Searcys | The Gherkin

Friday, April 17, 2015

London's current love-affair with high-rise dining doesn't seem to be slowing down. Not only do we have several new restaurants to explore (such as 20 Fenchurch Street), but now somewhere that has previously only been available as a private club is opening to the public for the summer.

 Standing 180m tall at 30 St Mary Axe, The Gherkin is one of London's most iconic landmarks. Occupying the top three floors of the building, Searcys provides private dinning rooms, a restaurant, members lounge and bar. 

If you haven't been able to wangle an invite up to Searcys before, they're putting on a special 10th anniversary 10 course tasting menu at £70 - as well as a 3 course a la carte (£35 at lunch, £45 at dinner) and a Sunday brunch menu. That brunch session will also have a station where you can mix up your own Bloody Mary.

 Having heard the restaurant was opening its doors to members of the public Russell and I decided to book the venue to celebrate our 4 year anniversary. 


 Tables are released on a regular basis but get booked very quickly - you can view available dates here.

Occupying the top of The Gherkin, Searcys benefits from panoramic views of London, near-perfect food and a slick service.

As we were seated a trolley of champagne was wheeled to our table followed by a bread basket. I had read reviews before our visit that the service was slow, however we found the staff extremely welcoming and swift. 

We decided on the set menu, which is fantastic value at £45pp (excluding service charge). I must start by saying that the food at Searcys is some of the best we have tried - however, if you're looking for big portions, this place isn't for you. 

To start I ordered a chilled pea soup with hazelnuts, black olive and feta cheese. The dish was fresh, vibrant and flavoursome with the addition of the saltiness from the olives and crunch from the hazelnuts. 


We both ordered the same main and dessert. Advised that the chef was cooking the pancetta wrapped beef medium rare we waited in anticipation. Having heard many other guests ordering the same, the dish featured hay smoked celeriac puree and black truffle. 

I can hand on heart say that if the meat was cooked medium rare as specified, it would have been one of the best dishes I've ever eaten - unfortunately, I was given one medium-well and one well-done slice.

However, this didn't overshadow the wow-factor of this dish. The onions were sweet, the sauce was rich and the celeriac gave a smooth finish to every mouthful.

We ended the meal with a chocolate ganache, kumquat and sweet potato ice cream dessert and drinks at the bar on the 40th floor. 

 The sweet ganache contrasted beautifully to the sharp kumquat, and again textures were key to making this dish exceptional. 

The Gherkin may not be the tallest building in London, but it certainly has the best views. If you're looking for somewhere special to dine this year, I couldn't recommend Searcys more.

Pairing Graham's Port with food | The Rib Room

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

In my family port is usually reserved for Christmas time, so when I was invited to attend a port and food pairing evening I was intrigued to learn more.

Having only paired port with Christmas pudding or cheese in the past, the evening included an eye opening 5 course tasting menu hosted by Graham's Port at The Rib Room, located on the ground floor of Jumeriah Carlton Tower in Knightsbridge.

Port wine is a Portuguese fortified wine produced exclusively in the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal. Contrary to popular belief, port doesn't contain any added sugar. It is naturally sweet due to how it is made: the fermentation process is stopped once brandy is added to the grapes 2-3 days after being pressed. This therefore reserves the sugar that would usually be turned into alcohol, giving the liquid a naturally sweet taste.

We were greeted with a cocktail including Graham's 20 years old tawny port, Tanqueray gin, cinnamon syrup, fresh lemon juice and raspberry jam. It was a huge success with diners (many of us asked for another) and served as a taster of the versatility we were yet to discover.

The tasting menu began with pan seared scallops, raisin purée, roasted cauliflower and a white port sauce. Whilst white port is rarely seen in Britain, in the Porto region sweet white port and tonic water is a commonly consumed drink. The sauce complimented the delicate scallops beautifully, and the contrast of sweet and savoury in the dish was a theme that remained all evening.

The seared foie gras, glazed free range pork belly and fig jus was my favourite dish of the evening. Served with Graham's 10 Years Old Tawny Port it was rich, fruity and mouth-wateringly tender.

When a port is described as tawny, without an indication of age, it is a blend of wood aged port that has spent at least two years in barrels. Interestingly, when there is an indication of age on the bottle, usually 10, 20, 30 and over 40 years, it refers to the target age profile for the ports, not their actual ages.

The roasted venison loin, buttered baby carrots and blackberry jus was served with Graham's late bottled vintage port. Unpictured above, a small slow cooked venison and Stilton pie was also served alongside - I'm not ashamed to say I helped myself to two servings (yes, it really was that good).

Port became very popular in England after the Methuen Treaty of 1703, when merchants were permitted to import it at a low duty whilst the war with France deprived English wine drinkers of French wine.

Contrary to popular belief, Port was not created by British sailors spiking wine with brandy. More accurately, British importers believed a smooth, already fortified wine would appeal to Britain's sweet tooth, and coincidentally the addition of brandy made it possible for the drink to survive the long trip to London from Portugal without spoiling.

For dessert we were treated to a cherry bakewell creme brûlée with dark chocolate sorbet. The sorbet was particularly interesting, as unlike ice cream no milk was used, therefore making the chocolate light and refreshing. Served with Graham's 20 year old tawny port (as featured in our cocktail), we were told the drink had lost around 50% of its original volume during the ageing process.

I was surprised to hear the wine producing Douro region is the third oldest protected wine region in the world after the Tokaj-Hegyalja region established in 1730, and Chianti established in 1716. Much like champagne, port is regulated by various bodies to ensure production regulations are adhered by.

We finished the meal with organic Stilton, quince, truffle honey and walnut bread. Served with Graham's Six Grapes Reserve Port, the sweetest tipple of the evening, we were told it was Churchill's favourite port.

Winston Churchill was known to be extremely loyal to his favourite alcohol brands - his love of Pol Roger well-documented - with Port being no different. Churchill ordered it in large quantities for entertaining, and invoices indicate it was the only brand of Port the politician ordered throughout his lifetime.

I am now planning to get my hands on a bottle of white port to pair with fish at an upcoming dinner party in hope that it will spark conversation so I can relay my new port knowledge. Having tried the drink paired with food, I'll be digging out the left-over bottle from Christmas to add into sauces and pies for a rich, fruity addition to dishes - keep an eye out for recipes!

MEATliquor review | London

Monday, April 13, 2015

Nothing soothes the soul quite like the food of the Deep South. The no-bookings MEATliquor has feel-good food, an amazing in-house radio station and a cocktail list that takes 5-mins-more-than-it-should to read.

The darkened glass windows, red paint splattered floorboards and rough tables laid with kitchen roll, ketchup and mustard gave a relaxed yet hip feel. The staff were unpretentious, which was refreshing to find in a restaurant slap bang in the middle of central London (Bond Street station is a short walk away).

Burgers are the backbone of the menu. We ordered both the Dead Hippie burger (a mustard fried double Pattie beef burger with dead hippie sauce) and the dirty chicken cheese burger.

Both were served looking sloppy, dirty and juicy. The buns were soft yet avoided sogginess and the meat was cooked to perfection. We both preferred the chicken burger due to it's perfectly seasoned coating (a trip to CHICKENliquor is now on the cards). The Dead Hippie burger was good, if a little overrated - I'm a condiment lover and couldn't seem to taste any sauce (unlike Patty & Bun's Smokey Robinson burger, which remains my favourite).

The deep fried pickles with blue cheese sauce were my favourite part of the meal: crisp batter contrast with sweet, soft gherkin and a rich dipping sauce - utter perfection!

I'd recommend a trip to MEATliquor due to its relaxed vibe, large cocktail menu and blasting music but wouldn't queue outside for a table. We visited during the week and although it was busy we walked straight in.

Make sure you sign up to the restaurant's newsletter, MEATmail, on their website as they frequently send promotions.

Quo Vadis | Soho

Monday, April 13, 2015

Working in Soho I pass the stained-glass windows of Quo Vadis daily, admiring dinners eating alfresco whilst the hustle and bustle of Dean Street passes them by. 

The restaurant, which opened in 1926, was taken over in 2008 by Sam and Eddie Hart, who also own the popular Fino and Barrafina.

It used to be a posh brasserie where lunch cost £140 for two. In 2011 however, the brothers handed the kitchen to Jeremy Lee - with 16 years experience at the Blueprint Café his arrival coincided with a drop in prices.

The restaurant features a frequently changing British menu served in 2 airy dining rooms. Along with regulars there’s a daily changing menu full of simple dishes that hero one or two seasonal ingredients (usually vegetables). 

The theatre menu is good value and, unusually, available all day. The menus are enhanced with illustrations by John Broadley and a quirky daily weather report. 

I've eaten at Quo Vadis twice recently and thoroughly enjoyed both meals. Here's what I ate:

The celeriac and fennel soup was creamy and well seasoned, the tasty little Kickshaws (right) were the highlight of our evening on both occasions - one was stuffed with chicken, the other spinach.

The crab soup was extremely rich; served with a creamy crab pate and croutons to add contrast and texture the starter stole the limelight from the veal shoulder, squash mash and winter vegetable main. 

For dessert the chocolate brownie ice cream was everything I imagined it to be - simple, smooth and satisfying. The damson ice cream (leading image) was refreshing and crisp, whilst the biscuits gave the dish some theatre. 

Quo Vadis has all the features of a good restaurant - attentive and friendly staff, good value seasonal dishes and a beautiful setting decorated with whimsical flowers. It has fast become one of my favourite restaurants. 

Warning: stalking the website waiting for the daily menu to be revealed is slightly addictive. 

Organic Rhubarb from a British Allotment

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

The first of the rhubarb is here!

Rhubarb is usually the first food plant harvested on the allotment in mid April-May. However due to the mild weather our plot has grown an abundance of firm and glossy stalks already.

The plant grows from the root at the return of warm weather. On February 15th the stalks started to sprout, and yesterday we picked our first bunch.

We'll now harvest the stalks until July when the plant turns slightly poisonous. Pulling rhubarb much after that time will also weaken the crown, resulting in weedier stalks in later years.

The colour of rhubarb stalks can vary from the commonly associated crimson red, through speckled light pink to simply light green.

The colour varies according to both rhubarb variety and production technique. Contrary to popular belief, the colour is not related to its suitability for cooking - many believe pink stalks are sweeter.

Over the next few weeks I'll be posting lots of rhubarb recipes including crumbles, jams and cordials. If you have any recommendations please comment below or tweet me @charaimeeclarke