Hot on the Highstreet Week 258

The main high street of South Kensington is one I used to frequent when I worked nearby. Now I only visit occasionally when meeting a friend for brunch or passing through. The area is busy with boutique cafes and quaint restaurants, but last week I spied a newcomer on the scene that piqued my excitement.

Maître Choux is a shop of colourful choux jewels, it is impossible not to stop and stare. When I was waiting patiently inside for my sweet delights I noticed a little girl’s face pressed up hopefully at the shop front window. This specialist choux patisserie bakes the finest and freshest Eclairs, Choux and Chouquettes every day, available to buy in a variety of tempting flavours.

The creative kitchen is led by Joakim Prat who has previously worked in a host of Michelin restaurants including a long stint for Joel Robuchon, where he really honed his skill. If you enjoy a bit of amateur baking you will know that choux pastry is a notoriously difficult to perfect.

At Maître Choux the handcrafted treats are light and airy but with a crisp shell. Joakim elevates the basic éclair to a luxurious, beautiful and ornate work of art. The iced fingers lie side by side neatly, each flavour has its own personality… the salted caramel is topped with a tiny gold dusted square of fudge, the pink raspberry is decorated with raspberries, multi-coloured hundreds and thousands and a wisp of gold leaf. I loved the alluring green pistachio éclair, and adored the nutty hazelnut variety. They are almost too immaculate to eat. Patisserie artistry comes at a price, and one éclair from Maître Choux will set you back around £5.

Maître Choux will also offer seating for a handful of customers. Here guests can accompany their pastry with a cup of the finest quality teas and coffee, as well as a thick hot chocolate made from a legendary Basque recipe provided by Joakim’s grandmother.

Maître Choux has found a happy home in South Kensington, the French district of London. They sell out every day so I recommend getting there early to taste a mouthful of choux heaven.

More information on Maitre Choux here.

The Ampersand Hotel, South Kensington

When you live in London, staying in the city’s hotels will never be a necessity, instead it is a luxury reserved for special occasions. The Ampersand in South Kensington is currently top of my London hotel list; a modern, stylish and creative central London hotel which offerss for individuality and exceptional quality.

Housed in an old fashioned Victorian townhouse, the interior is the very opposite of the exterior: exuberant, exciting and inventive… with an emphasis on Ampersand inspired art, showcasing innovative furniture and artwork wherever possible. It is an unrecognisable renovation from the previous shabby three-star hotel. The Ampersand is now enjoyed by staying guests and locals alike who use the communal areas for meetings and meals.

The rooms are categorised and thoughtfully themed, our Deluxe Room had hints of ornithology throughout its detailing. Other rooms are inspired by concepts such as astronomy, music, botany and geometry. The luxurious Deluxe rooms are smallish but snug; the design embraces the architectural quirks: in our room the King-size bed was squeezed into an awkward space behind two pillars, unconventional but very cosy and comfortable. With a big tv and numerous plump pillows it is the perfect place to wrap up in a duvet and watch a film… and lying in my decadent bed, Great Gatsby felt like the ideal movie choice! The mini-bar is stocked with soft drinks, all of which are complimentary… a rare bit of generosity for a London hotel.

A dinky sofa and desk allows space to work and relax, though the noise from the nearby main road may interrupt you. The super slick and stylish monochrome tiled bathroom includes a walk-in shower, branded rubber duck and lovely Miller Harris toiletries.

The fantastic eatery, Apero, is located in the basement, and the décor has a seductive, casual New York vibe with exposed bricks, filament bulbs and simple wooden tables. The food is Italian, tasty and unpretentious, and very reasonably priced. Cocktails are blindingly good too, expertly mixed and beautifully presented. Breakfast is served at Apero too, an array of fresh fruits, rustic loaves and pastries are on offer, as well as an irresistible menu of a la carte dishes. I indulged at breakfast with a big frothy cappuccino and Brioche French Toast with Cinnamon and Red Fruits.

A civilised and pretty Afternoon Tea is served in the vividly coloured Drawing Rooms, eclectically designed, it reminded me of Alice in Wonderland. Then for private dining and special events, the Wine Room is an elegant option.

The Ampersand manages to present a happy venue ideal for hanging out at any time of day for any purpose. I loved the meticulous library, curated and created by Philip Blackwell of Ultimate Library. Ampersand endeavour to be different and with this personalised library and handpicked playlist from Music Concierge, they achieve something unlike any other space in London, totally unique and original.

Minutes away from London’s most famous museums and shops, The Ampersand is wonderfully convenient… but this is not what you’ll remember when you depart… beautiful design, scrumptious food, and friendly service make this hotel unforgettable for all the right reasons.

More information and book here:

Evoluzione, Xenia Hotel, South Kensington

Located inside the Victorian restored building now home to Hotel Xenia, Evoluzione restaurant offers Italian food with a healthy twist. The light and airy conservatory is the ideal space for a restaurant, it is just a shame that the roaring main road is right outside. On a weekday evening the restaurant could have been quite cosy, but aside from one other table we were the only guests. The staff seemed eager to remain occupied happily rushing about to make sure we had everything we needed.

Chef Pasquale D’Ambrosio heads up the team in the kitchen; on the restaurant floor professional nutritionist Dr. Chiara Manzi hovered ready to answer any dietary questions we had about the menu. In fact, we found we had none, the menu fully explains the concept and the methods of cooking used to achieve the ‘art joins nutrition’ idea.

“Cucina Evoluzione is a new food culture in which pleasure and wellbeing, art and science, creativity and technology harmonise to give an elixir of long life.” We have all seen the inspiring Olive Oil adverts associated with a healthy Italian way of life, but the restaurant concept seems new and exciting. I greedily wondered how much pasta I could eat here and still classify the meal as healthy!

Each dish is carefully described with the method of preparation and the precision used to create it. We tried Violet ravioli with stewed sea bass and dried tomatoes… the colour of the ravioli is provided by a special variety of potatoes which are rich in polyphenols which is heart-friendly and contributes to a long life. Low temperature cooked ostrich meat was lean and apparently contains iron and a kick of Omega-3. Every dish has a story to tell, but I must be honest it wasn’t as tasty as I hoped and it certainly isn’t as satisfying as a big bowl of Spaghetti carbonara.

It was the fresh and vibrantly flavoured starters that were our favourite: Aubergine millefeuille with buffalo mozzarella, caramelised onions, sun-dried tomato and basil was really delicious, perfectly cooked and wonderfully seasoned. The Mozzarella slices with courgette flowers, candied roasted cherry tomatoes, Batavian endive, red onion and peas in almond milk was good too and we were delighted to hear it was beneficial to the skin.

Desserts were interesting – an Evoluzione tiramisu tasted far too creamy to be healthy, and we had fun dissecting the fruit rubik cube! However at £11 each I don’t think they are really worth splashing out on.

I’m afraid to say that Evoluzione, although equipped with friendly staff and good intentions, is a case of a winning idea which just doesn’t translate into a great meal.

More information here.