Mustard, Brook Green

There is a strange part of London, in which I used to live, in-between Shepherd’s Bush, Holland Park and Kensington. This pretty residential area has huge potential and yet there is a real shortage of nice cafes, restaurants and shops. So recently when I was alerted about Mustard, a new bistro on Shepherd’s Bush Road, I was keen to visit and try the food as soon as possible.

Mustard is housed in an old butchery building, the glorious interiors offer charming hints to its previous use, with the original tiles and features still intact. We made use of the small terrace at the front of the restaurant, and sat outside enjoying the springtime sunshine while having lunch.

The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and is particularly popular at the weekend with the locals, who must be delighted with this stylish new neighbourhood hang out. The menu focuses on fresh, seasonal British produce from land and sea, and there is also a great selection of vegetarian options. The Express Lunch menu is available daily, a reasonable £9.95 for two courses or £12.95 for three.

To quench our thirst we opted for a couple of glasses of the Furleigh sparkling wine from Dorset. It was a delicious, light bubbly wine with subtle fruity notes of peach and lime… refreshing and very easy to drink. Just-out-of-the-oven fennel and linseed bread arrived alongside crispy pork belly soldiers with apple dipping sauce.

In the mood for spring we chose summery dishes from the a la carte menu. The free-range half roast chicken for me, and pan-fried woodland mushrooms with braised lentils and pearled spelt for my veggie guest. The chicken was divine, with irresistible crispy skin, a faint charcoal grill smokiness and a rich dill and wheat berry gravy. I was particularly happy devouring it alongside the lusciously smooth creamed potatoes. The mushrooms were very tasty too, perfectly seasoned and cooked, with a light but filling risotto-like lentil and spelt mix.

I had just enough space, and more than enough greed, to agree to a taste of dessert. The almond and blood orange cake was dense but moist, accompanied with a dollop of sweet soft cheese. Though I liked the flavour, I found the hefty slice too big for pudding and would have preferred something a little more refined, especially considering the £5.50 pricetag.

As we sat sipping on fresh mint tea, I realised how relaxed and at ease I felt. Unlike chaotic central London venues, or tiny trendy locations in East and South London, Mustard manages to maintain a lovely low-key and local feel. So you can really relish your meal out and enjoy the company without worrying about a thing.

More information and book a table at Mustard here.

NAC, Mayfair

It was the delectable photos I spied on Instagram that first alerted me to NAC. North Audley Cantine, as it is more formally known is moments from Oxford Street, a French style bistro with delicious food, an enjoyable ambience and a trendy new cocktail bar downstairs. The restaurant was founded in 2013 by the insightful and enthusiastic young Frenchmen David Bellaiche and two childhood friends, Gabriel Cohen-Elia and Jeremy Coste.

The menu is a cunning collection of simple but innovative dishes, served bistro-style in petite portions on pretty plates. Intrigue led me to choose the entire cauliflower, roasted and torched, seasoned with just sea salt and olive oil. Concealed in a baking paper case, I unwrapped it to discover a wonderfully soft and flavoursome charred vegetable. We also sampled the Squid Carbonara with egg yolk, bacon and chives. This unusual invention creates a super thin spaghetti with shredded squid topped with a creamy yellow yolk and salty bacon. It is an acquired taste and texture but no one can deny this is a clever take on the Italian classic.

Main courses use big flavours but are prepared in a refined way. I tried the Grilled Free-range Chicken with Cajun spices which had a freshness that reminded me of the Provencal markets I am so fond of. Dry-aged Scottish Hanger Steak with pepper sauce was tasty too, though the meat was slightly chewy. We enjoyed the creamy spicy pepper sauce for chip dunking.

I was like a child in a sweetshop when it came to choosing desserts: overexcited and indecisive. Our quiet but kind waiter surprised us with a selection of three, the very same trio I had been debating about. A thoughtful but fattening gesture!  This is the section in which NAC really excel. The pastry skills in the kitchen were illustrated in the three plates in front of us: exquisite churros with chocolate sauce and popping candy, French toast with berries and Salted Caramel Profiteroles with ice-cream. It was a luxurious display of sweet treats, and we loved every mouthful.

A cursive neon red sign notifies guests of the ‘Chez Chow’ cocktail den downstairs. A lavish and opulent room, with dimmed warm lighting and comfortable velvet armchairs, it would be easy to while away a whole evening here. I highly recommend the Popcorn Sazerac, a smoky bourbon based drink with a buttery nutty hint. It was one of my favourite cocktails I have tried in a while.

A hidden haven for bistro food and delightful cocktails, I don’t know how this place stayed unknown to me for so long… the perfect pit-stop after a Selfridges spree.

More information and book a table here:

Hotel du Vin, Brighton

Each time I visit Brighton I wonder why I don’t come more often. As the nearest seaside town to London (just an hour’s train ride) it is the perfect place to go for a weekend away, or even just a day trip to see the sea.

I’ve always admired the Du Vin brand which has strong character continuity throughout its branches and approachable and affordable luxury that should suit just about anyone. The Brighton branch is one of the most pleasant I’ve visited, moments away from the world famous pier and a short walk from the main train station.

Our double ‘Durius’ room was located on the top floor, blissfully quiet and impressively spacious. Though simple, the rich colours and bold detailing made the room feel grand and lavish. Particularly opulent was the prominent king-size bed complete with a chaise longue at the foot. An abundance of red velvet pillows added further comfort. Other furniture occupied some of the expansive floor space: a desk, armchairs, wardrobe and TV.

The bathroom was easily my favourite thing. Immaculately designed and pristine clean, I thought perhaps we were the first guests to use it. I always appreciate plenty of light and here it illuminates the wonderful features of the Hotel Du Vin rooms. The bathroom had a walk-in monsoon shower, arguably the best I have ever tried, and a freestanding roll top bath. Toiletries are provided by British stalwart Miller Harris.

There are two dining options available, fully-fledged French brasserie style Bistro Du Vin, and the more rowdy, Pub Du Vin. We enjoyed dinner and breakfast in the bistro, and it was easy to understand why this venue is such a popular neighbourhood restaurant. Wreaths of ivy frame the long windows and wine bottles decorate the room. With the lights dimmed, candles lit and tables full, the atmosphere was charming and cosy.

The menu features a mix of British and French cuisine, ideas are combined to create dishes that are both comforting and sophisticated. To start, roasted figs with blue cheese and prosciutto was the hit, oozing sweet and salty goodness. For main, lamb chops were tender but lacked flavour and the steak was good but not special. Sides excelled, extra crispy chips and creamy mash were nice accompaniments. Skipping dessert, I hoped our waiter would bring chocolates with my fresh mint tea… a trio of truffles arrived, exactly what I had silently wished for.

The next morning I was amazed by the spread of continental delights. I got my hands sticky squeezing myself the freshest, sweetest orange juice, and absolutely loved the thick and fruity French toast.

With few other luxury options in town, Hotel du Vin Brighton is without doubt the best choice for a special weekend away by the sea.

More information and book here: