Pret a Diner, The Bohemians, Cafe Royal

You never know quite what to expect at a Pret a Diner event. The concept was founded by KP Kofler who hoped to create an extravagant sensory experience combining Michelin star food, cocktails, art and music. Recently the creative company returned to London for a stint at Cafe Royal’s exclusive private members club. This season they present ‘The Bohemians’, an evening which shakes up the tradition of this historic hotel and assaults you with inventive food and expressive artwork.
The Cafe Royal’s executive chef Andrew Turner is joined by two New York based chefs: Patti Jackson (Michelin star restaurant, Delaware and Hudson in Brooklyn) and West Village resident Ryan Tate (Blenheim, Le Restaurant). The three have teamed up to create an indulgent four-course menu which is paired with an optional wine flight. Drinks for the evening are curated by Tiziano Tasso (Club Bars Manager at Café Royal) and Dominic Jacobs (Jacobs Chase and The Whip).
Walking into the glamorous but discreet Cafe Royal Hotel, everything seemed to be running as normal with no indicators that a bohemian bonanza may be underway somewhere in the building. First we were taken through to the bar area to trial the bespoke bohemian cocktails, which were strong and delicious. Colourful paintings by Ryan Hewett and Jake Wood-Evans clash with the ordered and sensible surroundings.
At 7pm we were taken through to the dining room, a smart interior which has clearly been given a Pret a Diner makeover. The room was ablaze with a pink lighting that suddenly made it feel much later in the evening than it actually was. Despite the wacky decor and grungy beats from the DJ on the decks it was a civilised scenario, hip waiters in t-shirts and tattoos attending to the tables with the utmost decorum.
The food was refined yet quirky, some of the dishes excellent, others less inspiring. The plate of mini bites arrived slightly haphazardly presented but intensely flavoured with strong luxurious ingredients. We particularly enjoyed the cheese and truffle mousse and the NYC inspired Dutchy Pretzel bread.
The Tuna Carpaccio with pickled vegetables was created by Andrew Turner – the tuna was smooth and silky with a zingy sauce and a little boiled quail’s egg for a touch of richness. For main course there was a choice between Duck or Seabass. The duck was a little undercooked for me but deeply flavoured, served on a bed of seasonal asparagus. The highlight of this dish was the crispy croquette which was cooked to perfection and filled with slow cooked tender meat. The seabass was light and fragrant on a pretty bed of red pepper sauce and delicate fennel and dill.
Dessert was a child’s paradise… a giant meringue holding strawberries, maple vacherin and buttermilk. Paired with a lovely glass of French dessert wine which made it a more grown-up affair.
We visited Pret a Diner early in the evening, and it whizzed by in flash as we enjoyed the decadent offerings that were continuously brought to our table. I imagine later on, with the room filled to capacity it might be a less sober and more thrillingly raucous evening. Walking out into the daylight, it felt like we’d stepped out of a bohemian bubble and back into the real world. 

Continues until 23 May, more information and book here.

Brasserie Zedel, Piccadilly

Zut alors… How have I not discovered this fantastic french underworld before? Brasserie Zedel is neighbours with the busiest tube station in london and yet once inside you forget you are even in Britain. From the street this venue looks like just another mock-Parisian restaurant, but what you will find inside will fill your imagination with french fantasies and romantic anecdotes.

There is a coffee shop on street level, and if you follow the memorabilia-filled walls down the stairs you can watch cabaret at The Crazy Coqs, sip cocktails at Bar Americain, and dine at the greatest french brasserie in london.

Walking away from the quaint upstairs cafe I could hardly believe my eyes as the venue unfolds. It is a beautiful palace of Art Deco design and an exhibition of authentic french culture. They have got the atmosphere just right. We spent most of the evening in the restaurant where friendly chatter between guests replaces the usual dissatisfying and distracting musical soundtrack.

I chose the dishes that I am so fond of from my summers spent in Provence. In France the tomatoes are sweeter, the meat is juicier, and the desserts are just so SO much better. So for me it was tomato salad to start, Rib-eye steak with french fries for main, and an exquisite Creme Brûlée for dessert. The food was all delicious – simple and classic, reasonably priced and a menu with good variety to choose from. My guest tried the extra garlicky snails, and we both enjoyed the hearty steaks which were grilled perfectly to our preferences and served with ultra thin crispy fries. Creamy smooth very vanilla Creme brûlée was a highlight with a crunchy sugar layer on top.

A deep rich red wine matched our steak well and after dinner cocktails in Bar Americain are a must… We loves the sweet and refreshing ZL Cobbler (No 2) and the martini style Bel Ami, a spicy tangy concoction.

Now for the best bit…Anyone who turns up on Bastille Day –14th July (this Sunday)– in a striped blue and white Breton top and a beret gets a free ‘Formule’ menu on us.  Full details and T&Cs here:

Moustaches optional…

Assaggetti, Piccadilly

Most of the places to eat round Piccadilly Circus are hideously touristy and unpleasant… but I have discovered the perfect restaurant to enjoy petite plates of food with a glass of Prosecco. My cousin and I needed a good gossip and catch up and found that Assaggetti suited the occasion well. Walking in (pretending to be) stylish ladies who lunch, we settled into our seats by the window and surveyed the menu of all star Italian dishes.

The philosophy at Assaggetti is simple, they offer light bites without compromising on taste, all at very affordable prices. Aesthetically it is an attractive modern eatery with accommodating oak tables.

We perhaps overdid it a bit on the ordering but I couldn’t help getting excited at the delicious sounding prospects. After a few sips of the fine bubbly Prosecco, I was ravenous, my taste buds encouraged by the garlicky smells wafting from the kitchen. My eyes widened as the platters arrived and I soon realised I was eating so fast my new white t-shirt from Beirut was seriously endangered by accidental meatball splattering. I slowed down and appreciated the range of vibrant ingredients.

Every dish is available in a small size, so the menu easily translates to a tapas style meal. If you like to taste a variety of different dishes it is ideal… I certainly enjoyed the concept of Italian tapas, and now feel I’ve tried about half the dishes on offer! We ordered a long list of plates to share: Prosciutto and rocket pizzettine (£5.50), meatballs (£3.25), baked aubergine and pesto (£3.75), zucchini fritti (£2.95) and mixed Tuscan salami (£4.75). It was a well balanced range: strong scrumptious cured meat and light wholesome pizza bread layered with thinly sliced tomato and creamy mozzarella. I noticed the immaculate seasoning – nothing needed anything extra, it was all beautifully prepared. If I HAD to choose two I would go with the addictive fritti and the delightful aubergine dish. The ultra thin and super crispy courgette chips were divine and lasted precisely sixty seconds, we hoovered them up. Soft, salty and very lightly battered they moreishly melt in the mouth. The aubergine was a classic Italian dish, using quality ingredients and baked gently, it was a lovely contrast between meaty aubergine and soft gooey cheese.

Mains are rather easier to choose as seafood makes up a large proportion the list. We chose small plates of goats cheese ravioli (£5.00), handmade spaghettoni & duck ragu (£4.75), Tuna tartare (£5.75) and Tomato and onion salad (£3.25). It sounds like a lot, but actually disappeared fairly quickly, to give you an idea each plate is about five mouthfuls. The pastas and salads worked well accompanying each other, I adored the tomato salad which was garden-fresh with crunchy red onion and drizzled in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The ravioli was covered in a surprisingly yellow sauce, creamy with a flavour I couldn’t quite identify. The filling was pleasant but average. The spaghetti was very thick and delicious, the duck ragu had a gorgeous rich and smoky taste.

The desserts on the menu are typically Italian, classic recipes that Assaggetti really excel in creating. The Tiramisu (£3.50) was insanely good, very creamy but miraculously light… I began to wonder why I have previously never liked this pudding. Wild Berry panna cotta was less inspiring but also very edible, simple indulgent vanilla panna cotta with a decent serving of fruity wild berry compote. Coffee completed the meal perfectly.

Assaggetti offers comfort food that feels healthy. In terms of a taste and quality vs price ratio, this restaurant ranks very high and I was impressed. This relaxed Italian eatery would be particularly good pre or post theatre as service is quick and uncomplicated and food is light but satisfying and most importantly, utterly delicious.

Visit the website here for more information.