Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Imli, London

Imli Restaurant
167-169 Wardour Street, Soho, London, W1F 8WR
Tel: 020 7287 4243

When I was younger (much younger) one of my old stomping grounds was the Marquee Club in Wardour Street. It closed down many years ago, but it was still nice to find myself nearby at Imli's.

Imli serves what it describes as Indian food, Tapas style. This, I am led to believe is very similar to the street food you would find in India, but given a modern and stylish makeover.

The restaurant itself is very neat and tidy, airy and very clean.

Once shown to our table we were given a menu and told that the food is designed to be shared and that a selection of three or four dishes each would be about right for the average appetite.

First off, we chose Mushroom Tikki and Spiced Potato Cakes from the Light and Refreshing part of the menu. The mushroom tikki looked like three breaded mushrooms on the plate, but once they were cut into it was apparent that they were made of a mix of finely chopped mushroom, ginger and coconut that were then shaped to appear as mushrooms. These were served with a tomato garlic sauce. They were quite spicy and very nice. The potato cakes were made with ginger and chilli and were very spicy.

Next we ordered from the New Traditions section of the menu. I had Vegetable Brochette which was skewers of grilled panir cheese, courgettes, peppers and onion served on a spicy mushroom risotto. It was very nice, but the rice was exceptionally tasty.

For those of a non-veggie persuasion that read this, my friend had the Seafood Platter, consisting of peppered squid, fish cake with lime leaf and sesame garlic prawns, all of which were pronounced very good but I distinctly remember an extra pronouncement for the squid.

The next part of the menu is the Signature Dishes section. Once again my friend and I diverged paths and he ordered Keema Mushroom which consisted of slow cooked minced lamb and mushrooms served in two rather sizable puff pastry squares, while I had the Aubergine Masala which was diced aubergines sautéed with fresh curry leaves and tomatoes served with rice. It was lovely, beautifully tender and spiced to perfection.

As accompanments we ordered parathas and cumin mash. If you go to Imli, you must have the cumin mash, it is divine, and at only £1 a portion, a bargain too!

And so to dessert. Between us, we decided that there were three deserts that sounded nice. So we concluded that we'd keep to the Imli tradition of sharing and ordered all three! The Carrot Fudge was made up of shredded carrots, melon seeds and raisins reduced in sweetened condensed milk. I couldn't decide whether I liked this or not, and still can't. However, I had to keep going back and trying another mouthful just to be sure. It's certainly different, that's for sure. The Indian Caramel Custard is a coconut milk and jaggery crème caramel and was very nice. However our last choice, the Mango and Basil Sorbet, was gorgeous and the perfect dish to end the night on.

By the time we left at around 8.15pm, there were people queueing for tables. Imli is very popular and, judging by my experience here, justifiably so. If you go there, don't forget to try the cumin mash.

Locanda Locatelli, London

Locanda Locatelli
8 Seymour Street, London W1H 7JZ
Tel: 020 7935 9088

Giorgio Locatelli's book, Made in Italy is a fantastic cookery book. It's more than just that though, it is virtually the story of his life through food, and also the story of Italian food through Giorgio's life. Having read through the book, seen him at the Good Food Show, I just had to try his restaurant. So, my wife and I decided that we would visit there after we had spent the afternoon at the theatre.

It was just after 6.30pm when we arrived and sat in the small bar area while they got our table ready. While we were there, we watched Giorgio giving instructions to his staff and he then wandered over and said hello to every one that was waiting.

Shortly after we were taken to our table and the drinks we had ordered in the bar were brought over. Some grissini arrived along with the menus. We chose our starters and main course and spoke to the wine waiter to order a glass of wine that would go with the food we'd ordered. (I was driving so was limiting myself to a single glass) It actually worked quite well, as my wife ordered a different glass for each course.

So, to the food. A bowl of a selection of delicious breads (focaccia, olive and others) was delivered along with a dish of olive oil.

By this time, my wife had decided that she loved the place as it was smart, but not pretentious and had a lovely relaxed atmoshphere. And she wants to go back for her birthday, which I'm more than happy to do.

For starters my wife had pan fried scallops with saffron vinaigrette which she said was excellent. For main she had the day's special which was medallions of venison with mushrooms and vegetables. Again she said it was very nice, the venison was not quite to the 'melt in your mouth' stage, but very nearly.

The only items on the starter menu that were suitable for me to eat were salads. Initially I was disappointed, as I'm not a huge salad fan, but I ordered the Belgian endive salad with gorgonzola cheese and pear. I was very pleasantly surprised by what I got. Simple, beautifully presented and extremely tasty. The leaves of the endives were filled with grated pear and then stacked. On top of the stack was a lovely creamy piece of gorgonzola.

For main I decided to feed my truffle addiction and ordered the potato and mushroom gnocchi with black truffle. I've not seen quite so much truffle on a plate before and it was gorgeous. It had a very delicate sage butter sauce with it and my mouth is watering just thinking about it. I was really chuffed to find it in his book - it's definitely on my "to try" list.

As for the other items on the menu, there were plenty of "primi's" that I could eat and they all sounded lovely. As is the case with most Italian restaurants, the secondi consisted of mat and fish, but as we were having three courses (in the good old standad Brit way of doing things) it did not matter. However, it would be nice, occasionally to find a secondi that would be suitable for a vegetarian.

I was left to battle the puddings on my own as my wife was too full and opted for a port instead. I plumped for the chestnut mousse, warm chocolate foam, lemon thyme cream and brandy ice cream. The lemon thyme was such a surprise and so refreshing. The whole thing was lovely, and not too filling.

The people on the table next to us were friends of Georgio and when one of them asked if he could have crab instead of some other seafood in a dish, Georgio popped out to see them and say that he wouldn't do the crab as the sauce would be too strong for it. However he would do something else for him.

He was also talking about where he gets his fish from and that he'll only get it if its fresh etc… It was interesting. Every so often he would pop out of the kitchen to greet people as they entered the restaurant - it was really nice to see.

Then it was coffee and time for the bill. Including tip, £150ish. We didn't think it was bad for such a great experience, and we'll be back there later in the year for my wife's birthday.

Royal Dragon, London

Royal Dragon Restaurant & Karaoke
30 Gerrard Street, London W1D 6JS

Luckily, when we visited, on a Saturday lunchtime, the "karaoke" part of the restaurant's title was not in operation.

We had some time to kill in the West End, so we decided to head for Chinatown for lunch.

We picked a restaurant that had some veggie stuff on the menu that also had Chinese people eating in there, as we always find this a reasonable guide to quality. The menu advertised a vegetarian set menu for around twelve pounds, so in the interest of quickness and variety we ordered this.

Starters arrived promptly and consisted of a large plate of asparagus and aubergine tempura, crispy seaweed, some pastry thing and chilli dipping sauce, all of which were very nice, especially the aubergine.

Next up were lettuce rolls with vegetables, crispy noodles and hoisin sauce. Again, very good, although the vegetable filling was a little heavy on the sweetcorn kernels and certainly needed the sauce just to give it that extra kick.

The final course was a selection of vegetables with cashew nuts, vegetables with mushrooms, sezchuan tofu and vegetable fried rice. All really tasty, especially the tofu which was quite spicy.

The restaurant itself is quite modern in appearance, very crisp clean lines and dark colours. The service was good and the waiting staff made sure we had a never-ending pot of Chinese tea. All in all, it was a very enjoyable place to have lunch.