Saturday, 27 February 2016

Sketch Gallery (Mayfair): where ladies wine and dine in pink

One of the reasons why I don't really eat egg is mainly because of a recurring nightmare I had in high school. I dreamt I was abducted by unearthly creatures and was forced to eat a roomful of hardboiled ostrich eggs. I would get punished if I didn't finish the lot. #truestory

So essentially, the ubiquitously snapped toilet at sketch is my idea of a nightmare.

When A told me we were up for an 8th year friendship anniversary dinner, I knew sketch Gallery was the way to go. A is one of my bestest friends in the world whom I met through my previous job. She's a girly girl who likes all things pink, I'm a not-so-girly girl who likes opulent eccentricities - it was just the perfect setting.

I got there first so I propped by the bar and nursed a martini taking all the pinkness in. I've been to Sketch a couple of times before, but for some strange reason it was the first time I didn't mind the colour scheme. It's actually quite... pretty and all I could think of was why the heck did I not bring my camera.

sketch is a centre of food, art and music conceived by michelin-star chef Pierre Gagnaire and Mourad Mazouz (the dude behind Morroccan restaurant Momo on Hedden St). The building is split into a michelin-starred fine dining restaurant (The Lecture Room & Library), a rather more casual downstairs area (Gallery), a tearoom (The Parlour) and a cocktail bar (The Glad). There's also a cool DJ room/bar called the East Bar which is great for pre-dindin drinks.

Turner Prize nominated and Fourth Plinth commissioned David Shirley's drawings adorn the walls and they're rather eclectic, perhaps representative of the whole establishment itself. His art is apparent on the ceramics too which they sell in the restaurant.

A arrived and as soon as we were ushered to our table the non-stop talking commenced.

I love this girl to bits and pieces. She's one of those people who's not shy to say it straight, not scared to hit you where it hurts, nor is she too scared to not be on the fence. It's never grey with her nor is it dull as she goes the extra 500 miles for you (quite literally sometimes). Genuinely one of the greatest friends one can ever have.

Another cocktail please: the Old Cuban is a mix of Havana Club Añejo Especial rum, angostura bitters, mint, lime juice, sugar syrup and prosecco. Quite refreshing and mild, I almost wish they made this into a frappe/sorbet.

Our major carb intake for the night was a massive floret of bread. Personally, I think bread oughtta be complimentary but I'd happily pay for this basket again. Served warm with an emoji-looking disc of butter, it's simple yet moreish with a wholesome taste and feel to it, like something your grandma would bake fresh off her oven.

A ordered the Iberico pork with sage sauce, black pudding, red cabbage and cassis marmalade. 

The pork had a really nice cook to it and the taste was pleasant. I'm not the biggest black pudding fan but it added an earthy richness to the dish, balanced out by the sauce. A fantastic dish this was, but it could've done with a few more slices of pork.

I went wild with the gambas fricasee, a dish or prawns, tangerine and olive oil, ginger, delica pumpkin and honey mousseline.

I've had a similar dish at sketch previously with lobster, and I found this version far more superior. Prawn dishes rarely move me but sketch used plump, juicy ones which hogged the spotlight. I feared the overall taste was going to be on the sweeter side but the balance of flavours was fab.

On to sweeter things, A ordered the sketch chocolat: warm chocolate ganache, cherries and tempered choccy. This was rich and bittersweet at best and a delightful end to her pork meal.

I opted for the delicate Belle île, made with bitter almond panacotta, sablé biscuit, julienned apples and blue foam. This looked so dainty and picture perfect. A joked at how our personalities may have swapped in form of dessert but as I devoured a spoonful of my dish I felt satisfied. Delicious and possibly one of the nicest desserts I've had in a while.

A visit ain't a visit until you take a toilet selfie in the egg room. 

Overall, I do like sketch. The Gallery has been a favourite for catching up with my girly girlfriends and former colleagues as the setting is perfect for arvo tea or dainty dinners. Food is decent enough and cocktails aren't too bad either. Service is fantastic and I actually adore the little pink and light blue uniforms the staff wore. I've yet to try the Michelin-starred Lecture Room but if I'm definitely putting it on my list based on Angie's V-day trip!

sketch Gallery
9 Conduit St, London, W1S
sketch Gallery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - ZomatoSquare Meal

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Sunday, 21 February 2016

Piquet (Fitzrovia): where I found myself on the fence

When I heard Allan Picket (Chez Nico, Galvin Bistrot de Luxe & Orrery fame) opened his own restaurant just off Oxford Street, my initial thoughts were "Yes, good on him!" and "Oh, but why there?" Having worked off Oxford Street in the first few years of my career, I've learned to have a slight abhorrence towards the place thinking it's a black hole of and crazy traffic. 

But good food is good food. And if reviews were a good sign of what's to come prior my visit, then my expectations were set on a high. 

Walking in, it was rather quiet (it did fill up a few hours later). For some strange reason, I felt transported back into my Great-Granny-El's lovely home in Manila which she built in the 60s: wooden parquet flooring, honey gold upholstery, jazzed up wallpaper and accents of colour pop. There's a slightly open kitchen which excited me. Chef Allan was cooking that night, so I got my game belly on.  

Complimentary carbs were good. The breadsticks were moreish and I had to restrain myself from digging deeper into that pot of anchovy dip (seriously, they should sell that stuff and make a fine living off it). The butter that came with our bread was good, too.

Ordering the pithivier of Littlebourne snails (£11) for starters made me chuckle slightly because it sounded like a title of a tale (like The Picture of Dorian Gray or Anne of Green Gables). But there's no chuckling when this gorgeous hill of crisp, golden beautiful pastry arrived.

Lovely escargot and garden peas make up for the filling and they come aplenty. The Madeira jus seals it all together for a lovely sweet, earthy flavour. But it's that buttery pastry that brings the lesson to the tale. If stories come with happy endings, then the story of Piquet came with a happy start.

My guest went for the crab raviolo (£9.50) which looked picture perfect floating on a shellfish jus and topped with samphire.

Filled with crab meat, the flavour was utterly gorgeous. The samphire and bits of tom cuts through the richness, but it needed a bit of play on texture as it came across as eggy at some point.

For mains, I went for the sea bream (£16.50) cooked a la plancha and served with savoy cabbage, roasted artichokes and a red wine jus. The bream was cooked nicely, although I felt the chef was slightly heavy handed with the salt.

My guest went for the casserole of monk cheeks and baby squid (£16.50). It's not for the faint-hearted with its generosity, which embodies the essence of French and English cuisine. The fish was slightly over (possibly a one-off), but the bean, squid and chorizo casserole was rich and comforting.

French beans with confit shallots (£3.75) came with a good crunch which always makes up for a good side dish.

I would've preferred the dauphinoise potatoes (£3.75) a bit creamier like the way La Petite Maison does it, but flavour-wise it was decent.

We finished the meal with some espressos and the richest truffles I've ever had. Bill was paid and I second-guessed myself with more alcoholic concoctions upstairs at The Fir Room. It was a school night, and I was trying to be good. 

I liked Piquet enough. I'm sure I'll go back at some point to try a new seasonal menu. A part of me feels it's the sort of restaurant that should be at a different location to get the recognition it deserves, but a part of me feels like it can be the sort of restaurant that can stand alone because of the food. Service was good, although a little bit frantic when it got slightly busier. I trust in Allan Pickett's talent and hopefully, with a bit of push, the rest of London would, too. 

92 Newman St, London W1T
Ave spend pp: £50
Piquet Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - ZomatoSquare Meal
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Saturday, 20 February 2016

Tokimeite (Mayfair): where I found sukiyaki in London

Whenever I miss my family, there's one thing I crave for: sukiyaki. 

There was a Japanese restaurant we frequented so much growing up. It was my father's favourite place and my mother would roll her eyes on occasion pretending the predictability annoyed her (although secretly I'm sure she loved the special treatment she got from staff - I think we all did). They had the best sukiyaki in town and I would always, always, always be filled to the brim with bowls of the lot, and belly laughs with my fam.

Unforch, London is not particularly a place for out-of-this-world Japanese food and sukiyaki is not something you'd commonly find in menus. 

So when Y mentioned Tokimeite has sukiyaki, I HAD TO. 

Just around the corner from Regent Street and a few hops away from Sketch, Tokimeite takes over the spot where Sakura used to be. It's the baby of seven-Michelin-starred Kyoto chef Yoshiihiro Murata (though he doesn't cook here) and acclaimed designer Yasumichi Morata. The menu reflects traditional Jap cuisine with a nod to Wagyu beef whilst the space, set on three floors, has a cool elegance reflecting fire, wood and water.

I've had a few issues with restaurant service lately so I was keeping my fingers crossed for a bit of luck this time. Luckily we had a rather nice server (though at times overly enthusiastic and slightly sales-y) who took care of us. He said Tokimeite meant "lust" whereas everywhere else says "anticipation" (ie butterflies in your stomach) which I thought was cute. 

But let's get on with food. 

We ordered the karaage (£10) as soon as we saw a Japanese guest from a neighbouring table nod - with closed eyes - his appreciation. The coating was delicious and the chicken was juicy. A bit on the salty side, but tolerable with a squeeze of lemon/lime juice.

The sashimi goshu (£22) is a very attractive bento of sashimi. There are five types - scallop, seabass, salmon, yellowtail, tuna - all of which were very fresh and of prime cuts. The sweetness of each fish pulled through and one can't help but wish to have more magically on the plate. I could seriously have this all as a starter and eat more.

Salmon sashimi is usually boring for me, but my goodness this was outstanding.

I have to say this was one of the finest tuna sashimi I've had in town (probs second best to Dinings in Marylebone). It was a slice of chutoro (medium fatty tuna) which was rather fresh and melt-in-your-mouth. You don't need soy sauce to enhance the umami taste. 

The soft-shell crab roll (£14) was quite nice with a generous portion of crab meat. The salmon roe was quite a nice touch as it gave a nice texture and bursts of umami. 

We ordered a glass of Chateau d'Astros Rosé each (£9) whilst the highlight of the night was being set up. One can't ignore the Wagyu offering, and as it's been a while since I've had sukiyaki, we just had to get the Wagyu sukiyaki (£45). I can't tell you how excited I was for this dish. 

Tokimeite's sukiyaki is a glamorised version, with the Wagyu cut aiming to grab the spotlight and the fine shavings of truffle its sidekick. Served with watercress, a truffle mayo cream and a whole lot of onions, it's definitely not traditional. 

The broth is thick and intensely sweet - and it called for some carbs. Normally I have my sukiyaki with konnyaku noodles but they didn't have it and suggested rice instead. The flavour was definitely bold but I like my sukiyaki with cleaner flavours. Not to say it wasn't good because it was - but it wasn't what I expected. Did it take me back to my childhood? A little bit, but I missed the abundance of veg like sprouts, Chinese cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, etc. Will I order it again? Yes, I think so.

That beef tho. You have to be very careful to not overcook it. But yes, that beef. *insert lovestruck emoji*

I liked Tokimeite. It's nice to find a place to go to for sukiyaki. Portions aren't for the hungry but rest assured you're paying for quality here. Service is decent and the ambience is fantastic - it's the type of place you'd have dainty dindins with a girl friend or four, or a place you can take a first date to. I'm raring to go back to try more dishes. It definitely was a good first impression.

23 Conduit St, London W1S
Ave spend pp: £60 a la carte. Set menus are £25 for lunch and £55/£75 for dinner. 
Square Meal

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