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Review: Pachamama Bar and Kitchen

Pachamama London

This summer, with my birthday approaching, I was looking for somewhere nice to have brunch I wanted to try a new cuisine.  After a little searching online, I came across Pachamama, a Peruvian restaurant.  As I browsed their menu I was immediately enticed by the description of their dishes.  There were so many things I wanted to try.

Pachamama are in central London (W1), about an 8-minute walk from Bond Street station.  To get there, I walked through and then past St Christopher’s Place, a buzzing foodie spot with many dining al fresco soaking up the unusually hot summer. Whilst strolling through, I found myself wishing the restaurant was amidst this vibrancy.  It was however located in a basement on a quiet street just beyond this area, and was not very prominent from the street.

Once inside, I was pleasantly surprised to find a beautifully decorated, spacious and homely looking restaurant.  Parts of it were sectioned off to look like a kitchen or dining room, with traditional lampshades hanging from the ceiling, bookshelves, ornaments and potted and trailing plants. We sat on mismatched chairs around a large wooden table.  In the middle of each table was a vase with freshly cut flowers. Within a few minutes I forgot I was below ground, with limited natural light.

Our waiter, Katerina, presented us with four menus.  It was nice to have a varied choice, but it made it difficult to choose with so many options: the regular Brunch Menu; the Brunch Feast (a set menu for £25  to which you can add unlimited Prosecco for another £20); the Dinner Tasting Menu; or the a la Carte Menu.  Between us we selected from the brunch menus.  We had to ask the waiter to explain the concept for their Brunch Feast, which was mainly savoury and sweet waffles with various toppings to share. I was particularly interested to sample their waffles, as they were  freshly made using alternative healthy ingredients – either quinoa or sweet potato, and were gluten free.  The large and fluffy waffles looked very appealing, however it took a minute for my taste buds to acquire the underlying flavour and firmer density of the adapted recipe.  I’m glad I tried them though as with the toppings (fresh fruit, fried chicken or bacon and eggs) plus the naturally sweet Yacon syrup, I found them quite enjoyable.  Reading through the menu we were uncertain of a few of the dishes but our waiter, Katerina, was happy to describe the ingredients to each person that asked.  Between us we tried a few things.  There was something for everyone: waffles, fish, meats, chicken and salads.

Here are some of the dishes we tried and liked:

Peruvian fried chicken on quinoa waffles with yacon syrup
Pachamama Crab and Yuca Churros
Crab and Yuca Churros
Sea bass Ceviche
Seabass Ceviche (raw fish salad marinated in citrus vinegar with chilli) – Tasty but portion is more like a starter
Pork Belly Chicharrones
Pork Belly Chicharrones – very tender, light batter was succulent, sweet and very crispy
Smoked cheddar Tequenos (Cheese sticks) were not as expected (according to their description, but were very nice. Sweet and crispy
Smoked cheddar Tequenos (Cheese sticks) were not as expected (according to their description) but were very nice.
Pachamama burger
Fully loaded cheeseburger
Sweet potato crisps
Sweet potato crisps

They have a variety of wines and cocktails to choose from.  I had and thoroughly enjoyed the Chicama, a clear coloured Brandy drink (Pisco) infused with, lavender, Early Grey and Elderflower.

Chicama cocktail
Chicama

What I liked

  • Everything was very tasty, the flavours were sometimes unexpected but still tantalising.
  • The atmosphere at Pachamama is relaxed and homely
  • I liked that there were options for those with allergies or specific dietary preference. Many dishes were either gluten free, vegan, vegetarian or made with free-range ingredients
  • Staff were chatty and friendly and accommodating ( I loved Katerina, and the manager Aerve).
  • The toilets were clean and well maintained too
  • I liked that they has a bar area and a variety of cocktails and beverages to choose from

What I didn’t like

  • Too many menus to select from
  • Confusing dining concept
  • that it was located in a basement and away from the vibrancy of the area

I hope to visit again soon to try their dinner tasting menu, as there were several traditional Peruvian delights that were not on the brunch menus. Its also a cool place to just chill and have some cocktails and snacks.  Its worth noting that Pachamama also have a new restaurant in the City of London (Pachamama East) with slightly different menus.

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Review: Bala Baya Mediterranean Restaurant, Southwark, London

Bala Baya Aubergine Mess

I am always looking out for interesting places to dine, where I can sample either traditional cuisines done uniquely, or try out dishes that I’ve never had before.  Bala Baya, in Southwark, ticked both boxes. It serves traditional Israeli recipes from the Tel Aviv region and also incorporates some contemporary twists.  All of this in a very modern industrial surrounding.

I was invited to join few friends for a birthday dinner and was immediately excited when I browsed the very extensive menu.  I didn’t know where to start.

I had never dined out in Southwark before, so was surprised to find that there was a little foodie hotspot called the Old Union Yard Arches a short walk away from the station. There is a row of buzzy looking restaurants, each situated in their own railway arch.  I made a mental note to check out the other eateries in the future. For now, my attention was with Bala Baya.

My first impression was that the staff were extremely welcoming to their guests, most of which seemed to be regulars.  I could also sense a light-hearted family-type bond amongst staff.  Our waiter, Dimitri, was very welcoming and gave us the option to sit either upstairs or downstairs.  Both areas were pleasant, but downstairs seemed to have more atmosphere. Also, it was a warm sunny evening so we opted for downstairs by the window (as no tables were free in their small outside dining area).

Bala Baya outside
Bala Baya outside

For dinner you can choose from several small plate dishes (tapas style).  They suggested 3-4 dishes per person which we could share.  This was perfect for me as it gave me the opportunity to sample a few dishes.  There were 4 of us, so we pretty much ordered every small plate dish and were not disappointed (There were also some large plate dishes in the Feast section).  I like to be adventurous with food, so was happy to give some of the more unfamiliar dishes a try.  The Aubergine Mess was surprisingly tasty, but my favourite dish was the roasted Cauliflower (a popular veg at the moment), followed by the Crispy, Sticky, Crunchy chicken and the and Potato Tempura.  Everything they brought out was extremely tasty and nicely presented on traditional glass tableware.  The food was cooked in an open kitchen and each dish brought out one by one, as and when ready.  Whilst we waited, we were provided with freshly cooked flat bread pitta and hummus to graze on.  Halfway through our meal, the Maître D came over and highly recommended the Kebab Dumplings (semolina ravioli type parcels filled with lamb). She was very passionate and animated in her description of this dish.  It was her favourite, therefore we felt obliged to try it. We enjoyed the dish, however, we each felt that it did not live up to its introduction and flailed in comparison to the other dishes we had tried.  Definitely worth a try though. Although the servings were quite small we ended up with more food than we could finish.  Therefore, between us we ordered one dessert to share.  It was quite a blind choice as we had no idea what some of them were. We decided on The Filthy (Mascarpone, tahini, tonka cream, milk caramel, sesame crumble & banana compo). For me, the desserts were not as appealing as the main dishes.

Cauliflower Bala Baya
Cauliflower Bala Baya
Squid Bala Baya
Squid Bala Baya

Their cocktail list did not disappoint either.  There was a good selection to choose from. Some with middle eastern sounding names like Artichoke Julep and Gazozini.  I went for a simple grapefruit and thyme Gazoz (non-alcoholic), which was very refreshing and needed to counter the many flavours I was encountering.  There was also a good choice of beers, spirits and hot drinks. However I could not see a wine list (despite some of the cocktails being Prosecco based).  Our waiter also gave us all a complimentary digestif cocktail whilst we were waiting for the bill (an Ouzo/Gazoz shot). Nice touch!

Grapefruit and Thyme Gazoz Cocktail
Grapefruit and Thyme Gazoz Cocktail
The Filthy Bala Baya
The Filthy Bala Baya

Bala Baya is also a bakery by day serving sweet and savoury pastries to eat in or takeaway.  They also have a tasting menu and a weekend Brunch and Roast menu, serving larger dishes.  All to be sampled on another visit. The only thing that didn’t quite sync for me was the blend of very modern industrial décor with the very traditional Tel Aviv plates and cutlery etc. It wasn’t in keeping. Just a minor gripe.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Baya Bala.  It’s one of my best dining experiences so far this year.  Good atmosphere, good food with plenty of choice (plus good friends). The perfect formula.  I plan to revisit and recommend you do too.  You won’t be disappointed.

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Review – Sake No Hana restaurant, London

Sake no Hana

Sake No Hana is a modern Japanese restaurant in Mayfair (part of the Hakasan Group).  My first impression when entering the building is that it was a classy establishment.  You are immediately greeted by well-dressed friendly staff, who take your coat and then show you to your seat.  Optionally you can wait in the bar area where several Japanese beers, cocktails or tasty mocktails are available, together with the more classic cocktails and wines.  Entrance to the dining area was up on the floor above via quite a steep escalator. The décor is modern and relaxed. For Spring 2018 the interior had a makeover by a Japanese architect. In celebration of cherry blossom season, hanging from the ceiling was an art installation of paper blossoms, accentuated with a light projection, to create the look of cherry blossoms blowing in the wind.

Sake no Hana dining area with cherry blossom display
Sake no Hana dining area with cherry blossom art installation

We chose the Taste of Sake No Hana menu – two courses for £29 or three courses for £34.  As a pre-starter, we were given white miso soup, which we drank from the bowl.  There were then various options for each course that followed. I chose the tuna tartar with deep fried tofu as my starter.  This dish was very well-presented in a wooden box and was extremely tasty.  The tofu, which I don’t usually enjoy, was particularly good.  Part two of my starter was a sushi selection.  My choice which included salmon, tuna and tofu was again beautifully presented.  This time, in a see-thru Perspex box. I was very content after eating my starters and was at this point hoping that the main course would not be too heavy. I went for the Chargrilled Salmon Teriyaki.  As expected, this was cooked to perfection and beautifully laid out on a hoba leaf. We ordered a rice bowl to share accompany our main. This was more than enough.  The next course was to be their signature dessert. However, I didn’t opt for dessert on this occasion as I completely full.

Starter 1 - Tuna Tartar
Starter 1 – Tuna Tartar

 

Sarter 2 - Sushi Selection
Starter 2 – Sushi Selection
Teriyaki Salmon
Main -Teriyaki Salmon

 

 

 

 

 

What I liked: I thoroughly enjoyed my meal and loved the presentation. I thought the price was very reasonable.  There was a good variety of cocktails available too. The waiters were friendly and attentive and did not hover around too much.  It’s the perfect place for a romantic meal or just to chill with friends.

What I didn’t like: There is only one set of toilets in the dining area, which contained one cubicle each for men and women.  Therefore, potentially one would need to loiter outside the loos if they were occupied. Secondly, on my visit we were celebrating a birthday and wanted to bring our own cake.  However, the cover charge for this was £7 per slice, which I think is too much.

All in all I would recommend a visit to Sake no Hana.  Great food, good atmosphere and very reasonably priced.

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Review: Crazy Bear, Fitzrovia

Crazy Bear dishes

 

Crazy Bear Signature Menu

The award winning Crazy Bear is a very unique restaurant in Fitzrovia serving a fusion of Thai, Japanese and Chinese food.  Despite being located very close to Goodge Street station, it is not that easy to find.  The entrance (on Whitfield Street) is quite inconspicuous, with no signage.  However, once you enter the building you will be pleasantly surprised by the opulent décor, which is accented with quirky artefacts.  The dining area has several cosy booths, perfect for a date. It also has larger tables situated in alcoves with comfortable seating.  All-in-all the feel is cosy, romantic and stylish.

I tried the 12-plate signature menu – a selection of Thai, Chinese and Japanese dishes, which includes a glass of champagne (this was on offer for £33pp through Booktable), normally £62.50 per person.  Two courses were brought out at a time, served by very polite, friendly and attentive waiters.  There was the option to choose either the vegetarian or classic menu.  Both seemed tantalising, but I went for the classic.  Every dish was beautifully presented and tasted amazing. Portions were generous. I had a little of everything and was more than content. I struggled to finish my dessert.  Great value for money.

I decided to have a little wander around the restaurant en route to the ladies. As I walked down the quite grand staircase, I realised that the décor downstairs was even more quirky, yet cool, with more of a hip vibe. There was a cocktail bar aligned with cushioned bar stools; more cosy booths; lots of gold and bronze artefacts, and last but not least – a hanging Giraffe!  Music was playing and people were arriving and heading straight downstairs for drinks.

 

Finding the toilets was a bit of a challenge. They were secluded and camouflaged by mirrors. It took me while to work out how to enter the Ladies, and once inside there was more confusion, as you enter a mirrored room, so need to figure out which wall had a cubical behind it.  I am sure the staff have fun watching perplexed customers try to figure it all out. Good fun if you are not desperate to go!

Stairs at Crazy Bear
Stairs down to the bar at Crazy Bear

I have had the pleasure of dining at Crazy Bear Fitzrovia twice and have thoroughly enjoyed each occasion.  I definitely recommend Crazy Bear for a date, or for dinner and drinks with friends.

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Review: Benares Restaurant, Mayfair, London

Benares quinoa salad spinach and red onion bhajia

If you enjoy Indian food and equally appreciate fine dining, then you will love Benares.  Benares is a Michelin-starred restaurant in the affluent Mayfair area of London, who serve up a fusion of Indian/British cuisine. In keeping with the location, the restaurant is sophisticated, classy and chic.  The décor in the main dining area is elegant, yet warm and relaxed with dimmed lights with dark earthy tones accented with copper, gold and Asian artefacts. The bar area feels a little more, trendy with a number of cosy dining chairs around smaller tables; bar stools and background music.

Benares Passion Fruit Cocktail
Benares Passion Fruit Martini Cocktail

My first visit to Benares was for a corporate event, where we were served tasty canapes, alongside their signature cocktails. The Passion Fruit Chutney Martini is to die for! Whilst there, I was personally shown around by their acclaimed chef, Atul Kochhar. He presented their private dining rooms, all of which were impressive.  Each room is unique, with one The Chefs Table, including an en-suite chef’s gallery where you can view the chefs at work. After this visit, I promised to return to try out some of the dishes from their main menu.  The a la carte menu is however a bit pricey and I am holding out for a suitable occasion. Therefore, on my second visit I went for the Benares Indian Street Food menu, a five-course sharing menu for two (£30). The menu is made up of dishes from every corner of India and pays homage to the diverse cuisines of each region and stays true to original preparations and recipes passed down through generations. I reserved my table through Booktable, who were offering this menu for £20 per person, including a cocktail. Of course I had the Passion Fruit Martini again! This menu is served in the more casual bar area – The Lounge. Staff were friendly and attentive and brought our dishes out one by one as and when we were ready for them.  Each dish looked like a work of art. Everything was tasty too. Although I would say that in comparison to most Indian food that I have tasted, the spice level was quite mellow.  The portions are quite small and the menu is altogether light and not too filling, but perfect to accompany after-work drinks.

Lamb Kofta Roll, with mint and coriander salad
Lamb Kofta Roll, with mint and coriander salad

The Benares Indian Street Food menu includes:

  • Chicken Tikka Crispy Naan with Smoked Tomato Dressing, inspired by the Punjab region of North West India

    Pickled Prawn Pani Puri with Tamarind Chutney
    Pickled Prawn Pani Puri with Tamarind Chutney
  • Lamb Kofta Roll with Mint and Coriander Salad, typically found in Lucknow, North East India
  • Grilled Curry Leaf Seabass and Seasonal Salad, a classic Southern Indian dish found in Goa
  • Quinoa Salad, Samphire and Red Onion Bhajia – from the East Indian region of Kolkata
  • Pickled Prawn with Crispy Rice Pani Puri a specialityfrom Mumbai, West India.

I would recommend Benares to anyone who likes the idea of Indian fine dining. I definitely intend to visit again to try out their main menu.  It’s the perfect destination for after-work drinks, a cosy date or a large group booking.