Here are my gluten-free restaurant reviews – mostly in London, but anywhere that I find absolutely delicious. Any meals that have been comp’ed have been specified – and I always give my honest opinion – there’s nothing worse than a shoddy meal!

Chez Elles, Brick Lane

Chez Elles is definitely worth a visit if you’re around Brick Lane or Spitalfields – a delicious, kitschy gem hidden among the sea of curry houses.

Chez Elles

We stopped in on our way to a concert at the All Saint’s Church in Spitalfields (the Camden Symphony Orchestra – they’re playing Handel’s Messiah next) for a quick bite. Chez Elles were able to accommodate the six of us at 6pm, but we were told the table was booked from half eight.

The decor in Chez Elles is eclectic and adorable – the birdcages, plates and framed vintage prints, along with the loveseat in the corner and French tunes are the stuff of instagram dreams. It has a really nice atmosphere, and with a lot of conversation pieces it’s the kind of place that would work well for a meal out with friends or a first date. I also thoroughly enjoyed the mismatching cutlery and plates – it added to the character of the place: life is far too short for matching sets.

Chez EllesChez Elles Menu

We went straight for the mains in order to make good time to make the show, though I was particularly tempted by the Foie Gras. The service was friendly and helpful, which is always a bonus, particularly for Brick Lane (in my experience) and when it comes to French cuisine (also from experience).

Chez Elles Steak Tartar

Always a fan of anything raw, I went for the tartare de boeuf et frites maison, or steak tartar. I also find it tends to be a ‘safe’ (gluten-free) choice, as flour tends to be rife in French cooking. It was seasoned beautifully, accompanied by a perfectly dressed salad and crisp frites. The best steak tartar I’ve had in London yet!

Chez Elles Steak Tartar

My fellow diners went for the special – lamb burger – and classic French staple moules marinieres. I only sampled the latter – and I found the sauce was creamy and rich, simple and delicious.

Chez Elles Lamb BurgerChez Elles

Chez Elles have really nailed it – a charming vibe, excellent food, great location – which is a refreshing change from the increasingly anonymous monotony of Brick Lane curry houses (though I’m open to recommendations). It was an absolute pleasure. The only vague criticism had by the table was one I hear almost every time – the usual grouching about eating off of slate trays instead of plates. Not a problem for me, although admittedly their collection of crockery is infinitely more charming.

Again, due to time we only stayed for a coffee – but like the Terminator, I’ll be back (for Creme Brulee).

Chez Elles: 3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

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Introducing: Old Tom and English

London – have I got a treat for you. I was so excited to come home and write up this post because I’ve just come from the incredible soft opening for the Old Tom and English, a new restaurant opening up on Wardour Street in Soho.

Old Tom and English Old Tom and English

In contrast to the ‘no-reservations’ policy of many popular restaurants these days, the Old Tom and English take a much more civilized approach, with quite the opposite policy: they take reservations only. Personally, I’m a fan of this – you can enjoy your meal without the curious eyes of the next party angling for your seat, as well as getting the ‘private members club’ feel without the extortionate membership fees. Through a speakeasy-style front door, you are led downstairs to a charming bar and dining room done up in exquisite ’60s style, with little alcoves for a few parties who might enjoy a little privacy. My date for the evening was the lovely Joy from the Joyous Living, and we both remarked on how it would be an amazing place for a romantic date – the sharing plates and soft lighting in particular.

Old Tom and English Old Tom and English Old Tom and EnglishOld Tom and English

So far, so good – we were really impressed with the ambiance of the place, and we’d hadn’t even looked at the drinks menu yet. For those of you who might not know, the ‘Old Tom’ refers to a particular gin recipe – or the Cockney rhyming slang for prostitute (perhaps the cheeky pun is alluding to the reputation of its location in Soho?) As someone who is obsessed more than a little partial to a nice gin, I was really impressed with their cocktail menu, of which there are several containing my favourite spirit. I found a kindred spirit in Joy, who is also a gin fan, and we started off with a Wardour (for me) – a gin cocktail infused with basil and black pepper, and the South Side of Oxford Street for Joy, a gin and sherry cocktail which were both amazing.

Old Tom and English Old Tom and English Me and Joy

The Old Tom and English specialise in sharing plates, or an English take on tapas. Coming from a Japanese family, where eating ‘family-style’ is a massive part of the culture, I love sharing plates, and Joy and I ordered several between us.

For an extremely new restaurant, and despite the fact I hadn’t called ahead to enquire about anything gluten-free, the staff at the Old Tom and English were amazingly accommodating and helpful – the service was spectacular. Our waitress was really attentive, and I really felt looked after – which is something you definitely want if you have an allergy or an intolerance of any kind! Everything I tried was gluten-free – anything that wasn’t I’ll mark with a *.

Old Tom and English Our food came in waves – we started with the beer sticks, Old Tom’s salmon tartar with poached egg and pan-fried kings scallops with courgette and black pudding.

Old Tom and English: salmon tartar with poached eggOld Tom and English: scallops with black pudding

It was incredibly hard to decide which dish was my favourite as they were all virtually faultless, but I was extremely fond of those scallops, which were really flavourful. They even impressed Joy, who by her own admission isn’t the biggest fan of the mollusc.

These were followed by the egg and mushroom on a bed of pureed jerusalem artichoke, with a touch of marmite butter. This was served with melba toast*, but can be served without. Although braised gem lettuce with anchovy and garlic might not seem like the most exciting thing in the world, even this defined the word umami for me.

Old Tom and English: mushroom and egg with melba toast

My second favourite dish was the slow smoked guinea fowl with anchovy mayo. The skin was light and crispy, yet the meat fell off the bone – the slow cooking and smoking technique they used made this dish really memorable.

Old Tom and English: smoked slow cooked quail

Our final two savoury dishes were the triple cooked chips and the smoked wood pigeon. I’d never quite understood the appeal of triple cooked chips before, but these were so light – almost like tempura. The wood pigeon was served rare with some grated beetroot and samphire.

Old Tom and English: smoked wood pigeonOld Tom and English: triple cooked chips

At this point, we were well and truly stuffed – but couldn’t resist another cocktail: a fragrant elderflower collins for me, and the OT&E gimlet for Joy, as well as a look at the dessert menu. Not a massive fan of chocolate, or cake, I was really impressed with the flourless chocolate cake – it was deliciously rich and simply delectable. Joy sampled some of the other desserts on offer – including the banana bread and lemon and thyme doughnuts. The only fault I heard all evening was the fact that Joy found the cream slightly too rich for the banana bread, but the dessert menu certainly didn’t disappoint.

Old Tom and English: flourless chocolate cake

Without a doubt, this has been the best meal I’ve had out in 2014 – bravo, Old Tom and English!

Old Tom and English is located on 187b Wardour Street, W1F 8ZB – you can book via phone 020 7287 7347 or at info@oldtomandenglish.com.

Old Tom and English: 4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Although my meal was provided free of charge, all opinions are fully my own.

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Matsuri St James, Mayfair

Matsuri St. James has some of the best Japanese food in London.  It’s a stones throw from the Ritz, and in my experience is one of the most authentic Japanese places to dine in the UK.

Matsuri St JamesMatsuri St James Matsuri St James

The dining area is situated in the basement, and is full of hibachi (grill) tables. I opted for the Matsuri course menu, which had a little bit of everything.   We started off with some seasonal appetisers – a delicate salmon tartar flavoured with yuzu, a Japanese citrus.  Yuzu is used frequently in Japanese cuisine – while it looks like an orange grapefruit in appearance, it’s slightly more lemon/lime-like in flavour, but without some of the tartness.

salmon tar tar

Followed by a chicken appetiser with leeks, and a clear broth soup,  or Dobin Mushi, served in a teapot. Dobin Mushi is a clear broth, flavoured with matsutake mushrooms, limes, chicken, shrimp and soy sauce.

ChickenDobin MushiDobin MushiDobin Mushi

Given a choice between raw food and fried, I will always go for the raw option, and had sashimi while the others had tempura.

Sashimi

For the main course we were given a choice of lobster with black cod, fillet or sirloin steak, which is cooked in front of you on the hibachi tables. I went for a sirloin steak, barely seared and as rare as possible.   It was exquisitely flavoured and seasoned, and was accompanied by a side of rice and a wasabi mayonnaise sauce.

HibachiHibachijapanese steak

All the flavours of Matsuri were quintessentially Japanese – delicate and complex, and without the clumsy seasoning of the fake-Japanese chains you are frequently served in London. It was all delicious,  and presented beautifully (bonus points from me).  To finish off a perfect meal, I went for a kinako (soybean flour) ice cream, while others opted for the green tea (matcha) tiramisu, or something called a dragon ball, which seems to be ice cream which has been set on fire.

dragon ballkinako ice creamgreen tea tiramisu

It is always an absolute pleasure to dine at Matsuri St James and this time was no exception!

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RA Blogger Preview Event | Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album and Le Relais de Venise Entrecote

This week has been one of the busiest and most exciting I’ve had in a while. I attended my first two blogger events, the second of which was a blogger’s viewing event at the Royal Academy of Arts for their new exhibition – Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album. Dennis Hopper is better known for his cinematic work, in Rebel without a Cause (1955), Blue Velvet (1989) and Easy Rider (1969). He was also a keen photographer, and The Lost Album presents photographs he took between 1961 and 1967 in America.

Dennis Hopper Irving Blum and Peggy Moffitt, 1964 Photograph, 16.69 x 24.92 cm The Hopper Art Trust © Dennis Hopper, courtesy The Hopper Art Trust. www.dennishopper.com

Dennis Hopper
Irving Blum and Peggy Moffitt, 1964
Photograph, 16.69 x 24.92 cm
The Hopper Art Trust
© Dennis Hopper, courtesy The Hopper Art Trust. www.dennishopper.com

Dennis Hopper Andy Warhol, Henry Geldzahler, David Hockney and Jeff Goodman, 1963 Photograph, 17.25 x 24.74 cm The Hopper Art Trust © Dennis Hopper, courtesy The Hopper Art Trust. www.dennishopper.com

Dennis Hopper
Andy Warhol, Henry Geldzahler, David Hockney and Jeff Goodman, 1963
Photograph, 17.25 x 24.74 cm
The Hopper Art Trust
© Dennis Hopper, courtesy The Hopper Art Trust. www.dennishopper.com

As a child of the 90s, this event and the exhibition really made clear to me what a confusing, frightening and exciting times the 60s were. Through the lens of Dennis Hopper, all the different aspects of the 60’s we are all familiar with came together for me. In the Lost Album you see the decade in all its glamour, with portraits of models, artists and actors like Paul Newman, Andy Warhol and Jane Fonda, as well as struggle, which you can see in the photographs he took at the height of the American Civil Rights Movement. It took all the events that I had only understood previously as these discrete events or moments of history and visually presented them to us within the context of the time. As a former anthropology student I was far more fascinated in these images, of people during the civil rights movement and of the artists then I was at some of the photographs later on in the exhibit.

Dennis Hopper Jane Fonda and Roger Vadim at Their Wedding in Las Vegas, 1965 Photograph, 17.02 x 24.87 cm The Hopper Art Trust © Dennis Hopper, courtesy The Hopper Art Trust. www.dennishopper.com

Dennis Hopper
Jane Fonda and Roger Vadim at Their Wedding in Las Vegas, 1965
Photograph, 17.02 x 24.87 cm
The Hopper Art Trust
© Dennis Hopper, courtesy The Hopper Art Trust. www.dennishopper.com

Dennis Hopper Untitled (Blue Chip Stamps), 1961-67 Photograph, 24.97 x 17.12 cm The Hopper Art Trust © Dennis Hopper, courtesy The Hopper Art Trust. www.dennishopper.com

Dennis Hopper
Untitled (Blue Chip Stamps), 1961-67
Photograph, 24.97 x 17.12 cm
The Hopper Art Trust
© Dennis Hopper, courtesy The Hopper Art Trust. www.dennishopper.com

Aside from the dramatic and moving photos of these events the photograph that really drove it home for me was a picture of Roy Lichtenstein in front of one of his pieces. When I was in high school in New York, I lived in a group of apartment buildings connected to a plaza by the river, which had a couple of diners and cafes attached to it. We used to hang around there and eat onion bagels coated with butter on our lunchbreaks at the diner, which was decorated with large scale Lichtenstein imitations on the walls – the whole place was yellow and red and it just seemed so tacky, loud and almost pedestrian. I hated it. But in the Lost Album, seeing Lichtenstein sitting in front of his work, and in the context of the whole exhibition it was so incredible to see how fresh and new his work was in its time.

Dennis Hopper Double Standard, 1961 Photograph, 17.45 x 24.87 cm The Hopper Art Trust © Dennis Hopper, courtesy The Hopper Art Trust. www.dennishopper.com

Dennis Hopper
Double Standard, 1961
Photograph, 17.45 x 24.87 cm
The Hopper Art Trust
© Dennis Hopper, courtesy The Hopper Art Trust. www.dennishopper.com

The exhibition took place in the Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington Gardens in Piccadilly. We arrived a little early so we got a glass of wine before we went in to the bloggers preview area. The cocktails for the event (a deliciously summery fruit mojito) were provided by the Atelier cafe, in the lobby of the Royal Academy. The cafe is gorgeous, and looks like how I’d like my kitchen to look – I’ll definitely be back for a spot of lunch!

Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album Royal Academy Dennis Hopper Royal Academy Wine Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album 2014-06-27 13.49.14 Atelier Royal Academy Royal Academy Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album

Wine Atelier mojito

After the event, I took Mr A to somewhere I’d wanted to take him for a long time – Le Relais de Venise Entrecote. I almost don’t even want to write about this place as I don’t want more people to go! Le Relais de Venise have several branches internationally, in New York, Manchester and France. We arrived around 8.30 on a Friday night, and waited 45 minutes to get in – they don’t take reservations, but boy is it worth it.

Le Relais de Venise

Le Relais de Venise only has one item on the menu – so if you are a vegetarian or not a fan of steak then this place isn’t for you. The first item that arrives is a gorgeous walnut salad with a lemon-y dressing with some french bread. It is absolutely divine, and a lot more exciting than it might sound!

Walnut salad le relais de venise

The main is a gorgeous steak cooked to your liking – blue, red right up to well done. A fan of all things raw I took mine blue, and it just melts in your mouth. It comes with a side of fries and coated in the most incredible sauce. The first time I went to Le Relais de Venise a colleague of mine claimed he wanted to bathe in it, it’s that good. It’s almost a curry like flavour to it, but it’s creamy and delicious and a well-guarded secret. A few years ago a French newspaper claimed they had cracked the sauce, which they claim contains chicken livers so I’ll have to try it out for myself soon!

le relais de venise

We washed it down with a bottle of their house red, and the waitress came by again with seconds after we had cleared our plates. It was absolutely divine – I only wish they’d open up a branch in Muswell Hill! At this point I was so full and an incredibly happy girl, but Mr. A wanted to got a tarte au citron after all that queuing which was also delicious.

tarte au citron It was also lovely to see the lovely lady behind the Wonderlusting blog at the RA bloggers event, who I had met at the BGO blogger meetup event the night before, which I’ll be covering in my next post!

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Atariya sushi bar, Swiss Cottage

On Friday, Mr. A and I went out for dinner to celebrate. With a massive craving for toro we decided to go to Atariya, in Swiss Cottage. I’ve been familiar with Atariya in the past, as they have several Japanese supermarkets dotted around London, which I frequent to stock up on all my Japanese condiments and supplies. The Atariya group also supplies restaurants with their sashimi so I knew that at the very least, their sushi bar would have the freshest produce.Atariya swiss cottage

I had really worked myself up all day on Friday, getting overly excited for all the uni (sea urchin) and toro I was going to eat that night. Toro is the fatty part of the tuna, and it’s buttery texture and flavour makes it highly sought after (and rather pricey). Toro, in my opinion, is even better than the juiciest, rarest steak – and there is little else I like more than a good steak.

So I was absolutely gutted when the waitress told me that they had run out of toro and uni for the day. Luckily, Atariya sushi bar impressed me enough to give it a good review – I was able to (somehow) overcome my devastation.

All the fish was amazingly fresh, and perfectly prepared – the sushi rice still slightly warm, at the perfect temperature, and everything was absolutely divine. Of course, I already knew that – the second I walked in, I could see that the restaurant was full of Japanese people, which is always a good sign, and surprisingly quite a rare sight to see in London.

atariya swiss cottage

Japanese businessmen, always a sign of a good sushi bar.

seaweed salad

Seaweed saladeel Eel

black cod rolls

Black cod rolls

salmon nigiri

Salmon nigiri

atariya sushi

Clockwise: natto (fermented soybean) rolls, spicy tuna rolls, salmon avocado rolls.

takoyakiThey did amazing takoyaki – fried and battered octopus, covered in sauce and mayonnaise resting on a bed of cabbage.

We had our meal with a bottle of red, and sampled some of their desserts. I had matcha and vanilla flavoured mochi ice cream (sticky rice cakes filled with ice cream), while Mr. A tried the red bean (azuki) ice cream.Mochi ice cream

I was particularly fond of the black cod rolls and the spicy tuna. We also had several plates of karage (Japanese fried chicken) and several dishes that we were absolutely stuffed by the end of it. Atariya was quite reasonable when you consider the quality of the ingredients, and I couldn’t find fault with any of the dishes. It’s quite an informal atmosphere, so while I was quite dressed up there’s really no need to be! For a delicious, simple and traditional Japanese dining experience in London you can’t get much better than Atariya. I’ll definitely be back – to sample their toro and uni, this time!

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