Thursday, January 29, 2015

Bar, lounge, restaurant – is there anything Zinnia, Chelsea hasn’t got?!

Looking for a super cool new hangout?!  Look no further than the beautifully lavish Zinnia at 86 Fulham Road.  No expense has been spared on this decadent new bar, restaurant and VIP lounge which reminds me very much of the Manhattan Bar within the fabulously glamorous Regent Hotel in Singapore.

Set across 3 floors in a huge beautiful Georgian building, the bar on the ground floor offers up a stylish and comfy area with leather banquette seating, opulent black and gold decor and the main feature - a stunning long bar with a stone counter which is ready to serve up any kind of cocktail you want.  Literally anything, because if what you fancy isn’t on the menu, then the handsome bartenders will be sure to rustle you something up – just tell them which spirit you like and whether you fancy sweet, sour or something in between, and leave the magic to them.  Or if you want to get right into the Japanese fusion vibe, then go for a Japanese whisky or a sake cocktail which is what they specialise in.

Through the bar and to the back of the building is the restaurant - a gorgeous dining area, just the right amount of atmosphere and ambience, wonderful lighting and quality furnishings.  Serving up amazing Japanese cuisine, it’s very Hakkasan-esque, with an edge…  (We’ll get onto the food very soon and it’s most definitely worth waiting for!)

Downstairs in the basement is a huge area and bar space, which you can book your VIP pre-club tables in - perfect for groups to relax and chill out.  It has the air of a hidden speakeasy and a private members bar and would also make a fantastic late night club, lucky there’s a DJ booth down here too then!

Upstairs, more restaurant space, mezzanine stylee, so all tables and booths fitted around the balcony overlook the main bar.  Soak up the ambience below with a great view of the bartenders doing their thing and it’s great for people watching too.   

Zinnia is an all day affair... Bento boxes and sharing platters at lunchtime, cakes and pastries in the afternoon and then dinner and drinks in the evening.  It’s fast become my favourite haunt.  But as with all swanky venues, the food has to deliver.  I’m pleased to report that beyond all the opulence comes exceptional fusion cuisine and impeccable waiter and waitress service to match.  A fountain of knowledge when it comes to the menu and indeed suitable sake pairings for your dishes, I could’ve chatted to our server all night.  (In fact I would have, if the date I was on had been anything less than awesome!

To start, a stunning plate of sushi and sashimi.  Scottish salmon, Ahi (yellowfin) tuna and yellowtail was served up nigiri style – clumps of rice with the fish pressed on top.  Smoked eel which tasted absolutely divine came layered on top of rice parcels with a cheese, avocado and teriyaki filling.  Reminding somewhat of smoked bacon, the eel was packed full of flavour, meaty without being too tough – definitely one of my favourite dishes.

Prawns and soft shell crab coated in tempura batter came next, followed by a mouth watering-ly amazing chicken teriyaki from the robata grill – slow cooked and barbecued, marinated in an absolutely deliciously thick and sweet soy terriyaki sauce.  I easily could’ve eaten another plate of this... until the miso glazed black cod came out served with mash and tiny asparagus spears!  Followed by roast duck breast, miso carrots and a maple flavoured sweet and sour sauce.

 Of course, no Japanese dinner would be complete without a few glasses of sake to bring out the flavour of the dishes.  We started with a Tamon Sawayaka Honjozo – meaning a lighter more delicate taste to begin with and very easy to drink with our sushi and sashimi, before moving on to a Shindo Uragazanryu, with refreshing notes of pear and pineapple on the palate, which made it a great accompaniment to some of the stronger flavoured dishes.

 An exceptional dinner, with fantastic ambience and a gorgeous bar area, and with 3 floors which all ooze glamour and decadence, I’d say Zinnia most definitely delivers on every level...

Aqua Kyoto New Year Solutions Menu – don’t let a diet stand between you and a decadent dinner!

Eating out a lot (for the purpose of work!), has its downsides.  The main problem, being weight gain!  Who can resist that big basket of bread that arrives as soon as you sit down?  Or the calorific sticky toffee pudding at the end of dinner?!  Obviously writing restaurant reviews has huuggge up sides too, so you’ll only occasionally find me complaining – usually while powering up a steep hill on a spinning bike wondering why I just had to have that dessert when I was already full to bursting...

Thankfully, if you’re using the New Year as the kick-start you needed to eat healthily and get into shape, then lucky for you (and me), that you can still eat delicious, indulgent food without piling on the pounds.  Step forward, Aqua Kyoto’s New Year Solutions menu.

Running up until the 28th March, you can now enjoy a fabulous dinner in one of the most beautiful restaurants in London and not feel a pang of guilt afterwards!  For £27.00, you’ll get a three course meal which tastes amazing and satisfies the naughtiest of cravings.

The Aqua Kyoto restaurant is a beautiful open plan affair.  You can watch the chefs at work in the sunken open kitchen which is pretty much the main attraction, headed up by experienced New Zealand born Paul Greening who knows more than a thing or two about innovative Japanese cuisine using only the finest of fresh ingredients.  He’s trained with some of the best and has also won numerous awards for his flare and creative style, so it’s no wonder that the ever changing menus at Aqua are always offering up something new, exciting and experimental.

Tables are really well spaced out, atmosphere is ambient, the clientele - a professional city crowd, mingled in with the odd couple, city bankers, work dinners...  If you’ve never been, it really is an impressive restaurant.

First to arrive to our table was the sashimi trio – the highest quality salmon, tuna and beautifully soft sea bream on a bed of ice.  We shared this with another of the starters – the spinach rolls with roasted sesame and goma dressing.  Our wonderful waitress Jai ground the sesame seeds in front of us with a pestle and mortar –the aromas were wonderful and the gesture, quite theatrical – as is the nature of dinner of Aqua.  The ground seeds were then mixed with the goma to create a creamy sauce for the spinach rolls to sit in and I found the sweetness of the sauce with the sesame flavour tasted divine!

For main, we both went for the same – the toban of braised lamb with edamame tofu and grilled aubergine.  Served in the actual toban (donabe skillet) in which it was cooked, this Japanese hotpot contained beautifully cooked lamb, stewed in a rich gravy of Asian flavours.  The edamame tofu was light, mild and slightly sweet, with a portion of sticky rice on the side which was perfect for soaking up the sauce.  There was also a side of chawanmushi – the ‘chawan’ meaning rice bow and ‘mushi’ meaning steamed.  It’s a traditional Japanese appetizer which I’d never actually tried before, made from steamed egg which is whisked into a runny custard like consistency.  We found it made a nice addition to the main dish.  To accompany our lovely lamb hotpot, Jai suggested a firey, tangy Rioja which lingered on the tongue and gave a nice hit of spice on the finish... Perfect for our toban.

A showstopper of a dessert followed – the pictures of which, don’t really do it justice!  This was a red miso chocolate and green tea galette with miso milk sorbet and a sesame wafer.  I’ve still no idea how something this tasty can actually be pretty low fat!  The red miso’s unami flavour gave some depth to the dish, while the miso milk sorbet was creamy and light and provided a great contrast in consistency to the green tea and chocolate sponge.  We both scraped our plates – including all of the black sesame glaze!
In all honesty, it wasn’t until after we’d finished dinner that we were told this was the low fat menu.  And for not one minute while I was eating, did I ever think this was anything but a decadent treat of a feast.

Running alongside the healthy Aqua Kyoto menu, there’s also another new menu at Aqua Nueva – calories are no object here and you can indulge in tapas dishes like the luxury red prawn croquettes and salmon and crab mousse with mussels.

Check out the menus below, decide whether you want to be good or bad, and then click here:

Aqua Kyoto Menu: £27
Starter: (pick one)
sashimi trio
tuna with braised daikon, sea buckthorn berries, su miso
spinach rolls with roasted sesame, goma dressing

Main: (pick one)
take nabe mushroom bowl
toban of braised lamb with edamame tofu, grilled aubergine
salmon nabe with clear dashi soup & udon noodles, oba leaf

red miso chocolate & green tea galette with miso milk sorbet, sesame wafer

Aqua Nueva Menu – pick any three: £27
soft poached egg served with beef consome, pancetta
luxury red prawns croquettes
glazed twenty-four hour marinated oxtail
salmon and crab mousse with mussels
black cuttlefish rice served with aioli
Catalonia-style roasted vegetables with romesco, hazelnuts
VIP potato
roasted pumpkin & salsify on toast with lime, crispy pumpkin seeds


spiced apple millefeuille with pear sorbet, lemon air

Monday, January 12, 2015

Hunter 486 at The Arches, London

Hunter 486 – Great location, gorgeous restaurant!

I love a restaurant with good lighting!  It’s my number one priority – especially for a date, because generally, you’ll always look better than when you left home!  Hunter 486 is one of those restaurants.  Gorgeously lit with an overwhelming ambience , there’s also the most amazing intimate dining booths (but we’ll get on to those later…)

As it turns out, I wasn’t on a date.  I was meeting my friend Kelly for a massively overdue catch up.  Because I was coming from Oxford Street and she was coming from Marylebone, Hunter 486 which has a new chef at the helm, seemed like a pretty good choice.

The restaurant which actually takes its names from Marylebone’s old dialling code in the 50’s, is set within The Arch London – a luxury, family run boutique hotel, boasting a huge Union Jack flag outside.  It has a warm and inviting reception area with those chairs you’d really like to just sink into while waiting for your room, or like us, if you’re here for dinner, you haven’t got far to walk to the beautifully lavish restaurant.

The restaurant area actually encompasses three separate areas which seamlessly glide into one another.  To one end, the actual restaurant with kitchen, then a super sleek and stylish bar area where I could see myself sitting at, supping on a killer martini.  To the other end, you’ll find the Champagne room (how chic!).  Le Salon De Champagne is a gorgeous loungey space with amazing décor and floor to ceiling banquette seating areas, which can be curtained off for special, intimate dinners… or in our case, a bit of a girly catch up!

Service was faultless and the waiter didn’t seem to mind at all, that we were too busy chatting to check out the menu!  I’d decided to have a night off the wine (yes that is a first for me), but after spying a rather fancy Cabernet Sauvignon-Shirz-Malbec on the list, I couldn’t really say no to a glass… or two.  (Must try better next time!)  Kelly went all out and ordered one of the cocktails – a pomegranate and peach bellini – fresh fruit muddled with crème de peche and topped up Tattinger.  That seemed to go down very well indeed!

For a hotel restaurant, Hunter 486 really stands out.  Probably because aside from the reception area that you have to walk through to get to it, Hunter’s contemporary feel and relaxing ambience make it feel anything but.  You can imagine sitting here supping on a glass of Chablis, but definitely not coming down from your room in the morning to eat a buffet breakfast…

The food is described as modern European and although the menu isn’t as extensive as some other central London restaurants, I do think there’s something to everyone’s taste.  And Hunter does have that air of offering something a little special.  The newly appointed head chef Gary Durrant (who brings a wealth of experience from The Savoy and Claridges), delivers a combination of classical French cooking with a no fuss contemporary edge, while dishes are created and based purely on the taste of the high quality ingredients rather than being dressed up or over fancied.  

Starters were beautifully presented and delivered with care by our wonderful waiter who was keen on making sure everything was ‘just so’.  It was.  I went for the John Ross Scottish salmon with shallots, capers, parsley and warm homemade soda bread.  Kelly had the Potted Morecombe bay shrimps with melba toast which I think I enjoyed slightly more than my own, but only because it really was amazingly tasty.

Staying with the fish theme, I was totally in the mood for fish and chips, but Kelly being slightly more health conscious than I, decided to go for the whole grilled lemon sole served with a tarrogan butter.  My fish and chips didn’t disappoint.  Cooked perfectly, fluffy fish was encased in a light, tasty batter.  The chips were perfect and although the tartare sauce was just the right consistency and also had a great flavour to it, I’m afraid I’m a ketchup girl at heart and was overjoyed at the prospect of being given three small jars of potted ketchup (it was so good that I actually took one home with me – oops! – It’s all coming out now…)

Kelly’s lemon sole was absolutely huge and most definitely whole!  I forgot to ask where the fish was sourced, but wow, I’ve really never seen a sole so big!  As expected, there were some bones, but the fish itself was delicious, while the tarrogan butter was a perfect accompaniment.  The next time I go back to Hunter 486, I’m most definitely having this!

There was absolutely no room for desserts, but we did manage to fit in another round of that gorgeous red wine before heading home.  The one problem with Hunter 486, is that it’s so cosy, you really do wish you’d booked one of those beautiful boutique bedrooms so you could just roll upstairs without the cold journey home….

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