The Cowcross Review


Timeout’s Number 16: Nahm by Pat Kua
March 16, 2008, 10:20 pm
Filed under: Restaurant, Timeout Top 50 2008

I’m always a bit sceptical about restaurants in hotels as they tend to fall into two categories – either extremely overpriced food that’s not very special, or food focused on fresh flavours matched perfectly in ambiance and corresponding price. If you can’t tell, I think most hotel restaurants fall into the former and those in the latter I’ll try to reserve for special occasions. Fortunately for me, I found that Nahm, Timeout’s #16 on the Top 50, falls into the better of these two categories.

Nahm

Nahm, located in the Halkin Hotel just near Hyde Park corner and run by Australian chef David Thompson focuses on providing fresh and authentic Thai foods you won’t find in your local Thai-food offering pub. It may seem strange that an Australian runs this restaurant although once you eat there, it’s obvious that the amount of time Thompson spends in Thailand results in superb offerings infused with traditional flavours and ingredients, some extremely classic, and others much more modern yet all distinctly Thai based.

Squid

My sister found it difficult to appreciate the atmosphere with only four or five other tables seated for the evening. I have to admit a few forces work against the only Michelin-starred Thai restaurant in Europe, such as being Monday night in a swanky hotel, its location on a very quiet street away from Hyde Park corner, all making it difficult for people to stumble across it. I saw it as an opportunity to indulge in the dining atmosphere while resting on our chairs with their small and comfortable pillow in the small of my back.

Sea Bass Green Curry

Nahm offers a tasting menu though I couldn’t really justify eating or paying that much (£45) for my first visit. Fortunately the waitress told us what the best way to order from the menu when going ala carte, and recommended picking a dish from each category focusing on different flavours so that, as a group, we could experience a wealth of sensations and tastes. We ordered four dishes (duck salad, ginger shallot squid, stir fried pork and a seabass green curry) between the three of us and, followed by a round of dessert, literally had us rolling out of the place, completely content and, at least for me, quite impressed by the evening. The two dishes that impressed me the most included the seabass curry and the squid. The curry paste looked like it’d been made relatively fresh and the result was a dish full of flavour and spices that wasn’t at all overpowering. Even the other chilli-wary The Cowcross Review author enjoyed the subtle heat provided by the small chillis sitting in the sauce. The squid impressed me since they’d cooked it perfectly with almost melt in your mouth flesh tinged with the surprisingly strong ginger shallot flavours

Peanut Cluster Dessert

Nahm also offers an overwhelmingly exhaustive wine list and I’m sure that if we were all in the mood to drink, we would have appreciated it. Instead I had one of their signature martinis infused with a spicy ginger flavour that went perfectly with our meal.

I’ll agree with my sister that their presentation isn’t what you’d expect from a Michelin starred restaurant and although presentation matters, I do understand it’s very difficult to make stir fry and curry dishes that presentable without being too ostentatious. I think they made up for it in their amazing desserts, something that you’ll have to try for yourself.

Going back to my original statement, Nahm is a wonderful experience when you can share different flavours with a small group of people though I’ll still look for that special occasion worth going to it for.



Timeout’s Number 30: J Sheekey by thekua
March 9, 2008, 5:06 pm
Filed under: Restaurant, Timeout Top 50 2008

Like its Caprice owned sister restaurant, The Ivy, J Sheekey sits somewhere between Covent Garden and Leicester square, hidden away from the bustling tourist crowds. Its stain glassed windows obscure any clear view into the building with the top hat wearing doorman being the only attention grabbing feature for the passerby. The plain looking entrance transports you to a completely different world where you feel much less in the middle of a central tourist area and much more in a sophisticated dining environment. The reception area is tiny, with waiters bustling back and forth as they take orders, serve drinks and present food to their guests. The dining area appears split into different rooms, continuing to add to the intimate atmosphere.

J Sheekey is best known for its seafood dishes although they do also serve other types of meats if you’re feeling a touch pesce-phobic. Their dishes focus on doing simple and traditional dishes very well with a few modern takes like the seafood curry and basmati rice. As a table, we gorged ourselves on a large variety of dishes. My starter, the cullen skink thoroughly impressed me. It’s a traditional Scottish fish soup with a thick texture and creamy base highlighting the juicy hunks of haddock throughout. Their presentation bowled me over, with an empty vessel placed on the table filled with the soup from a jug and the waiter positioning a shield between the bowl and myself to prevent splashes.

For my main, I ordered the grilled dover sole, on the bone, with my dining companions both ordering the fish pie. I think the mains pleasantly surprised us all, the fish pie full of different sorts of quality fish and topped with a crunchy crust, and the dover sole perfectly cooked and seasoned, its flesh literally falling off the bone. Even with the smaller of the two sizes, the fish still managed to defeat my appetite. We finished the evening off with a round of dessert including an exceptionally alcoholic muscat jelly moulded to look like a tiny life ring, a very sugary spotted dick, and my tart roasted plums served with almond ice cream helping to clean the palette.

Muscat Jelly

The final thing to note is really about the service. Compared to the excellent service I remembered receiving at The Ivy, the waiter’s poor service truly disappointed me. We had to raise our hands twice to call some attention, the first to order some dessert, and the second time to ask for the bill. Our attempts to make eye contact with the three waiters talking to each other obviously failing. They also cheekily charge a £2 cover for each person for the simple bread and butter.

Dining at J Sheekey is worth it for a great place to eat quality seafood, lovingly cooked and presented although they do need to work on their service if they expect it to be worth the 12.5% they charge.



The Ambassador by Pat Kua
February 24, 2008, 7:19 pm
Filed under: Restaurant, Timeout Top 50 2008

The challenge is to visit the Time Out top 50 London Restaurants and review them as an everyday Londoner who just wants to eat good food and enjoy the restaurant experience.

The Ambassador, which is nestled in amongst the other restaurants and small boutique shops on Exmouth Market was, unlike other restaurants around it, a hub of activity on Valentines Day. Positioned no. 23 on the Time Out top 50, it is the first restaurant that we have chosen to visit. We have marked the food and the ambience of The Ambassador out of 10, receiving 6 for food and a slightly higher 7 for ambience.

The Ambassador was a very welcoming, warm and inviting place on an icy cold night, the dim lights and relaxed atmosphere drew you in from the street. The interior was old fashioned café that held a slight charm to it, with exposed brick work and dark wood tables. We were taken to our seat by a polite young gentleman who sat us at the back of the restaurant on a table that looked out across the rest of the diners. The tables were well spread out, and you did not feel like you were sitting on top of the people next to you, (which can be a common occurrence for Valentines dinning).

We made ourselves at home in our corner and looked over the menu, which was made up of predominantly British seasonal food. To start I had a pork belly salad with apple sauce, it was a respectable combination that was an enjoyable starter. Although, I do hate it when you are given pork crackling that is soggy and chewy, if the crackling is not just that crackling don’t put it on the plate! Moving on to my lamb main, a very rich course that I don’t have much to say about, it was edible and not vile but was not that exciting either. The pudding was my favourite bit of the meal, a Yorkshire rhubarb crumble that was scrumptious. The rhubarb was just right not over cooked that it had turned to a mush and not under cooked that it was still really stringy. The crumble had soaked up some of the rhubarb juices so was a bit soggy but still had a crunch to it – delightful!

lamb.jpg

If you ever find yourself up in Exmouth Market I would recommend popping into The Ambassador whether for tea and cake or for a meal.



Timeout’s Number 23: The Ambassador by thekua
February 24, 2008, 6:23 pm
Filed under: Restaurant, Timeout Top 50 2008

We had a wonderful three course meal here on February 14 (yes, on Valentine’s Day). We arrived slightly before our booking at 7pm, early enough to get one of the comfy corner couches looking back at the other parts of the restaurant. They offer wine by the glass, in half a litre carafes and by the bottle. Considering we both weren’t planning on drinking that much, we went for a carafe of a nice red (I can’t remember which off their vast selection).

My starter of a spinach and ricotta risotto was perfect – creamy perfectly cooked rice and with the soft ricotta melting into the warm body. Be warned the portion is very small and, in reality, a perfect size for a starter. The table next to us mistakenly planned to share one of them.

John Dory Fillets

Next up was John Dory Fillets served with potatoes, capers and some greens. The fish, advertised as grilled, tasted a lot more like they’d pan fried it, and the saltiness indicating that they’d seasoned it just a little bit too much. The combination still worked very well.

The sticky date pudding was a great way to finish the meal off. The pudding was soft, literally melting in the mouth and the swizzle of butterscotch sauce over it wasn’t as sickeningly sweet that many other places make it so. The small scoop of vanilla ice cream also helped cut through the rest of this heavy dish.

I’d definitely come back to The Ambassador. It’s got a great ambiance – casual, yet modern and the attendants are very friendly and best of all, very accessible to us.

Wait to read The Cowcross Review’s final rating.