Tea for Two in London—Hotel Café Royal, Oscar Wilde Bar

Tea for Two in London—Hotel Café Royal, Oscar Wilde Bar

Tea for Two in London—Hotel Café Royal, Oscar Wilde Bar

 

68 Regent Street, London UK W1B 4DY

Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7406 3333

http://www.hotelcaferoyal.com/

Building facade just off of Piccadilly Circus on Regent Street.

Building facade just off of Piccadilly Circus on Regent Street.

When I travel, especially in the UK, I like to enjoy the tradition of afternoon tea. Sometimes it’s just casual in a museum café and other times it is somewhere iconic like the Palm Court at the Ritz London. Regardless, there is something comforting and civilized about a lovely tea service.

The Hotel Café Royal turned 150 years old in 2015 and solidified its’ place in the luxury market of London hotels. It brought French style and culture to British high society. At one point it was known to have the best wine cellar in the world. It has hosted guests from Oscar Wilde and Keats to Elizabeth Taylor, David Bowie, Mohammed Ali and the late Princess Diana. It has always been a meeting place for the creative and fashionable.

Fashionable is the very best way to describe the Oscar Wilde Bar in the hotel. Gilded from top to bottom with lush red leather and velvet banquettes, the room is as dramatic as a Wilde play. The grand piano is perched in the city of the room and elegant versions of the Beatles and Adele’s greatest hits are played. Pressed white table cloths are accented with a single red rose. White-gloved tuxedoed servers gracefully maneuver through the room. It does not take a lot of imagination to picture Oscar in his favourite corner booth where he enjoyed lavish dinners, an overabundance of champagne and gossiping about the ‘who’s who’.

Oscar Wilde's favourite booth

Oscar Wilde's favourite booth

Creative is the best way to describe the Royal London Tea—the hotel’s playful take on the traditional pastime. You begin with selecting your tea from dozens of options, each complete with it’s own bio and flavor profile. Then comes your 3-tiered platter of sandwiches including coronation chicken, cucumber and beetroot brioche, quail’s egg and cress and mini Chorizo Wellingtons. The star here is the sidecar muffin—a savoury muffin with truffled cream cheese and a pipette filled with a sauce for you to infuse it with. Brilliant.

The savoury start...

The savoury start...

Sidecar muffin with pipette

Sidecar muffin with pipette

To cleanse the palate, the server brought an iced hibiscus tea which worked wonders. Another 3-tiered platter arrived from the kitchen adorned with sweets and cakes. The desserts were edible pieces of art which included ricepaper flags, gold leaf, and edible flowers. Battenberg cake, ‘Keep Calm and Carry-On’ cake pops, and other treats took over the next course. My favourite is a plum flavoured delicacy with a chocolate top adorned with gold leaf. It was an intense punch of flavor that excited the tastebuds. My second favourite was the Queen of Hearts—a champagne and rose infused tart inspired by Alice in Wonderland. If this wasn’t enough, warm scones were then delivered with butter, clotted cream and homemade preserves.

I look very pleased with our goodies...hibiscus tea on the left

I look very pleased with our goodies...hibiscus tea on the left

Plum flavoured treat with gold leaf sprinkle

Plum flavoured treat with gold leaf sprinkle

Queen of Hearts tart

Queen of Hearts tart

I think this is the perfect tea if you want something different and less serious than some of the other luxury hotels. Afternoon tea is meant to be leisurely but ensure you have a couple hours to enjoy the Royal London Tea. Be sure to arrive hungry because there is absolutely no shortage of food. Dress code is smart casual but when you are a room as brilliant as the Oscar Wilde Bar, it’s better to be overdressed. The cost of the tea starts at approximately $80 and goes up if you add champagne. Reservations are required and we booked almost 3 months in advance.

Keep Calm and Carry On—edible cake pop and flag

Keep Calm and Carry On—edible cake pop and flag

And if you see the beautiful stained glass 'N' in the entrance of the lobby, it was unfortunately not there to welcome me. It is actually there to honour Napoleon, not Neil—another reminder of the hotel's French roots. 

Nomad Sydney—A Taste of Extraordinary

Nomad Sydney—A Taste of Extraordinary

Nomad

16 Foster Street, Surry Hills

NSW 2010, Australia

Telephone: (02) 9280 3395

http://nomadwine.com.au/

Entrance

Entrance

While in Sydney, I had heard that the hottest restaurant in town was Nomad—a local spot that celebrated Australian wine. As an oenophile, I was intrigued and tried to get a reservation...to no avail. However, the determination of the concierge at the The Darling Hotel ended up scoring me a reservation for my last night in town. The meal was a send off I won’t soon forget.

Australia is a casual country and there are few venues that require you to dress for dinner. Nomad is the epitome of fine dining in a casual setting. Monied denim-clad hipsters and local foodies lined up to be seated. Reservations are made months in advance. The restaurant is large, modern, cozy but still a blank canvas. The focal piece is the open kitchen and I was seated along the bar style counter with a direct view of the team of chefs. I was closest to the pastry chefs and watched a pair assemble desserts that were stunning works of art. But I digress…

The hostess was sweet and charming enough that she convinced me that the bar seating at the kitchen counter was preferable to a table. I’ve always had an aversion to sitting at the kitchen—perhaps I feel like some of the special magic is gone if I can watch people create my dishes. Maybe I value my personal space and don’t want to have forced conversation with the strangers sitting inches away from me.  But at Nomad, I was mesmerized by the scale and precision of their kitchen. And in all honesty, I am glad I was seated there and got to soak in all that was going on.

Bar Seating

Bar Seating

Nomad serves small plates—which I love—because as a single dinner, I get to sample more dishes and find more favourites. Like their wine, the restaurant aims to serve local fare in an elevated fashion. The menu is eclectic but with enough variety to be able to easily find several choices.

After my cocktail, my server went through the menu with me and was quick to point out her fave selections. She also suggested which dishes paired well together and helped me gauge how many dishes were enough. She did a great job of pairing wine for me when I let her surprise me.  Though I only had two glasses of wine, she was extremely knowledgeable of the vineyards and made perfect choices for me. The restaurant serves over 50 wines by the glass while specializing in boutique Australian wineries. And if you find a wine you love, you can pick up a case at the Nomad Wine Store.

Kitchen Staff-photo courtesy of Nicky Ryan

Kitchen Staff-photo courtesy of Nicky Ryan

On to the food. I tried several dishes including the following:

Grilled Scallops: The scallops were cooked with chorizo that gave a smoky heat to the dish. Pickled apple garnish brightened up the dish.

Savoury churros with truffle dip: Imaginative and so delicious. Small churros that were lightly salted and the dip was a perfect pairing.

Blackened cauliflower dish: This is easily one of the most unusual dishes I’ve ever ordered. Blackened cauliflower doesn’t sound appealing but it came very highly recommended. It is charred on the outside and then dusted in fresh parmesan, drizzled with olive oil and served with roasted pine nuts. The flavour that came from this simple dish is indescribable. Perfection.

Tiger Prawns: Simply cooked in a bag with herbs and lemon. Delicate and delightful.

Tiger Prawns-photo courtesy of Petrina Tinslay

Tiger Prawns-photo courtesy of Petrina Tinslay

Since I spent the night watching chefs create beautiful desserts, I knew exactly which one I wanted to order. Though I don’t recall the name of it, it was delicate mousse topped with a single raspberry, then covered by a pyramid of meringue shards. Finally it was garnished with a scattering of violet petals. It was delicious as it looked.

The evening of dining was near perfect with excellent service and outstanding food and wine. The menu here changes seasonally and would definitely be worth a return visit or two. Although this restaurant is in the middle of trendy Surrey Hills, Nomad is a destination in itself.

A dish I'd try next time, Roast suckling pig-photo courtesy of Petrina Tinslay

A dish I'd try next time, Roast suckling pig-photo courtesy of Petrina Tinslay

Vanitas at Palazzo Versace, Gold Coast Australia

Vanitas at Palazzo Versace, Gold Coast Australia

Vanitas Restaurant at Palazzo Versace

Sea World Drive, Main Beach, QLD 4217, Australia

http://www.palazzoversace.com.au/vanitas

Telephone: 07 5509 8000

Food is an important part of culture and when I travel, I enjoy shopping at grocers, liquor stores and vineyards. When I come home, I like to have dinner parties and replicate authentic dishes from the destination I have returned from. However, it would be impossible for me to personally replicate the feast I had at Vanitas restaurant. Vanitas was awarded the Most Stylish Restaurant in the World by Harper’s Bazaar in 2015. According to TripAdvisor, it overlooks the 5th Most Luxurious Pool in the World. What should be celebrated though is the creative food and impeccable service.

The Palazzo Versace was built as an extension into the luxury travel market by the fashion house. Besides the Gold Coast, there is also Palazzo Versace in Dubai. Both are stunning 5 star properties that are decorated in classic Italian opulence—adorned with gilded and crystal chandeliers, marble mosaics, rich plush furniture and bespoke artwork.

I started my evening off with a cocktail at Le Jardin—the quintessential lobby bar. Though it took a while to get service, I was impressed with the menu. I kept it classic and ordered a Manhattan. Then I sat back and watched the bartender elegantly, and correctly, assemble my martini. It was the perfect Manhattan...in Australia. As someone with a decade of bartending experience, I appreciate when someone can master a classic.

Stepping into Vanitas, the jewel of the dining options at the Palazzo, you step back into time where the maître d' greets you and welcomes you to be their guest. The heavy wood paneled entrance is a juxtaposition to the clean lines and modern ambiance of the actual dining room. The restaurant was very quiet the night that I dined with only 3 couples there. The maître d' saw that I had brought a book and showed me to a quiet table by the windows. The view was stunning as I looked directly out on to the hotel’s lit lagoon. The room itself was sparse and the main focus was a mural on the back wall that depicts moments in Gianni Versace’s life.

My server came and introduced himself and presented me with the menu options. The servers, sommeliers, and the rest of the front line staff were all male and looked more like Versace runway models than waiters. Throughout the the night, the service was impeccable—professional, polite and personal. My server answered all my questions regarding the 9 course degustation menu and the kitchen was willing to make one substitution for me based on a preference. I also opted to add the wine pairings to the dinner bringing the total to approx. $250 US dollars.

Amuse Bouche:   Parmesan and gruyere fritter, blackened salmon on a tapioca chip and a beetroot macaroon

Amuse Bouche: Parmesan and gruyere fritter, blackened salmon on a tapioca chip and a beetroot macaroon

The menu as I recall it: (Note to self - take photo of the menu)

Amuse Bouche: Parmesan and gruyere fritter, blackened salmon on a tapioca chip and a beetroot macaroon

Pear Sorbet

Heirloom tomato salad with fresh baked breads

Crab cannelloni

Pork shoulder

Main Entree: Lamb & Bacon

International cheese board

Dessert with pears, poprock candy, sorbet and foam

Chocolate course: Desserts served with grilled sweet corn

Petite fours and coffee

Petite fours and coffee

Petite fours and coffee

The dessert courses were inventive and playful. After an amazing meal, to take a bite of dessert and have the poprock candy begin to explode on my tongue was surprising. I also enjoyed the grilled corn served alongside to chocolate—a subtle nod to the Mayans.

Chocolate course with grilled corn

Chocolate course with grilled corn

Caprese salad is one my favourite dishes so when I saw the heirloom tomato salad on the menu, I was excited. What I was served could not have been further away from what I was expected. The flavours nonetheless, were incredibly bright, fresh and well balanced.

Heirloom tomato salad

Heirloom tomato salad

The wine selections were exceptionally paired to the courses. The pours were very generous but that might be because the sommelier and I got into a conversation about wine. He appreciated that I knew wine and gave me a great introduction to each pairing. The wines included both local and international selections that were uncommon and interesting. Considering the quality of the wines, I think the wine pairing price was extremely good value.

I expected big things from Vanitas after I read the reviews and saw the heap of awards and accolades it has received. When a bar is set to high, I tend to come in with higher expectations and notice the smaller things more. My evening at Vanitas was faultless. It is the perfect location to celebrate a special occasion or for a romantic evening out. If you are going to be on the Gold Coast, a stop at the Palazzo Versace is an absolute must.

 

 

L'Atelier Las Vegas—Art on a plate

L'Atelier Las Vegas—Art on a plate

L’Atelier—Las Vegas by Joel Robuchon

3799 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV 89101

702-891-7358

http://www.joel-robuchon.com/

Joel Robuchon has been dubbed the “Chef of the Century” and rightfully so since he has garnered 25 Michelin stars—more than any other chef. L’Atelier is French for “Workshop” and it is here that Robuchon experiments and invents interesting takes on food. So I went to his restaurant with rather high expectations and I felt I hit the culinary jackpot.

L’Atelier is set in the back of the MGM Grand casino amidst the noise and chaos of slot machines. Once inside and seated by the hostess, you feel transported to a completely different world. The dramatic black and red interior is modern and sleek and not what I expected for a French restaurant. Pops of color come from carefully placed fruits and preserves on display. The room itself is small and intimate with the bulk of the seating lining the bar of the open kitchen. However, I had a table and was still able to watch the skilled chefs work their magic.

The service was perfectly orchestrated. I was given just the right amount of attention. Suggestions were thoughtfully made and wine pairings were indeed suited to my courses. The silver was gleamingly polished and water glasses were always kept full. Absolutely no surprises there.

Beautiful presentation of caviar

Beautiful presentation of caviar

I chose the Prix Fixe menu and had no issues finding courses that tantalized my tastebuds. I selected 2 appetizers and a main course and dessert which started at $58 US. To start I had the marinated calamari and vegetables in a white wine sauce followed by a winter salad with soft fried egg and smoked salmon. I chose the veal steak with chanterelle mushrooms and macaroni for my entree and finished with pineapple sorbet and cheesecake cream. The food was delectable but the brilliance really shone through with presentation. Each course was a dramatic culinary work of art presented before me. From the selection of plate to the delicate foams, the hints of gold leaf to the molecular gastronomy, the food was nothing short of spectacular. It really is a feast for the eyes as much as the tastebuds. It truly is beyond description.

I wanted to address some of the reviews I read online. One person commented that the portions were too small. This is a fine French restaurant not a fast food chain. If an amuse bouche, 2 appetizers, and entree and dessert don’t satisfy you, then that is unfortunate but not the restaurant’s fault. Portions are smaller but reasonable. Another criticism I read was that the service was “snooty.” This post was written near the date I dined and my service was spot on. The final negative I read was that the food was average. The food was anything but average, but I will admit that on occasion the visual presentation of the dish surpassed the taste. This does not by any way change that the quality of the food was first class.

L’Atelier must be tried on your next trip to Vegas. If you have no plans to go to Nevada, there are L’Ateliers in major centres in Asia and Europe. This is a restaurant to experience if you want to try something unique and you can appreciate culinary creativeness.

Le Pop Cocktail Bar Barcelona, Spain - Poured Perfection

Le Pop Cocktail Bar Barcelona, Spain - Poured Perfection

Le Pop Cocktail Bar

Le Méridien Barcelona

Las Ramblas, 111, 08002 Barcelona, Spain

Phone:+34 933 18 62 00

Las Ramblas is arguably the heart of Barcelona and is well known for it’s art, dining and nightlife. One night out, I stumbled across a bar that had assembled a young hip crowd outside. Le Pop is located in the fashionable Le Méridien Barcelona - and while there is no shortage of bars on Las Rambles, Le Pop is an elevated experience. As a bartender myself, I enjoy trying unique and different takes on classic cocktails. Le Pop's menu is as adventurous and bold as it's decor.

From the outside, you could hear the Europop influenced music by the house DJ - loungey, urban and unobtrusive. Inside, the room is beautifully lit and filled with modern furniture and an artfully decaled grand piano. The bar creates the right first impression for a great night out.

The service at Le Pop is exceptionally polished for a lounge. The hostess was welcoming and found me a great table in the middle of the bar. Within moments my waitress was tableside and explained the menu and suggested a few of their feature cocktails - all in perfect English. I had a great view of the skilled bartenders, or rather mixologists, who crafted decadent drinks one after another. And like true professionals, they shook, stirred, strained, muddled and flamed their creations to perfection. The bar specializes in craft cocktails and sparkling wine cocktails and their menu has dozens of inventive options. 

I tried several cocktails and each was better than the first. Not only were they tasty but they were visually stunning and playful. Whether garnished with gummy lips, fresh flowers or fruit sculptures, the flavour of the drinks rang through. A few of the cocktails I tried were the Boqueria (Vodka, St. Germain, Lychee, Raspberry and Lime), the Kentucky Splash (Bourbon, Chartreuse, Lemon, Simple Syrup, White Wine and Egg White) and the Yellow Mary (Vodka, Simple Syrup, Yuzu, Yellow Cherry Tomato and Pepper Rim). These three are pictured below: 

Boqueria Cocktail

Boqueria Cocktail

Kentucky Splash

Kentucky Splash

Yellow Mary

Yellow Mary


Le Pop is a must stop lounge when in Barcelona. Throughout the week, they have nightly specials including Aperitif Wednesdays, Aperol Thursdays, Fruity Fridays and Champagne Sundays. It is the perfect spot to meet up with friends to start your night or for an after work drink. Let the staff and bartenders of Le Pop create the right concoction for you. 

Michael Mina Las Vegas: A Memory to Savour

Michael Mina Las Vegas: A Memory to Savour

I knew Michael Mina by name only prior to my visit to his namesake restaurant at the Bellagio Hotel. Having spent numerous trips at the Bellagio, I'd become well acquainted with most of the restaurants on the property. But in an attempt to try something new, I made a reservation at Michael Mina's and I was very pleasantly surprised with the meal to come. 

The room itself is modern and classic with a definite Pacific coast feel to it. While tables are close to one another, there was a sparse crowd and privacy was not an issue. Celebrity restaurants, especially in Vegas, often attract an eclectic group of diners. However, Michael Mina attracts a smartly dressed and more conservative type of patron. 

I began my meal with the Cucumber French 75 which was as bright and refreshing as I would have expected. After reading the menu, I decided to make a night out of my reservation and went for the Tasting Menu. The courses that especially stood out include the Wagyu Shortrib Ravioli and the Lobster Pot Pie. I also chose to go with wine pairings and the Grgich Chardonnay paired beautifully with the lobster. (Grgich is a wonderful Napa valley vineyard I recently visited - check the coming article). 

The highlight of the evening came with a trio of desserts that included a playful signature Rootbeer Float. You could taste the nostalgic freshness of the Rootbeer - a vivid memory I have from when my grandmother made it from scratch. 

Lobster Pot Pie

Lobster Pot Pie

The staff and host were all very welcoming and professional. Servers made thoughtful small talk and the sommelier was very well versed with his pours. My only negative about the entire evening was that there were 2 small pieces of shell found in my tasty Lobster Pot Pie. The chef actually came out and apologized for the mishap.

I'd suggest anyone with the time and appetite take on the Tasting Menu - and the wine pairings, though pricey, were generous and of the highest quality. A definite stop for a culinary treat and relaxed evening. This restaurant is truly worthy of its Michelin Star. 

A little bio on Chef Michael Mina - he is infact the Executive Chef of this Las Vegas restaurant as well as the same named restaurant in San Francisco. He currently operates 18 restaurants across the USA and has published his own cookbook. Originally born in Egypt, he was raised in the US Pacific Northwest and has had the honour of cooking for three American Presidents. 

Chef Michael Mina

Chef Michael Mina

Michael Mina - Las Vegas - Bellagio

3600 Las Vegas Boulevard South

Las Vegas, Nevada 89109

Tel: 702.693.7223

http://www.michaelmina.net/

Morimoto Waikiki: The night I dined with Meryl Streep

Morimoto Waikiki: The night I dined with Meryl Streep

This article really is about an outstanding Japanese restaurant. The fact that one of the world's most celebrated actresses was sitting at the table next to me was simply an added perk. The highlight of the evening was most certainly the food. 

I stumbled upon Morimoto's restaurant as I was looking at The Modern hotel online before an upcoming trip to Oahu. I knew of him by reputation and had seen him compete on tv on Iron Chef.  I booked my reservation for dinner weeks in advance and it was definitely worth waiting for. 

The restaurant itself is coastal elegance at it's best. Encased shells and tropical plants adorn the dining room while firepits and shrubberies fill the outside deck. The strong tropical vibe continues on with the bright green chairs and teak tables. 

The hostess was very accommodating when I requested to sit outside - the weather was beautiful and I wanted to soak in as much of the warm air as possible. She took me through the bar and restaurant to the deck which is sizeable on its own. It wasn't until I was seated and had a sip of water that I spotted the Oscar winner. 

So lets take 20 seconds and discuss Meryl. She was there with her husband and another couple. The group were having a great time and you could tell she was making everyone laugh. At first I thought I must be wrong and so I googled to see who her husband was - Don Gummer- and there he was, seated right next to her. I didn't ask for a photo or bother them - though after I wish I had sent her a glass of champagne. But moving on to Mr. Morimoto - a celebrity in his own right.

I started off with the Cucumber Shisho Collins - a mix of gin and elderflower, cucumber water and lemon lime. Refreshing and bright. The menu excited me and I opted for a selection of appetizers instead of an entree. The pork gyoza were flavourful with tender. The crispy rock shrimp tempura were perfect for dipping and I could have ate an entire basket of them. The California rolls may be cliche, but they were perfectly crafted and you could taste the freshness of the ingredients. Unfortunately I was too full to even attempt dessert but I saw several come out from the kitchen and would definitely recommend any of them. 

Not only was my dining experience wonderful but the man behind the food is equally impressive. After an injury forced him to give up a potential career in baseball, he began training as a chef in Hiroshima and opened his own restaurant by the age of 24. Chef Masaharu Morimoto has won and impressive list of awards including the James Beard Foundation Award and the Julia Child Award for his cookbook. He has gone on to open an empire of celebrated restaurants around the world, designed his own knife line, published cookbooks and markets his own cooking oil, wine, sake and beer. 

Review: Champagne Cristal Brut - Louis Roederer - Vintage 2007

Review: Champagne Cristal Brut - Louis Roederer - Vintage 2007

Champagne Cristal Brut - Louis Roederer - Vintage 2007

Average Price - $214 US

Average Rating - 4.5/5

 

This past holiday season, I brought out a few special bottles to celebrate with friends. One of these was 2007 Cristal which I had purchased at Gatwick duty free. The bottle comes ornately encased in a golden box which ensures it travels well. The bottle inside is wrapped in cellophane to protect against UV damage. The entire unpacking of the bottle adds to the pomp and ceremony of opening the famed bubbles.

 

But lets not forget the history Cristal. Originally Dubois Père & Fils began producing wine in 1776 and Louis Roederer renamed the Champagne House when he inherited it from his uncle in 1833. The champagne was originally made for Tsar Alexander II of Russia and became the official champagne of the Russian court. The Tsar ordered the bottle be clear for two reasons: to ensure the bottle was not a hidden bomb and secondly to be able to see the bubbles. The leaded crystal clear bottle gave Roderer the name Cristal for his champagne.

Today the champagne is better known as the choice of rappers than Tsars. It continues to appear in music videos and in song lyrics. And even after the economic crisis, sales of Cristal surged by 43% in 2010. Annual production is between 300,000-400,000 bottles a year which means that getting your hands on the best vintages can be challenging.

But you’re probably wondering - what does it taste like? My one friend commented that it tastes like money. But more seriously, it has light citrus notes with a richer finish. Beautifully balanced acid, complex and refined. The chardonnay is much more pronounced than the pinot noir. The bubbles are both both abundant, compact and powerful. Was very good but would be better if kept for another 3-5 years.