Cafe Murano : You Can’t Fault the Food

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Although I haven’t been blogging over the last few months, I’ve still been doing a pretty good job of eating (something which came as a relief as I’d heard that some ladies go right off their food during pregnancy). I had some fab meals in Edinburgh last weekend, which I will shortly tell you about but before racing ahead, I wanted to go back over my photos to see what stood out as my best meals of late 2013/early 2014. Surprisingly, the first one to jump out was Cafe Murano.

Given my lack of twitter use at the time, I almost completely missed the opening of Angela Hartnett’s latest Italian in mid November. I missed the soft launch all together but when I did hear that it was opening I managed to snap up a table for lunch on opening day.

To be honest, I think going on opening day was a mistake.

Cafe Murano was billed as the baby sister of the wonderful Michelin-starred Murano, offering rustic dishes in a relaxed cafe setting at affordable prices. Relaxed, rustic, affordable – what’s not to love?! I adore Murano but it’s both pricey and formal, which is often not what I’m looking for, so this place sounded perfect.

The food was delicious and faultless, which is the main thing and the reason it is getting a write up on here but unfortunatley the rest left a lot to be desired.  The service was patchy, there was limited atmosphere as the restaurant didn’t get more than half full and I was surprised to notice that when people did start to arrive, the average age was about 60 (not that I’m ageist – I’m just used to more of a mix). I certainly didn’t feel the “relaxed cafe vibe” and at £18 for a main course, it may be less than Michelin star prices but I think they are playing a bit fast and loose with the word affordable.

At the time, despite the wonderful food, all of this put me off going back in a hurry. However, I’ve seen countless glowing reviews since then, none of which mention these problems, so I’m putting it down to opening day niggles and will be back to sample that delicious food. Just don’t be fooled by the name, this really isn’t an affordable cafe, white tablecloths or not, it’s an upmarket Italian suitable for any special occasion. 

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We had an excellent start with some springy, light focaccia, dipped in fruity extra virgin olive oil and rich truffle laced arancini balls.

The highlights from the rest of the meal were the octopus, chickpea and pesto soup, which my husband wolfed down with a very large smile on his face and the vitello tonnato (veal with tuna sauce) that my mother in law insisted we all try because it was so delicious. Then came the pasta, there really is nothing better than fresh pasta when it is made this well. Wild boar fettuccine. Wow!

Antipasti

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Primi

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Secondi

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Even with the lack of atmosphere and the shaky service, Cafe Murano could not possibly score less than 8/10. The food is just too good. Plus, if you are looking for something more along the lines of an affordable cafe, they now have a set lunch and pre theatre deal – 3 courses for £22 – which might just tick that box.

8/10

Cafe Murano on Urbanspoon

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You can’t beat a bit of focaccia

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Did you miss me? Did you even notice I was gone??

For the first time since I started this blog, more than a month has gone past without any posts. In fact, it is very nearly three months! This is very tardy of me, I know, but I promise I have a good excuse …. I’m having a baby!

I won’t bore you with the details but suffice to say that until very recently I was so shattered from all the crazy hormones that the thought of even turning my computer on in the evening was too much effort, let alone engaging my brain to write something.

Thankfully I have now reached the promised land (aka the second trimester); a place where you return to the normal, fully functioning person you used to be, albeit with a much larger belly! Suddenly the thought of writing seems appealing rather than impossible, so here I am, back on the blog and I thought I would ease us all back in with something nice and simple – focaccia.

We had friends round for dinner last Sunday and in the morning I decided that it would be nice to bake some bread. Focaccia tends to be my go-to bread in this situation because it is interesting and tasty but also incredibly simple to make and you only need an hour and a half to make it in. As a person who does everything at the last minute, this is a definite plus!

It really is worth the effort if you do have the time. There is nothing more comforting than homemade bread at the start of a meal and it is much cheaper to make it at home than to buy it from a bakery or market stall, not to mention more satisfying.

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The recipe I use is from my Le Manoir bread course and it makes two loaves.

You need:

  • 500g strong white flour
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 2 springs of finely chopped rosemary
  • 7g easy bake yeast (or 15g fresh*)
  • 280ml cold water
  • 100ml olive oil

I usually make this by hand, which is good fun as the mixture seems very wet at first (you have to add the olive oil in two halves for this reason) and then suddenly it all comes together. However, on this occasion I decided to try out the dough hook function on my Kitchen Aid and it turned out really well.

If you are going for the dough hook method, put all of the dry ingredients in the bowl with the water and half the oil, then turn it to the slowest setting for 5 minutes, adding the second half of the oil when the dough has started to come together. After 5 minutes, turn up the speed to medium fast and leave for another 3 – 4 minutes. To test when it is ready, take a small amount of dough in your hands and gently stretch it between your fingers. When you can stretch it to a fine layer without it breaking this means it is ready for proving.

If you want to make the bread by hand, put all of the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the water and half the oil, then gradually mix with your fingertips. Once the dough comes together, take it out of the bowl and knead for 2 – 3 minutes. Then add the remaining oil (it will be very wet but don’t worry) and knead for another 5 – 8 minutes. Again you can test when it is ready with the stretching method.

To prove the dough, just pop some clingfilm over the bowl and leave it at room temperature for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes divide the dough into two and squidge it into two baking tins that are at least 1.5 inches deep. I use 7.5 inch round ones but you could use any shape or make one big loaf if you prefer. Press the dough down with your fingertips, then cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for 30 – 40 minutes until it has doubled in size.

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Once the dough has doubled in size, remove the cling film, press back down with your finger tips, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and some more rosemary if you have some spare.

Then place into a pre heated oven at 270ºC for 10 – 15 minutes until they are golden brown. Turn out of the tins and allow to cool on a wire rack.

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There you have it; slice it up and impress your guests or scoff it all yourself depending on how you’re feeling. Personally I love focaccia dipped in good quality extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar or filled as a sandwich with mozzarella and roasted vegetables. The bonus of making two loaves is that you can have one for your guests and one for sandwiches in the week.

*if you are using fresh yeast you will need to mix this with the water before adding it to the bowl.

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Extra Special Frangipane Mince Pies

A couple of weeks ago my lovely friend Gazala presented me with a jar of homemade mincemeat, for no good reason whatsoever. Who wouldn’t want a friend like that?! She’d used a Mary Berry recipe, with butter rather than suet and a few luxury ingredients such as cranberries and almonds. I couldn’t wait to get stuck in.

Opulent, homemade mincemeat like this deserved to be made into some extra special mince pies. I was flicking through my cookbooks when I spotted just the thing in Richard Bertinet’s Pastry book. What could be more perfect than frangipane mince pies? Something different but undoubtedly delicious.

I could not have been more delighted with the results. Having made some dreadful mince pies last year, I was a little nervous but these were awesome. In fact, those who sampled them all agreed they were the best mince pies they’d eaten all year!

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To make these from scratch there is quite a lot to do but it’s worth it. If you are pushed for time you could always cheat with the mincemeat or the pastry. Alternatively, you can make each stage on a separate day, the mincemeat can be stored for months and the pastry is best if left to rest in the fridge overnight.

Stage 1 – mincemeat

To make 4 large jars you will need:

  • 175g currants
  • 175g raisins
  • 175g sultanas
  • 175g dried cranberries
  • 100g mixed peel
  • 1 small cooking apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
  • 125g butter, cut into cubes
  • 50g whole blanched almonds, roughly chopped
  • 225g light muscovado sugar
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • finely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
  • 200ml brandy

Just mix all of the ingredients together, except the bandy, in a large pan and heat gently for 10 minutes so that the butter melts and combines. Then allow to cool and add the brandy.

Spoon the mincemeat into sterilised jars and store in a cool place for up to 6 months.

Stage 2 – pastry

To make 36 mince pies you will need:

  • 350g flour
  • 125g butter
  • 125g sugar
  • 2 eggs plus 1 yolk
  • pinch of salt

First rub your cold butter into the flour until you have shards of butter the size of your little fingernail. When you get to this stage, mix the sugar in evenly then tip in the eggs and combine with a spoon or plastic scraper. Once it has started to come together turn out onto the work surface and fold the dough on top of itself, then turn and repeat. Keep doing this until it feels homogeneous like plasticine. Then wrap the dough in greaseproof paper and rest for at least an hour but preferably overnight.

Stage 3 – the frangipane

For one batch you will need:

  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 250g ground almonds
  • 3 eggs
  • 50g flour
  • 2tbsp rum

Use a mixer to beat the butter until very soft, then add the sugar and ground almonds whilst the mixer is running. Next mix in the flour and then the eggs. When this is all combined add the rum. Easy!

Transfer to a piping bag and pop in the fridge for 15 minutes to set a little.

Stage 4 – the mince pies

When you are ready to make the mince pies, lightly grease three 12-hole tins and roll out the pastry until it is 2-3mm thick. Using a round cutter, just larger than the holes in the tin, cut out circles of pastry and line the tin.

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Half fill each pastry case with mincemeat and pipe about a heaped teaspoon of frangipane on top of each one. Sprinkle with flaked almonds and bake for 25 minutes until golden brown.

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The best thing about these is that you can make them in advance and freeze them. When you are ready to eat them defrost and pop them in the oven at 170′C/Gas mark 3 for 6-7 minutes to crisp up the pastry.

With a couple of these in the freezer there’s really is no excuse for failing to offer your guests a warm mince pie when they visit at Christmas!

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Nigel Slater’s Ginger Cake : A Very Versatile Bake

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I’m a relatively imprecise cook, both in terms of planning and execution. It’s not intentional and from time to time I can be very meticulous but on the whole, I cook or bake when the fancy takes me and I make things up a little bit as I go along.

Often I will find myself sitting at home and suddenly deciding I want to bake, NOW. This is me all over. Impatient, impulsive and almost always hungry. I have no interest in going out to buy ingredients because that will just slow things down, so I search for recipes that I may be able to loosely follow with ingredients I already have in the house.

Admittedly, my cupboards are fairly well stocked with this in mind. I usually have the dry ingredients I need, it’s the fresh ones that let me down. Usually eggs, occasionally butter. There is not much you can bake without dairy – although I have managed to come up with a few ideas. Rocky road anyone?

When the urge recently took me I stumbled across a Nigel Slater recipe for ginger cake and was delighted to establish that I had all of the ingredients! It turned out to be an absolute corker of a recipe, although my impatience meant that all of my fruit sunk to the bottom of the cake but I will rectify that next time.

The real bonus of this cake is that you are actually making two entirely different treats. First off you have a light, warm sponge pudding to serve fresh out of the oven with cream.  Perfect when you are cooking a big Sunday Lunch for friends or family. Then, wrap the leftovers in tin foil and a couple of days later it will turn into a dense, sticky, rich ginger cake – the perfect afternoon treat.

I really can’t recommend this recipe enough!

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Here is the recipe, taken from the guardian website. It serves 8 – 10 people.

250g self-raising flour
2 level tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
a pinch of salt
200g golden syrup
2 tbsp syrup from the ginger jar
125g butter
3 lumps of stem ginger in syrup (about 55g)
2 heaped tbsp sultanas
125g dark muscavado sugar
2 large eggs
240ml milk

You will need a square cake tin measuring approximately 20-22cm, lined on the bottom with baking or greaseproof paper.

Set the oven at 180°C/gas mark 3. Sieve the flour with the ginger, cinnamon, bicarbonate of soda and the salt. Put the golden and ginger syrups and the butter into a small saucepan, and warm over a low heat. Dice the ginger finely then add it to the pan with the sultanas and sugar. Let the mixture bubble gently for a minute, giving it the occasional stir to stop the fruit sticking to the bottom.

Break the eggs into a bowl, pour in the milk and beat gently to break up the egg and mix it into the milk. Remove the butter and sugar mixture from the heat and pour into the flour, stirring smoothly and firmly with a large metal spoon. Mix in the milk and eggs. The mixture should be sloppy, with no trace of flour.

Scoop the mixture into the non-stick or lined cake tin and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a skewer, inserted into the centre of the cake, comes out clean. Unless you are serving it warm, leave the cake in its tin to cool, then tip out on to a sheet of greaseproof paper. Wrap it up again in foil and leave to mature for a day or two before eating.

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Medlar : just what you’ve been looking for?

When I’m asked to recommend a nice restaurant which won’t break the bank, chances are Medlar is the answer.

If you’ve got plenty of cash to splash or if you have specific requirements as to location or cuisine, there are other places I would recommend but, if you’re just looking for a good value, delicious meal, then Medlar is where you should be headed.

I’ve been a couple of times now and my experience has been almost identical each time, in a good way. This is what you can expect:

1) Excellent service. Really excellent. I would go as far as to say that it is some of the best service I have ever had. Every time I go.

2) Value for money. There are not many Michelin Star restaurants where you can enjoy a 3 course lunch for £30 and a 3 course dinner for £45. And this is no set menu nonsense, the table next to you won’t be going a la carte whist you pick from 2 or 3 options, this is the menu and everyone chooses from the same one.

3) It’s surprisingly easy to get a table. This should not be underrated, how many times have you decided to go for an impromptu meal only to find you can’t get in anywhere? Perhaps I’ve just been lucky but I put it down to the location. If it was central you’d never get in, but tucked away at the end of the Kings Road it takes that little bit more effort and as a result you can often get a table which a couple of days (or even hours) notice. 

4) Great food. It’s seasonal, well thought out and tasty. It’s not the best I’ve ever had but as long as you’re not expecting the meal of a lifetime you wont be disappointed. There’s plenty of choice and I can highly recommend the under blade fillet with chips and béarnaise - a regular on the menu for very good reason. They also have a cheese board to die for and the staff are happy to give you as many slices as they can fit on the board. How often does that happen?!

5) Last but not least, a fantastic wine list! Plenty of selection by the glass, a good range at the bottom end of the price scale and a very helpful sommelier. I just have two words for you, Ice Cider. Try it.

Medlar is a solid 8/10 and somewhere that I will be returning (and recommending) time and time again. I’ve been drunk, I’ve been sober, I’ve been with friends and I’ve been for a romantic meal. The constant factor is that I always have a great time. If only they would open a sister restaurant in North London.

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Black bean scallops with fennel, chilli, toasted sesame seeds & oyster beignet 

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Foie gras and prune terrine with smoked duck, green beans & toasted brioche

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Under blade fillet with snails, salad, triple cooked chips & béarnaise

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Monkfish with braised baby gem, pancetta, squash ravioli & romesco

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Cheese glorious cheese

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Pear financier with candied walnuts & coco nib ice-cream

Medlar on Urbanspoon

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Zucca : A Fantastic Italian

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Bermondsey Street is my favourite street in the whole of London. As you wander down from London Bridge there are countless brilliant places to eat and drink and the buildings are just beautiful, it always fills me with a sense of excitement and opportunity.

If you can manage to walk right to the end without succumbing to temptation along the way, there’s an absolutely fantastic italian restaurant called Zucca waiting to delight. It’s  a bright, modern dining room, relatively formal but buzzing with conversation. Suitable for a date, a catch up with friends, a business lunch or dinner with the parents. The menu is simple and full of fresh, seasonal produce, all expertly cooked to create some of the best Italian food I have ever eaten.

It’s very popular, so booking ahead is usually essential but I recently popped in at around 2:30pm on a weekday and managed to bag a table at the end of lunch. It was such a treat.

After munching on the excellent bread selection and ordering a glass of crisp white wine, I started with a small portion of homemade pasta and hare ragout. This was pappardelle that I can only dream of making it home, rich with egg and silky but with that elusive bite that I just don’t seem to be able to achieve myself. The ragout was luxurious, deep and supremely satisfying. I also managed to steal a couple of mouthfuls of the porcini taglierini, which was equally good.

Unusually for me I chose fish for my main course. I always think of pasta as being quite filling and I was in the mood for dessert (when aren’t I?!), so the lemon sole seemed like a nice, light option and it was delicious. The delicate, sweet, flakes of fish were just what I fancied and with firm new potatoes and a buttery, lemon sauce it was a comforting but fresh.

Mr E was delighted with his squid and polenta. “Exceptionally tender and very nice”. What more do you need?

All of the puddings were tempting but I went for the fig and almond tart upon the recommendation of our lovely waitress. Figs, frangipane, pastry and ice cream; how could I say no?  It was an elegant dish, not too sweet, full of flavour and along with the obligatory flat white, it was an a superb end to a very enjoyable meal.

My lunch at Zucca was a real pleasure; faultless cooking, friendly service and a menu full of familiar, inviting dishes. If only every Friday afternoon could be spent there.

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taglierini with porcini

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pappardelle with hare ragout

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lemon sole with new season mushrooms, salsify and cress

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squid nero with roast polenta

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fig and almond tart

I love Italian food, I love Bermondsey Street and I love Zucca.

9/10

Zucca on Urbanspoon

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The Latymer at Pennyhill Park : Classic and Delicious

My recent visit to The Latymer was pure chance. In hindsight, it ought to have been on my wish list of places to go but it wasn’t. I’d never heard of it before and I certainly didn’t know that within a couple of weeks of our visit it would be awarded a second, very well deserved, Michelin Star.

Our wedding anniversary was coming up and at the last minute we decided to throw caution to the wind and book a sneaky night away, somewhere not too far from London, where we could relax and forget about the stresses of every day life. There were a number of places I fancied (Limewood, Le Champignon Sauvage, The Pig at Brockenhurst) but we’d left it far too late to get a reservation. Not one to be deterred, I embarked on a bit of trusty Google research and came up with Pennyhill Park. A spa hotel, less than an hour away and with a decent restaurant, it fit the bill perfectly and the restaurant turned out to be exceptional*.

We went for the seven course tasting menu (plus the optional cheese course, obviously) and it was one of those meals where every single dish is delicious. There was nothing especially exciting or unexpected going on. No out there combinations or theatrical touches. This was simple, beautifully presented, hugely flavoursome food. No gimmicks necessary.

We nibbled on crispy grissini dunked in rich, smooth chicken liver parfait, whilst we perused the menu and chose our wine. I’m a big fan of chicken liver parfait but I rarely order it because there’s always something more interesting on the menu, so for the wondrous idea of serving it as a nibble, they had me at hello! This was followed up with a pitch-perfect appetiser; delicate lemon sole with salty shrimp and deep seaweed, something to delight the tastebuds and leave you wanting more. Then a rich quail dish, with sweet onions, earthy girolles, charred sweetcorn and a tiny fried quails egg as an extra surprise. A deconstructed virgin mary and a cauliflower and langoustine dish followed and were both faultless. Light and fresh with wonderful texture combinations.

Four courses in and I was throughly enjoying myself, all of my expectation had been exceeded. These weren’t dishes that I’d naturally order but that just made it all the more fantastic. There was nothing to fault, it was just a case of sitting back and enjoying the ride.

For main there was a choice of grouse or sea bass. I was born on 12 August, which is known to some as The Glorious Twelfth,  as it signals the start of the shooting season for grouse. Despite that, I’d never got round to trying grouse before and as this was Yorkshire grouse, it was an easy choice for me. I loved it.  Beautifully tender, rich and delicately gamey, it was complimented with the sweetness of parsnip and blackberry and earthiness of parsley and bay, all brought together by a dribble of sticky red-wine jus.

I also stole a mouthful of Mr E’s delightfully spiced, melt in the mouth sea bass. Delightful!

Then onto the desserts, both beautifully crafted as were all of the dishes that had gone before. We started with a sexy raspberry and chocolate number. A combination that has so much promise, it really needs to deliver and it deliver it did. I didn’t quite lick the plate but there was some discrete plate wiping and finger licking going on. Then a very pretty combination of chocolate, pistachio and violet. It turns out violet is not for me, I never did like parma violets as a child, but it certainly looked lovely on the plate and I had no hesitation in hovering up the rest of my plate without it.

Finally, when we thought things just couldn’t get any better, the cheese arrived. Wonderful, stinky, nutty, oozy, happy cheese. We made the poor waiter describe every single one to us before we both made our separate selections of five cheeses. And then we sat, in blissful matrimony, eating our cheese, drinking our wine and wondering why we’d never thought of coming to this wonderful place before.

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crackers with taramasalata, homemade grissini & chicken-liver parfait 

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freshly baked bread & butter

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lemon sole poached with nori, watercress, brown shrimp, & macadamia

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poached and roasted quail, veal sweetbread and tongue, barbecued sweetcorn, caramelised onion, girolles & fried poached quail’s egg

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dehydrated & marinated tomatoes, basil seeds, cow’s curd and ricotta

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 cod poached in single estate olive oil, langoustine, textures of cauliflower, parmesan veloute

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roasted sea bass, scallop with Moroccan spices, charred gem lettuce,    confit fennel with salted lemon

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poached Yorkshire grouse, confit leg, Parsnip “bark”, parsley sponge,   bread and bay, parsnip hash & blackberry

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textures of raspberries, white chocolate namelaka and powder,       chocolate sable, clotted cream ice cream

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chuao chocolate, pistachio cake, violet ice cream, white chocolate snow

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cheese & biscuits

9.5/10

If you haven’t been and it’s not already on your wish list, I suggest you add it right away. You certainly wont regret an evening spent with Michael Wignall’s cooking.

Latymer on Urbanspoon

*The hotel I could take or leave and if I had a choice, I would probably leave it, but then there is something so delightfully extravagent about being able to stroll off back to your hotel room after a wonderful meal and the spa is great.

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