Layla Lebanese in Wimbledon Village

Wimbledon Village is quite off the beaten path for a lot of people, especially if you don’t live around this part of town. There are quite a few good restaurants in the area if you are looking for a nice place for a good meal. Layla sits in the middle of the main thoroughfare through the village and it offers an upmarket Lebanese dining experience.
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The front of the restaurant is a dominated by a long bar  with some low tables along the walls. A few steps down leads you to the main dining room with a few cosy booths to the right, a smattering of tables in the centre and some banquette seating against the other wall. The ceiling is festooned with some drapey material and is lit by glittering chandeliers.

The clientele was made up of small groups and families but incongruously, there was a very large table of teenage boys. On arrival, we were greeted by the manager and was seated at the back of the room which seemed to be in the direct path of a cold draft from the back door. No one offered to take our coats but they did give us a couple of menus. Left alone for quite a while, it took a while to get the attention of a waiter to take our order. We were one of the earlier diners and the restaurant had not filled up yet.

We ordered a selection of hot and cold mezes and some drinks carried on chatting. I was having dinner with a friend and we had a lot to catch up on so we didn’t mind the wait too much. Lebanese menus are perfect if you like to graze as you can order lots of small dishes to share and get to taste a variety of dishes. Layla has a nice extensive wine list which includes a few Lebanese wines too.

Hommus and Baba Ghannuge

Hommus and Baba Ghannuge

Sujok Spicy Sausage

Sujok Spicy Sausage

Patata Harra

Patata Harra

Layla Wimbledon Lamb Kibbeh

Lamb Kibbeh

Tabouleh

Tabouleh

For main course, we ordered the Lamb Shank and a mixed grill. Both of these were quite large servings and was

Layla Lamb Shank

Layla Lamb Shank

 

Layla Wimbledon Mixed Grill

Mixed Grill

Just as the mains were served, the volume of music increased and a belly dancer appeared. Suddenly, the reason why there was a table of teenage boys here was made clear. (The belly dancer looked quite exotic but she was of a Scots/Jamaican origin) Nothing like a bit of entertainment to liven up a meal.

After all the excitement, we ordered a dessert to share, the Labneh with walnut. As expected, it was crispy and very sweet and which was perfect with some fresh mint tea.

Layla is a lovely elegant restaurant for a good meal and fun entertainment  if you are around the Wimbledon area. If you do go, try to book one the booths on the side as they are quite private and raised from the main dining area, which will give you a great view of the belly dancing as it happens. (only on the weekends)

Layla

33 High St Wimbledon

London SW19 5BY

Tel: 020 8944 769
Layla on Urbanspoon

Eat Cook Explore was a guest of Layla Restaurant

 

Stevie Parle’s Korean Feast at Dock Kitchen

Not being a real watcher or follower of Food Trends, I can’t help but notice that Korean food and flavours seem to be getting featured more and more and sometimes in the most unexpected places. We have seen Kimchi burgers, Korean chicken wings, liberal use of Gojuchang, that spicy Korean bean paste in all sorts of dishes, not just Asian ones. All this partly inspired by David Chang of New York’s Momofuku fame as he seems to be cited as the source of some of those trends hitting the streets of London.

The talented Stevie Parle of Dock Kitchen has just returned from Korea where he went on an exploratory trip to experience and discover Korean flavours. The restaurant funds trips for their chefs to do similar food exploration trips abroad which results in the innovative menus at Dock Kitchen.

The restaurant sits on the edge of the canal in a glasshouse structure. The open kitchen splits the long dining room and the semi private room at the back. It’s all exposed brick and clean lines but a bit cold in winter.

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Stevie has devised a new menu which features quite a few dishes inspired by his trip. This menu is being offered at the Dock Kitchen from February 3rd to February 22nd.

The menu read started off with some “snacks”:

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Raw beef, pear, egg yolk, sesame oil
Seaweed salad
Rice cakes, gochuchang

The raw beef salad was not unlike a steak tartare, with an egg yolk in the middle, drizzled with sesame oil but nestled on a bed of Asian pears, which added a nice crunchy texture contrast and sweetness to the meat. The rice cakes were fried, with a crispy skin and chewy centre dressed with some spicy gojuchang sauce.

Next up was a real treat which we don’t often see on menus in London. Fresh sea urchins, foraged from the Northern Norwegian coast by Scot, Roddy Sloane who supplies places like Noma. Here is the plate of delicious spikey black treasures.

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The idea was to scoop out the glistening orange flesh and eat it with some rice and nori seaweed. not unlike the Japanese Uni sushi. The soft flesh with the seaweed and rice made a terrific flavour combination, with maybe a little less soy dressing. The flavour is so delicate that you really shouldn’t do much to this but eat it raw. I’ve had it in a Greek Taverna, drenched in olive oil and lemon juise. Sea urchin is sometimes thought to be an aphrodisiac, so bring your dates here on Valentines!

The outstanding dish of the night was the Onglet steak which he had marinated for a day with his secret Korean recipe which permeated the meat. The steak was then lightly grilled and was resulted in a very tender piece of meat. Lots of restaurants like to serve Onglet as it is a cheap cut of steak but cook it so badly. Not here. It was outstanding.

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Lots of the different textures and flavours from the various types of sides on the table and everyone raved about the squid kimchi supplied by Korea Foods. Stevie and his team even made their own kimchi using Red Cabbage. Very clever, tangy and crispy with that garlic hit.

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As with Korean BBQ, we wrapped some meat with a piece of lettuce, some of the vegetable side dish and smothered on some hot bean paste. With the plate of pork belly, we ate this wrapped in the unusual sesame leaves and some of the sides like tiny anchovies and kimchi.

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Sesame Leaves

With the beef, we added an oyster and then some of the sauce. That plate of beef was gone all too soon.

Just when we thought the mains were over, we were brought a plate of Dried mullet roe (A bit like bottarga but not as strong) and cripsy fresh radish. Not sure how the Koreans would normally eat this but served like a canape was a bit overwhelming.

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Pudding was a Yuzu ice cream and a black sesame shard. (Am going to nick this idea) To finish, we were served a glass of hot jujube tea. The Chinese drink this too, made with a mixture of red and black dates as a blood replenisher after operations.

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Stevie’s Korean menu was a very honest interpretation of Korean flavours and not overly fusion. I would definitely recommend my friends to try it out, especially that Onglet dish. I’ll have to go back for the next innovation, whichever continent that might be inspired by.

Dock Kitchen is offering this Korean menu from February 3rd to February 22nd. Go try it. If you go on a Monday, it’s 3 course with wine for just £24.50. Note, the menu changes every 3 weeks and they could be inspired by one of Stevie’s many trips like Sri Lankan cuisine. So check before you go.

DOCK KITCHEN
Portobello Docks
342–344 Ladbroke Grove
Kensal Road W10 5BU
020 8962 1610

Christmas Goose on the Hispaniola

The Hispaniola Victoria Embankment

View of the London Eye from the Hispaniola

Picture this, sipping a glass of bubby in lovely restaurant with a view of the river by night, the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament. Where in London might this be?

HIspaniola Upper DeckA dining room with a view on the River Thames.

In London, there are many choices of restaurants with great views. Here is an option that is probably not on many people’s radar, The Hispaniola restaurant ship, which is permanently moored on the Victoria Embankment and has been recently had new management. James Bueno, the new GM, has been busy transforming this space into a charming fine dining restaurant. Together with their head chef Paolo, they are offering a special Roast Goose menu for the Christmas season at the Upper Deck Bar and Restaurant.

HIspaniola Upper Deck

We were recently invited to sample this Christmas menu and who can say no to Roast Goose. For Christmas, I always prefer goose to turkey as the meat is so much jucier and tastier, you get lovely crispy skin and the vat of goose fat you get from the roast can be used for the roasties.

The Golden Goose Christmas menu at the Hispaniola looks like this:

APERITIF

Laurent-Perrier Brut NV (125ml)

STARTERS

Crayfish and Langoustine Cocktail, marie rose sauce

Roast Butternut Squash Soup, gruyere cheese, truffle oil

Beef Filet Carpaccio, Gorgonzola, wild rocket

MAIN

Wild Whole Roast Goose

Roast Chateau potatoes, brussels sprouts with pancetta,

Calvados-glazed apples, date & red wine sauce

DESSERTS

Tunworth Cheese, truffle & port stuffing

Christmas Pudding, brandy & orange butter

Treacle Tart, Cornish clotted cream

A glass of Laurent Perrier welcomed us and this was followed by a retro CrayFish and Langoustine Cocktail with generous pieces of shellfish drenched in tangy Marie Rose sauce. 

HIspaniola Upper Deck

The presentation of the enormous roast goose was quite an event. Our wild goose which had been roasted for 3 hours was brought out with all the trimmings. It looked and smelt wonderful.

Roast Goose HIspaniola Upper Deck

Chef Paolo then proceeded to carve it for us. On the side we had brusell sprouts with pancetta, carrots, Calvados glazed apples and crispy roast potatoes of course. This was truly an abundant feast.

Roast Goose HIspaniola Upper Deck 1-Food32

The locally sourced wild goose was moist, the meat was rich and not too gamey and the crispy skin was sensational. This is the perfect Christmas dinner.

Roast Goose HIspaniola Upper Deck

To complete the Christmas meal you have to have some Christmas pudding. Here it was served with brandy and orange butter. There are a couple of other choices for pudding besides this too.

 Christmas Pudding HIspaniola Upper Deck

The Upper Deck is a bar and restaurant. You can drop by for a cocktail or two and emjoy the same view as the diners. In the summer, there are tables on the deck where you can enjoy the view of the river and see London from a different vantage point. The dining room is cosy but untimidating and instead of canned muzak, they have a singer on the piano who will sometimes take requests.

A Cocktail with a view - HIspaniola Upper Deck

A Cocktail with a View

The Hispaniola is serving their Golden Goose Christmas Dinner for groups of 4 people or more but you do need to preorder at least 48 hours in advance, priced at £75 per person.

More details on their website: http://hispaniola.co.uk/christmas-nye/

The Upper Deck at The Hispaniola

Victoria Embankment,
London WC2N 5DJ
Tel: 020 7839 3011

 

Eat Cook Explore was a guest of the The Hispaniola

Mandarin Kitchen – Lobster Noodles Still Great

Mandarin Kitchen is one of the handful of places that we used to frequent for a decent Chinese meal in the Bayswater area. When we were students, a lot of friends had flat in the area and we used to congregate at a long closed restaurant called Hung Toa where the Roast Duck was famous. This used to be like a clubhouse, as all the gang would show up there sometime on a Sunday after a late night in the clubs on Saturday. We would almost always have the Roast Duck on rice. You would always see someone you knew in there, regardless of the time of day. Some of the staff from here left to open the now very popular Four Seasons.

For more formal Chinese meals or when the parents were in town, we would go to Mandarin Kitchen or Fortune Cookie (the old incarnation), both along Queensway.

After all these years, we still like to go to Mandarin Kitchen, especially when old friends visit London. Its nostalgic. The rather dated decor hasn’t changed much as they still have the cave like alcoves and walls covered in the strange plaster texture. There are still long queues for tables. There are big round tables to cater for big family meals and some smaller tables along the wall. When it’s busy, it’s frenetic.

The one thing we always order here is the Lobster Noodles. It looked like most of the customers in the restaurant on the night we were there ordered this too. This is the dish that they are the most famous for. On this occassion, we ordered Lobster Noodles with ginger and spring onions with a Yee Mein base. I prefer to order it with the crispy egg noodles base and a double portion of that too.

Mandarin Kitchen

Lobster Noodles with ginger and spring onion 

Mandarin Kitchen serves great seafood as the husband of the boss runs a seafood wholesale company. You can order the regular favourites like Crispy Duck too but that is just a distraction from the other choices. As they mainly do Cantonese Cuisine, there are a lot of familiar dishes on the menu for you to choose from if seafood is not your thing.

 

Mandarin Kitchen Queensway

Steamed Bamboo clams

On this visit, we ordered an array of dishes to make up a casual Chinese dinner. All dishes were for sharing as the Chinese don’t really do “order your own main course” thing. Of the other seafood dishes we ordered were steamed bamboo clams with a soya sauce based dressing, prawn stuffed tofu soup, fried crab claws, some stuffed Japanese tofu and some fried green beans.

Mandarin Kitchen Queensway

Crab Claws

 

Mandarin Kitchen Queensway

Braised Japanese Tofu

Mandarin Kitchen Queensway

Stir Fried Green Beans

Service was brisk and efficient. No superfluous fawning. The place was busy and buzzing. Not a place to have a romantic date but go with a group of friends for some great seafood.

It is comforting to know that the quality of the cooking has remained consistently above average, even after so many years. If you are around Bayswater, this is definitely a great choice for a very good Chinese meal.

 

Mandarin Kitchen
14-16 Queensway
London W2 3RX
020 7727 9012

(opposite Queensway tube station)
Mandarin Kitchen on Urbanspoon

 

Burgers By App At GrillShack

London’s hunger for burgers has not abated, even with the recent flurry of high profile launches of new American burger imports. We now have a new homegrown burger offering.

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Grillshack on Beak Street in Soho is the new Richard Caring backed venture which positions itself as a casual, fast food place with a typically American diner menu. Burgers, roast chicken and steak and not forgetting the breakfast menu of pancakes and more.

We were there on the opening night to test out their technology and stress the system, so to speak. I did go back a 2nd time a few days later to see if things had settled down.

Grillshack is not your regular fast food place like the shiny plastic ones you find on the high street although it is in a similar price range. It has wooden benches and booths, naked tin cans holding your cutlery and napkins, a side table holding all the help yourself sauces and a drinks bar where you serve yourself your soft drinks. The music in the background is a soundtrack picked by whoever was nearest the mp3 player and the loos were weirdly pitch black (on the 2nd visit they had turned up the lights).

Superfast free wifi – as shown on the menu – is a nice surprise for the techie geeky friends I was with. This is for you to download their app through which you can make your order.  You can then pay by paypal via the app, possibly the first UK restaurant to have paypal as a payment option.

Grillshack App

Grillshack App

Through the app, you can order food to have in house with your allocated table number or you can order food to takeaway. There are a couple of alternative terminals in the restaurant for you to self order and pay too.

We loved the idea of the app where you can just click a couple of buttons on your phone and a beer and burger materialises in front of you. Like magic. Without any human intervention.

Grillshack ordering instructions

Grillshack ordering instructions

The menu is short. A basic burger is £4.95 which you can then adorn with bacon, cheese and another beef patty. There is no information about the provenance of the beef like other new burger places have been playing up. I don’t think the target clientèle here care much about that. For sides, the offerings include french fries, shoestring fries, radish slaw and corn on the cob.

I had a burger with bacon and we shared a few of the sides. My single burger (£4.95) was a bit too small, even for me. Loved the Chipotle sauce (they should sell this separately) that I doused on everything but not so much the ineffective jalapeño sauce. The French fries were very crispy, big thumbs up, shoestring fries were a bit meh. Loved the corn with lots of butter and a bit of cheese on top, very messy but delish.

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Grillshack Soho

The Chipotle sauce was a hit, the Jalapeno, not so much

Friends had the roast chicken (£7.95) and steak with shoestring fries (£9.95) , a substantial portion and very reasonably priced.

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For pudding only a choice of 2, a carrot cake and the cookie ice cream sandwich which was an instant hit.

Grillshack Soho

The cookie ice cream sandwich, a winner!

The service that we experienced on the first night was a little confused but on the subsequent night, all was fine. When you order your puddings, they should give you a little token to collect your puddings after the meal. Ours came with the mains which we sent back. The food arrived promptly and the quality was uniform, the French fries were still good.

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So a meal for 4 with an abundance of food and drink on the table amounted to about £30. A bargain for a meal in Soho.

Grillshack
61-63 Beak Street
London W1F 9SL

Opens all day.

 

Eat Cook Explore was a guest on the opening night and a paying customer on the second visit. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Artisanal Ice Cream at Black Vanilla

Black Vanilla the Artisanal Gelato Shop in Greenwich recently teamed up with fellow Greenwich based Meantime Brewery to make some new flavours for their shop. This gelato shop was started by a husband and wife team who wanted to make a natural product that they could happily feed their kids.

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The 2 new flavours were Meantime Chocolate Porter Black Cherry Verigato and Meantime Raspberry Wheat Beer Sorbetto. I went along to their shop to taste these new flavours.

The shop is along the stretch of road that leads to the Greenwich Market. They don’t have a massive neon sign outside so look for the discreet little name board hanging over the door.

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How they make Gelato

Being a Gelateria, they make a vast variety of different flavours too. The ice cream is made on the premises with no artificial ingredients. The charming shop manager showed me how they make their gelato in the specially imported Italian machines. They make about 38 trays or about 200 litres a day. They use locally sourced milk which is mixed with natural fruit flavourings and churned in the machines to add air and increases the volume, which results in the gelato.

 

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Black Vanilla Greenwich

On to the tasting, firstly the Raspberry Beer flavour was made with some added raspberry purée and the beer. It tasted a bit too beery for me but others loved it. The chocoloate sorbetto is a chocolate sorbet laced with ribbons of the beer made into a sauce. Even though this was meant to be a sorbet, it was rich and choclatey. Loved it.

They have the usual flavours like strawberry and vanilla but one that stood out being glaringly blue was the Smurf flavour. This banana flavoured ice cream is a “must have” in all gelateria’s in Italy and is a surprisingly popular top seller. THe blue colouring is actually natural and it comes from a flower, probably the same one that we use in Malaysia for colouring rice.

Black Vanilla have recently won 2 more Great Taste Awards for their Fortnum & Mason Green Tea Sorbetto and Vanilla Gelato with Woodford Reserve Bourbon Salted Caramel.

If you have never been to Greenwich, there is much to see including the Cutty Sark, the Observatory, walk on the Greenwhich Meantime Meridian and see the green laser that shines along this at night. 

Then drop in for some gelato at this shop. Black Vanilla has 2 branches, one in Greenwich and one in Blackheath.

Black Vanilla

5 College Approach
Royal Borough of Greenwich,
SE10 9HY

 

 

 

 

Speciality & Fine Food Fair London – Interesting Finds

The show this year was much bigger, over 200 extra exhibitors. I usually go along to find new food trends and to find new food producers or interesting products. I did a quick blitz through the show and met a few interesting people and learnt a few new things.

Here is some of what I saw today:

Empire of the dogs -There is a new British Hotdog on the market. Love the name and love the packaging. It comes either ready to eat with  the bun or just a pack of sausages with less than 7% fat. All made with either outdoor bred pork or red tractor beef. It is about 275 calories per dog and should retail for about £3-£4. It somes in various flavours like chorizo and polish kielbasa sausages.

http://instagram.com/p/eAi1YFDIKb/

I tasted this delicious Canadian Hickory Maple Salmon and it comes on a cedar plank. More please.

http://instagram.com/p/eAiIydjII5/

Then I chatted to the man who brought over Canadian Maple Syrup. Things I didn’t know about Maple Syrup: It seems there are 3 grades of syrup and these are dependent on when in the season the sap is tapped. Early season is quite light in colour and flavour. Mid season, called Amber or Grade 2 is darker in colour, has the most mapley flavour of the 3 and is the most popular. The third one is a Grade 3 which just taste like sugar water and not much flavour, also the cheapest. Most the ones available in the UK is grade 3 syrup.

Canadian Maple Syrup

Also had a chat with Phil from Origin Coffee who sources these interesting coffees from small farms around the world. Last year they had a small batch of this powerful Bolivian coffee and this year, the equivalent is one from El Salvador, the San Carlos which is described as Citric and Balanced but if tasting this without milk, it’s quite acidic with a real kick. You can read about his travels to find new coffee producers on his new blog - http://wherethiscoffeecomesfrom.wordpress.com/

http://instagram.com/p/eAhmcADIHs/

Then there was the Meridian stall that was showing nut butters without added palm oil. A lot of guys were getting a bit excited about the Almond butter, a favourite with body builders it seems.

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The Garlic Farm has a new range called Vampire but this one caught my eye, a Roast Garlic Jam. Unusual and surprisingly palatable.

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I met Maria Tyrrell from Lomito whose family makes this Chimichuri sauce which she used to make a prize winning pizza with last year. This sauce had more flavour than the sauces I have tasted in Argentinian restaurants in London. On the Argentinian stand, they also had some flavoured Mate teas and the yummy Dulce de Leche.

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A smoked trout that doesn’t taste muddy. I tasted this on the RR Spink stand together with some smoked salmon. The trout has a bright orange colour and had a lightly smoked flavour. More on this product later.

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I learnt a lot about Mexican Chillies after chatting with Dodie Miller of The Cool Chile Co. Who knew that fresh and dried Mexican chillies have different names. All a bit confusing. They make a delicious Chipotle Salsa  and have these interesting packs called Cowboy beans, pinto beans and ready to cook sauces.

http://instagram.com/p/eAfZ8pjIC0/ 

Mexican Chillies

This year the show incorporated the Chocolate Fair and there were a number of chocolate producers there. I didn’t have much time to check out a lot of these but found a few interesting chocolatiers.

Madecasse Chocolates from Madagascar, fair trade and made in Africa.

http://instagram.com/p/eAgiZ2jIFB/

Then I tasted these Vietnamese chocolates from Marou with the beautiful packaging. Jonathan Tailyour explained that they are all made from the same bean but the flavours were so varied. Some were fruity, some had hints of coffee. Quite a taste sensation. Even with over 70% chocolate, these did not have that bitter taste of a lot of the bigger retail brands. These are stocked in Harvey Nichols and delis. One of the better examples of bean to bar chocs.

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My friend Andre and his new Man Food range of pickles including the award winning bread and butter (pickled cucumbers).

man food

Then my friend Malaysian Chef Norman Musa with his new range of Asian flavoured ice creams and chocolates. He even had a very strongly flavoured durian flavoured ice cream.If you have never tried durian, this could be a good introduction. It is made with Thai Durians (as this is what we can get in the UK) which has been left to “age” for a further 2 weeks. We Malaysians like our Durians more pungent than the Thais. Watch this space for announcements of a Malaysian Supperclub collaboration with Norman in the near future.

chef norman musa

Interesting Branding

The following products had interesting branding and packaging that I liked.

branding

A great show, lots to see and taste and met some new foodie friends.

The Speciality & Fine Food Fair is held at Olympia and is on until 10 September 2013.

 

Gaucho Smithfield’s Mini Beer Festival

Gaucho Smithfield held a mini beer festival in collaboration with Meantime Brewery. Our beer matching tasting menu kicked off with a flight of Meantime Brewery beers and some delicious little steak and ale pies made with the stout from Meantime.

The beers featured were the Yakima Red ale made with red hops from the Yakima Valley, a raspberry wheat beer, a chocolate beer and a stout.

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This was followed with some beer cocktails created by Amol. The first one was the a very refreshing Beer Pimms made with the raspberry beer and this was followed by a clever new concoction of a Caramel Mojito which was topped up with the chocolate beer and rum. These new cocktails will be added to the their beer cocktail list.

Gaucho Smithfields

They show you the cuts of meat when you order

Our meal started off with a plate of mixed empanadas featuring beef, chicken and cheese. These empanadas had light flaky pastry and well seasoned fillings.

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I like the way that they show you the cuts of meat when you order and all the staff have to go through a thorough training on the menu. Our delightful waitress was very knowledgeable about the cuts and provenance of the meat. She convinced me that I should try the Gaucho tasting plate of steak which has three cuts of beef including a chorizo (sirloin), vacio (flank) and entrana fina (marbled skirt) each with a different marinade. Beautifully tender steak and delicious sauces.

Gaucho Tasting Plate

The Gaucho Tasting Plate

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Besides regular fries and spinach, we had some unusual Argentinian side dishes like black quinoa and humita saltena served in a corn husk. Humita Saltena is a pre-Hispanic native dish in South America made with corn meal and spices (in Argentina).

Gaucho Smithfields

For pudding we shared a Dulce de Leche cheesecake which was unctuous. This was served with another beer cocktail , an inspired espresso beertini made with the Meantime Coffee Beer. This was a perfect accompaniment to pudding and if you like coffee after your meal, I would definitely try this instead.

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Espresso Beertini

Lastly, we were served a Patagonian sparkling Dessert wine, delish. The Mini Beer Festival goes on until September 7th where you can enjoy some beer tasting, beer cocktails and even try your hand at making some.

Gaucho is also holding a beer and food matching masterclass with brewmaster Rod Jones. This will be a five course be inspired menu priced at £75 per person.

Gaucho Smithfields Cowhide furntiure

Love the cowhide chairs and wall coverings

To make a reservation, call Gaucho Smithfield’s on 0207 490 1599 or email johnny.southwell@gauchorestaurants.com

For more details please visit: www.gauchorestaurants.com

Gaucho Smithfield

93A Charterhouse Street,

London EC1M 6HL

Tel 020 7490 1676