Leo Carreira at Climpson’s Arch

Climpson’s Arch has played host to a range of promising young chefs. The industrial area in East London offers a platform for creative, culinary ideas without the huge start-up costs that new restaurateurs have to consider. Consequently the venue is popular with keen foodies and with locals who value good grub, reasonable prices and a relaxed environment.

Leo Carreira is currently taking up the residency at Climpson’s Arch, serving customers with authentic and tasty Portuguese dishes. Recipes like Smoked Octopus in broth and Grilled Bisaro Ribs feature as favourites, though depending on produce and season there is always something new to try. I loved the Grilled Soaked Brioche with caramel and hazelnuts for pudding, proving that Portuguese is a broader cuisine than many believe.

Considering the makeshift nature of the kitchen, Leo presents food that is simple but sophisticated with a deliciously unique wine list to match.

More information about Climpson’s Arch here.

Almeida Restaurant, Islington

Once upon a time the Almeida restaurant was just a place to have a bite to eat pre or post a theatre performance. Now the restaurant very much has its own personality and style; located across the road from the famous theatre, it is a destination in its own right popular with both theatre-goers and foodie locals.

The light dining room is welcoming and comfortable, we sat at a pleasant window seat and watched the restaurant fill up as the night progressed. Some will recognise head chef Tommy Boland from his cameo appearance in Celebrity Masterchef. Tommy has a clear and creative vision for the Almeida producing impressive plates of food using the finest flavours and classic cooking techniques.

We were very well looked after by the kitchen and the friendly team of waiters who offered us endless extras ‘from the chef’. It was a hot day and I felt like something light and vibrant, the English Heritage Tomatoes Salad was the ideal option. Tommy proudly mentioned that the tomatoes were British, but just as sweet as the produce from Europe. The salad was immaculate adorned with stracciatella, nocellara olives and an accompanying fluffy piece of focaccia with olive oil. My dinner date opted for Roasted Isle Orkney Scallops with peas, girolles, leek fondue and aged parmesan, after seeing a similar recipe on a Masterchef episode! The plate was beautiful, a careful arrangement with each component cooked perfectly. Starters were an absolute hit, and were cleverly paired with a refreshing French Sauvignon blanc and an exotic Chardonnay from Southern California.

For main course, we selected the Glazed Pork Cutlet and Roasted New Season’s Lamb. Both dishes were a hefty size, too much to finish. The lamb presentation was stylish and sophisticated, the meat served in an intensely flavoured sauce and paired with a range of vegetables. The crispy artichokes were a lovely addition though I found the taste of the semi dried tomatoes a bit overpowering. The pork was a little overcooked and dry but was paired with delicious sweet peaches and summery vegetable slaw. The sauce was sticky and tasty, but the meat needed more of it.

I was excited to spot soufflé on the dessert menu, apricot flavoured with a citrusy lemon verbena ice-cream. We also tried the decadent chocolate moelleux sundae with whipped salt caramel, vanilla ice-cream and tonka bean. Soufflés are notoriously difficult to perfect but this rendition was faultless, light and airy, creamy and smooth with a hint of apricot. The chocolate pudding was presented in a circular glass bowl, delicately arranged and utterly delicious.

The Almeida has truly proved itself as a restaurant worth travelling to, I was very impressed by the high quality of food and service.

More information and book a table at Almeida restaurant here.

All photos taken on my Olympus PEN E-PL7.

Hélène Darroze Sommelier’s Table

I am lucky to have tasted the culinary creations of Hélène Darroze on several occasions. Her restaurant at the Connaught Hotel is renowned for its spectacular food and exemplary service. Using rich memories of her upbringing in south west France, her beautiful cuisine illustrates a love of fine ingredients and family heritage but also an imaginative spirit that means her ideas evolve as she travels more of the world.

A few weeks ago I dined at the exclusive Hélène Darroze Sommelier’s Table Supperclub, along with a group of London’s top food bloggers. Beneath the kitchens, down a discreet staircase, the chilly cellar is found. Holding an impressive collection of valuable, exceptional even, bottles of wine, this cellar is only used for the most elite meals, a special hideaway for wine connoisseurs and food lovers.

A seven course menu was designed specially by Hélène for the occasion, and master Sommelier Mirko Benzo selected unique vintages to complement each course. Sitting around the grand circular table, I felt like we had travelled back in time, a regal feast in a secret cellar. It is an enlightening experience tasting dishes with wine that balances so miraculously with every ingredient and flavour. We were invited to blind taste the wine initially, a task which I did spectacularly badly at, but one that really stirred my interest in this world.

Meanwhile Hélène’s head chef Alex Dilling was presenting plates of food that thrilled the Instagrammers round the table. Caviar with crab, radish and hass avocado looked like a dreamy garden in the bowl. Foie gras with wild strawberry, rhubarb and lemon verbena looked pretty, pink and perfect, but was complex and sophisticated in taste, the sweetest of the fruit cutting through the rich smooth foie gras. Coco bean with eel and shimeji then Lobster with asparagus, botargo and seaweed followed. The kitchen continued to wow with luxurious ingredients prepared in inventive and delicious ways.

Though I can be squeamish the Sweetbread course was a resounding success around the table, I heard whispers of ‘this is the best dish I’ve tasted all year’… which is high praise from people who eat and judge food for a living! The sweetbread was like very tender pork, paired with earthy indulgent morels, fresh seasonal asparagus and vin jaune (from the Jura region of France). It was paired with a glass of 2008 Gevry-Chambertin “Les Jeunes Rois”, Domaine Geantet-Pansiot.

For the double dessert extravaganza (courses six and seven) I had to engage my second stomach. Traditional Baba Armagnac (using the Darroze family Armagnac) was up first. A light but boozy treat accompanied by strawberries and fluffy banana cream. I imagine it would be the kind of grown-up dessert James Bond would order when out on a date. The second dessert – Chocolate with ginger and bourbon vanilla provoked childish oohs and ahhs from the team of eaters. Once all the photographic evidence of the chocolate masterpiece had been recorded, the table was silent as we consumed the delightfully indulgent pudding.

Satisfied and stunned by the array of culinary creations and magical wine journey we had experienced, we ate our final mouthfuls of French patisserie and sipped the last of the dessert wine before saying our goodbyes and stepping back into the real world upstairs.

More information on the Sommelier’s Table here, learn more about Hélène Darroze here.