day). It was a contrastingly disappointing experience so we didn’t return. Well, not for a long time.

Over ten years on, ownership has changed and we decided to give it another try while my parents were visiting London. As a historical landmark, it is worth seeing after all.


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Summer set menu – two courses + a Pimms + lemonade @ £20.00


In a restaurant with such extravagant gold and marble interiors bejewelled with mosaics and mirrors, you’d probably expect a formal dining experience with impeccable service.

Surprisingly, the summer set menu @ £20.00 for two courses including a Pimms and lemonade was exceptionally good value, and had a reasonable amount of choice (for a set menu). Food portions weren’t huge but it was all good quality although service was a bit of a let-down (one waiter didn’t seem to understand or speak English at all which was problematic, while another was so super stressed and panicky he reminded us of Basil Fawlty).

For starters, I had salmon gravlax on rye bread with a lemon mousse, capers and pickled shallots; K had thinly sliced rare roast beef with rocket salad and horseradish cream (@ £2.00 supplement), and B and K both had ham hock and black pudding terrine with gooseberry jam, pickled vegetables and croutons.


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Salmon gravlax on rye bread starter


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Thinly sliced rare roast beef – £2.00 supplement on the set menu


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Ham hock + black pudding terrine


For main course, K and I both had ginger and chilli meat balls with potato gnocchi, peas, broad beans and celery cress (@ £2.00 supplement) while B and K both had confit of guinea fowl leg, potato purée, beetroot and peas.


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Meat balls + potato gnocchi with peas and broad beans – £2.00 supplement on the set menu


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Confit of guinea fowl leg, potato, beetroot and peas


The verdict: Worth seeing the impressive interiors of one of London’s oldest restaurants but overall – a bit hit and miss. Perhaps afternoon tea or a drink at the bar would be enough.

 

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 3 / 5
~ Type: British, International
~ Address: Criterion Restaurant, 224 Piccadilly, London
~ Postcode: W1J 9HP
~ Nearest station: Piccadilly
~ Website + menus: Criterion restaurant website
~ Photos on flickr: images of Criterion restaurant
~ Location: Criterion restaurant map


RELATED LINKS
More West End (London) dining:
~ Andrew Edmunds
~ Asia de Cuba
~ Cây Tre
~ Mint Leaf Haymarket
~ Wagamama Soho


Criterion Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sophie’s Steakhouse – Covent Garden

The other evening, S and I had been out for a drink after work at the newest branch of Craft Beer Co pubs in Holborn, and wanted to have dinner in the Covent Garden area.

We settled on Sophie’s Steakhouse. You can’t book tables there anyway, and as we were strolling passed we decided to pop in.


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Inside Sophie’s Steakhouse Covent Garden


Situated near Aldwych in the heart of theatre-land, Sophie’s Steakhouse is a large venue on the corner of Wellington Street and Tavistock Street, and there were several tables available on this particular Thursday evening.


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Complimentary salami nibbles at Sophie’s


Having munched on the seasoned salami nibbles that were brought to us while reading the menu, we both ordered a classic hamburger @ £11.00 – a 4oz patty made from cross rib and minced in house carpaccio style, served with dill pickle, iceberg lettuce + steak sauce mayo on a brioche bun, and a portion of courgette fritters @ £4.50 to share.


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Classic hamburger + courgette fries


The classic hamburger comes with a topping of either American cheese (I assumed that meant the orange plastic Kraft stuff?) or smoked bacon. I had my topping substituted with Cheddar cheese without a problem.


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Refrigerated cuts of meat on display


The verdict: Good burger restaurants (serving freshly prepared burger patties from carefully sourced beef) are fairly commonplace at the moment. That’s a good thing. And this is one such restaurant.


Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 3.5 / 5
~ Type: Steakhouse, burgers, British
~ Address: 29-31 Wellington St, The Opera Quarter, Covent Garden, London
~ Postcode: WC2E 7DB
~ Nearest station: Covent Garden, Charing Cross
~ Website + menus: Sophie’s Steakhouse + Bar website
~ Photos on flickr: images of Sophie’s Steakhouse + Bar food
~ facebook page: Sophie’s Steakhouse + Bar on fb
~ Location: Sophie’s Steakhouse + Bar map


RELATED LINKS
More nearby dining:
~ Brasserie Blanc
~ Canteen
~ Maxwells
~ Palm Court Brasserie


Sophie's Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Brasserie Blanc – Covent Garden

I don’t feel lazy letting the pictures do the talking on this one…

The story starts with an appetite, in good company, on a hot and stuffy Saturday evening in the middle of Summer.


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Aperitifs in the bar – refreshing cold prosecco


Once our table’s ready, we’re shown out to the roof terrace and into the warm evening air.


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Roof terrace dining – by the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden piazza


We order from the a la carte Summer Menu. Our group’s hors d’oeuvres include:


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Deep fried goat’s cheese starter – with tomato chutney, frisee + bean salad @ £7.80


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Cucumber gaspacho soup – with lemon crème fraîche, cucumber + dill @ £5.90


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Pork rillettes starter – with cornichons + sourdough @ £7.50


Plats cuisines follow


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Seabream – a special dish of the day in a very lemony butter sauce (gorgeous!)


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Roast Atlantic salt cod fillet – salt cod brandade with red pepper + tomato sauce @ £17.40


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Spicy squid, chorizo + espelette pepper cassoulet – with new potatoes + saffron @ £15.60


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Viognier – dry, aromatic white wine (classic characteristics of the Viognier grape are peaches, dried apricots + floral aromas)


Some of us share desserts:

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Selection of seasonal artisan cheeses @ £9.10


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Crepes Suzette alight – for two @ £14.00


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Crepes Suzette halved + plated – with orange + cointreau sauce + vanilla ice-cream


The verdict: Splendid. My camera never lies.

___

More of the menu

IMG_4212b_Hake_saffron sauce_Brasserie Blanc
Roast hake fillet with saffron and seafood @ £16.90


Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
~ Type: French, International
~ Address: 35 Clare Market, Covent Garden, London
~ Postcode: WC2E 8RF
~ Nearest station: Covent Garden, Charing Cross
~ Website + menus: Brasserie Blanc Cov Gdn website
~ Photos on flickr: images of Brasserie Blanc food
~ Location: Brasserie Blanc Cov Gdn map


RELATED LINKS
More nearby dining:
~ Bangalore Express
~ Canteen
~ Maxwells
~ Zen China


Brasserie Blanc on Urbanspoon