Roka

With a new branch in Mayfair opening its doors, Roka is once again the destination Japanese restaurant in town. The famed robata grill and seductive atmosphere has long been pleasing the customers, but after going to the original Roka on Charlotte Street a couple of weeks ago, I felt it was lacking in that slick, buzzing city atmosphere that you associate with restaurants like Zuma and Hakkasan. But with the Canary Wharf and now Mayfair restaurant open, they once again offer the full package, combining the consistently excellent food with an electric atmosphere. Of course you are going to pay for this, and it’s always a worrying sign when prices don’t appear on the menu on the website, but after a couple of cocktails you’ll soon be too caught up in the seductive charm of the place to care.

The Canary Wharf restaurant has the same beechwood decor and open kitchen, but with views of neighbouring skyscrapers and a much slicker crowd it has a much livelier feel than the Charlotte Street restaurant. It still retains its warmer and more laid back vibe than the likes of Hakkasan and Nobu, which are a little too much like a nightclub both in their darkness and by the little outfits most of the women there are wearing, for my liking. There’s everything you would expect to see on a top Japanese restaurant’s menu, but the real star of the show here comes from the robata grill, which licks everything it touches with a mouthwatering charred flavour. With three friends down for the weekend all wanting a wild night in the big city, Roka is the ideal destination to get the party started. I lost count of the amount of times we waved to the waiter to bring another plate of something.

The soft shell crab was the star of the small plates. There was plenty of it as well, a much more generous portion than I’d had at Nobu, and with that fiery chilli sauce it was incredibly moreish, which meant we ordered 4 of them.

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The yellowfin sashimi with truffle was sensational, with just the right amount of truffle to not overpower the freshness of the tuna. A less experienced restaurant would have doused the dish in truffle to give the impression of grandeur, but here they had the balance expertly gauged.

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The scallop skewers with wasbi and shiso were plump little things with a good hit of heat from the wasabi. They went down dangerously quickly.

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Then there was the ribs except without the bones, and these were perfectly tender chunks of meat in a delicious sauce with a sprinkle of cashews giving an added crunch. The bits that had charred and crisped up had almost a sweet caramel smokiness to them, and were absolutely delicious.

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The black cod is less exciting to me now because it is on the menu at all of these restaurants and there’s little variation from place to place. Marinated in yuzo miso it really is as juicy and tasty a piece of fish you are likely to try. The fish cuts like butter and has a texture like no other seafood you’ll try. It’s also the price of gold, so be sure to let the person you’re trying to impress know that when they are enjoying it melting on their tongue.

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The lamb cutlets coated in Korean spices were big juicy pieces of meat with plenty of charred fat that had melted down from the grill.

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The chicken skewers were incredibly succulent for chicken, and there was plenty of meat to get your teeth into. A few vegetables options included thick spears of grilled asparagus coated with sweet soy and sesame seeds, and a similar fried eggplant version that had a lovely sweetness to it.

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There wasn’t a dish that failed to impress, which should be the case when you consider that we were paying £100 a head (that included a good amount of drink though). But when you think that other restaurants of this type charge the same, if not higher prices, and have smaller portions and inferior cooking, then Roka certainly is worth it. It is also much less filled with posers and those who are desperate to catch a glimpse of a celeb, and because of this is has the feel of a real top London restaurant, making it the best high end Japanese restaurant (on a par with Zuma) in the city. So if you want the full package and don’t care what the bill at the end will say, then this is the place for you.

Food: 9.5/10

Service: 7/10

Atmosphere: 9/10 (Canary Wharf), 7/10 (Charlotte St)

Value: 6/10

Overall: 9/10

1st Floor, 4 Park Pavilion, 40 Canada Square, London E14 5FW

37 Charlotte Street, London W1T 1RR

30 North Audley Street, Mayfair, London W1K 6ZF

 

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Odette’s

With Odette’s, Lemonia, La Collina and L’Absinthe all within 5 minutes walk of each other, the Primrose Hill locals are spoilt for choice when it comes to good neighbourhood restaurants. Odette’s is the most well-known of the bunch thanks to head chef Bryn Williams who has a bit of a celebrity status after his Great British Menu triumph a few years back. If you go at lunchtime you can try his food for incredibly reasonable prices. The set-lunch menu of 2 courses for £13 or 3 for £15 is an absolute bargain, and would be good value just about anywhere, let alone for cooking of this standard.

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Inside the decor is classy with a homely feel to it, and with a busy lunchtime dining room the atmosphere was pleasant, if not a little on the stiff side. The service throughout was efficient, but for a local restaurant I’d have preferred it to be a little more informal and chatty. As for the menu, whilst it is great value, I would have liked one more option for each course, as with only 2 to choose from it is a bit limited, especially for the main as it was either the salmon dish or a vegetarian option of glazed parsnip and carrot with walnut pesto & ceps. This meant that my partner and I went for the same meal, which is a bit of a shame because we both love swapping dishes half way through to get a try of as much as possible.

To start the Lamb belly, piquillo peppers, capers and romesco sauce was a far more generous portion than I was expecting. The first few bites were lovely, but the more I ate, the more sickly it became. With sweet peppers, a romesco sauce and the capers, there was a lot of flavours competing with the lamb and it was a little on the sweet side.

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For main the Salmon, fregola, purple sprouting broccoli and horseradish was presented in a lovely way that really evoked the seaside. The salmon was perfectly cooked with a rare pink middle and crispy outer layer, so it was a real shame that it was let down by the saltiness of the dish. There was also a distinct lack of any horseradish flavour, perhaps again because of it being too heavily salted.

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For an extra £2 you get dessert, so I can’t imagine anybody holding back here. We decided to try one of each, and again the portions were generous. The Salted chocolate tart, caramel ice cream might well be the best I’ve had. It was incredibly light and had just the right balance between the saltiness and sweetness. A lovely end to the meal.

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The Caerphilly cheese, bara brith & quince jelly had a great strong flavour that was balanced by the sweetness of the jelly and the hint of cinnamon in the bread. They had left the ‘cheese’ part of the description off the menu though, so I wasn’t sure just what dessert from that region in Wales I was going to be served up.

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With two glasses of Chenin blanc (£6.20) and a side of smoked mash (£3) which wasn’t at all needed, the bill was just over £25 a head with service, and these prices it really is worth trying if you are in the area.

Food: 7.5/10

Service: 7/10

Value: 9/10 (lunch menu)

Atmosphere: 6.5/10

Overall: 7/10

130 Regent’s Park Rd, London NW1 8XL

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Polpo

Polpo was one of the first of its kind to embrace the scruffy-chic interior, with the exposed walls, paper menus and hipster staff. But unlike the many places that have gone on to imitate this style, there is a reason for it here. The inspiration comes from the small Venetian backstreet bàcaros, which are humble little restaurants that serve simple food (I’ve read the intro in the Polpo cookbook- definitely one for the shelf). But this is very much Soho’s interpretation of a bàcaro, and despite the deliberately worn-out decor, it is anything but humble. Several years after opening, it still remains as busy and good as ever, and it is still one of my favourite spots in Soho.

Sticking with the whole informal bàcaro vibe, they don’t take reservations for dinner and you aren’t allowed to go elsewhere once you’ve put your name down. I get this from a business perspective and wouldn’t mind it too much if it wasn’t for the fact that the Campari bar downstairs resembles a war bunker. Crammed in there with fifty other hungry punters all staring desperately at the door for their name to be called out, makes rubbing shoulders with your neighbour a little bit too literal. At least the cocktails are good.

To start things off we had Ricotta, Squash and Sage Crostini (£3) which were lovely rich and creamy bites. I’d have tooth-picked them up all night if they’d have let me. Be prepared for some piss-poor photos, it’s really dark in there.

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To keep the flow of dishes going the Arancini (£3) soon arrived. They were a little stodgy, and some way off the heights of the truffle risotto balls at Cafe Murano.

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Next up was the Spinach, Parmesan and soft Egg Pizzette (£8), which is my favourite dish here. The creamy egg yolk is great to mop up with the pizza crust. Tonight it didn’t have as much of that parmesan hit that I remembered, but I was still licking my finger and rubbing it across the plate.

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Then came the Cuttlefish and Ink Gnocchi, Gremolata (£8) which was a little bit citrusy for my liking, which is strange for me given I bloody love lemons. My  partner on the other hand absolutely loved it and she doesn’t usually like citrus flavour. Work that one out for yourself.

The Lamb & Pistachio Meatballs (£7) had a lovely smooth texture and were fine, but I didn’t really get much of the pistachio. I was hoping for a little crunch inside the meatballs, but this was missing.

The Split Pea and Ham Hock Risotto (£7) was a generous portion and there was plenty of the ham in there. The risotto rice was cooked in a way that I’ll never achieve at home, and for this price why would I ever bother trying to again.

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The Pork Belly, Radicchio and Hazelnuts (£9) was perfectly cooked, and the crackling and nuts gave each mouthful a real crunchy goodness, and it was soaked in an intense meaty juice. Delicious.

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We were still hungry so we went for the Anchovy and Green Olive Pizzette (£7), which could have had a little more of both ingredients on, but only because we were greedy to have more of that salty hit they both give.

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The bill came to £93 with service, and the bottle of red we had for £27 took up a good portion of that. It was fine but the house wine here at £18 is really worth ordering. The service was friendly as ever, although we did ask three different people for olive oil and it never showed up. And tonight I thought they could have been a little bolder (or more generous) with the flavours. Apart from that it again left me feeling happy. It’s just the perfect little restaurant, and despite so many others imitating this style, it still manages to feel entirely original. I’d recommend it to anybody who hasn’t already been.

Food: 8.5/10

Service: 7/10

Atmosphere: 9/10

Value: 8/10

Overall: 8/10

41 Beak Street, London

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The Delaunay

Friends were down from Newcastle for the weekend and given that up North a fish and chip shop is the closest thing to fine dining, I’d promised to take them somewhere special. There’s few places better in London for this than The Delaunay. As the younger sister of The Wolseley it is of course a classy establishment, but it’s also a lot more laid back. The Wolseley a little bit too much ‘we are next door to the Ritz’, whereas here, situated right in the heart of theatre-land in Aldwych, you feel just as welcome to come in for a coffee and read of the paper, as you do to get dressed up for an evening meal.

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From the doorman in tops and tails to the grand dining room, everything here  is luxurious. A few weeks ago I dined at Bob Bob Ricard which also has a train carriage feel, but the difference between the two is like that between the London tube and the Orient Express. The Delaunay really does trump it in every way. It’s the small touches that enhance the experience here; you just have to feel the weight of the pepper grinder to know that the type of place you’re dining in. Given these surroundings, the menu is reasonably priced with most mains coming under the £20 mark. It’s an eclectic menu with a strong Germanic nod. Plenty of wieners and schnitzels. Even a wiener schnitzel!

To start I had the Roast Squash Salad with Quail Eggs, Pecorino and Chestnuts (£8.50). Everything worked here with lots of textures and flavours that came together with a light mustardy dressing.

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My partner had the Steak Tartare (£10.95), which comes with a bright orange raw egg yolk on top of the finely diced steak. With a slice of good sourdough toast this was as good as this dish can get.

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For main I had the Braised Shoulder of Lamb,White Beans and Paprika Sausage (£19.75), which came as a stew. It didn’t look like the biggest portion but it was so rich that it soon filled me. The meat was tender and with the uniformly sized diced carrots this was a fine stew , but I’d have liked more of a paprika hit. It was just lacking a little bit more depth. Also given the thinness of the sauce, it needed some rice to soak it up. Putting this all onto a plate made for awkward eating.

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My partner had the Fillet of Beef Stroganoff (£21.75). She had this last time and loved it, and it was the same again. It’s a really rich sauce with a strong hit of mushroom. They could have been more generous with the rice though, as the clump on the side wasn’t enough to soak up all the sauce.

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My friend had the Rib-eye steak with fries and béarnaise sauce (£27.50). It was a decent steak, but some distance of the heights of Hawksmoor. There’s a lot of other things on the menu that I’d recommend before going for this, as you can have a decent steak in most restaurants.

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Instead I’d go for one of the schnitzels, which are a real speciality here. My friend had the Holstein schnitzel (£22.75), topped with a fried egg and anchovies. I’ve got no idea where else you can get this in London, certainly not better than they do it here. You might think this is expensive for something Bernard Matthews could give you for about one tenth of the price, but you’ve just got to try it to see how far veal, rolled in breadcrumbs and lightly fried, can go. It really is top notch.

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For pudding I shared the Kinder Sundae- raspberry, vanilla and chocolate ice creams, whipped cream, marshmallows, meringue and chocolate sauce (£8.95). There wasn’t as much texture as I would have liked, and the crunch of the meringues was lost on me, but that didn’t stop me from scraping it clean.

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We also had the Apple & Walnut Strudel with vanilla ice cream (£7.95). I was hoping for a Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds style crunch from the pastry, but instead it was a bit flaky and soft. It was a bit heavy handed on the cinnamon, so that the other flavours on the plate were overpowered.

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We also shared the Lingonberry and Pear Crumble with custard (£7.50), which was far too heavy on the crumble making it a stodgy pudding, so much so that we couldn’t even finish it. I’d never had lingonberry before, and I was hoping for some strong berry flavour, but all that came through here was the mass of crumble.

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The bill came to £60 per head with a couple of glasses of wine each. Not too bad given just how impressive the restaurant is. The £2 cover charge on top of 12.5% service seems unnecessary. I’ve got no idea what it’s for. And I’d say that the service was perhaps the only slight let down. The waitress seemed to be experimenting to see how high she could pour the water from without spilling it all over the table. She obviously hadn’t been practising for very long. And on top of that it was a bit neglectful. But apart from this it was again a fantastic meal, one that will remain top of my list when a special occasion comes along.

Food: 8/10

Service: 7/10

Atmosphere: 9/10

Value: 8/10

Overall: 8.5/10

55 Aldwych, London WC2B 4BB

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10 Greek Street

I’d previously been to 10 Greek Street for lunch and absolutely loved it, but the no dinner reservations policy scares me. It brings to mind a 2 hour queue outside of Honest Burger. I wish Soho would just let you reserve a table. I almost get it for a burger place, but not a proper restaurant. It’s not a fucking soup kitchen. I am paying for my meal. I don’t want to also have to queue in the cold for it. This Thursday night though I decided to chance it and I popped my head in at 6.45 and found that they had three spare tables. It felt like I’d beaten the system.

Despite the bare white walls, it has a warm and cosy feel inside. You’re rubbing elbows with your neighbour, so this might not be for some people, but it’s all part of the Soho vibe. The menu is scribbled on blackboards, which is usually a good sign that it constantly changes. The emphasis is placed on the ingredients,and tonight game was taking centre stage on several of the dishes. There’s no mention of any fancy (and often frustratingly pointless) cooking techniques- no emulsified beetroot puree, no celeriac crumb, no asparagus foam, no dehydrated turnip (you get my point). Instead just like the decor the food here is kept simple, and offers big comfortable flavours.

Once seated we started on the wine and bread. Both are excellent here. The wine list offers a lot of bottles between the £20-£30 mark, and you can try most of these by the glass for around £6. A glass of house is as little as £2.75! In Soho!

I  started with the partridge breast, baby carrots, kale and chestnuts (£9). This was exactly what it said on the tin. Everything worked together and everything was perfectly cooked. Great way to start things off.

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My partner had the potted Dorset crab, radish and apple salad and sourdough bread. I’m not a huge fan of the roe and there was a lot of it here, but she loved it and gobbled the lot. The apple gave the dish the needed bit of sweetness and brought it all together. It was another dish priding the ingredients, and another big hit.

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For main I had the goose with pickled red cabbage, swede gratin and cranberry. It was Christmas come early. They’d even left the unwrapping of the present to me, as I found a huge bit of greaseproof paper hiding in the gratin. This rather larger blip to one side, the dish was pretty much spot on. The cranberries were slightly bitter and could have done with a little reduction, but apart from this it hit the mark.

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My partner had the wild mushroom, leek and truffle risotto (£14). The hit of truffle was intense and there was a few shavings of truffle on top, and the mushrooms gave it a nutty and almost meaty flavour. We mopped all of the juices up with the last of the bread slices. Delicious. Even the side of sprouting broccoli (£5) was excellent.

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To finish things off we shared an apple and pear crumble with crème Anglaise (£6). It was perfect comfort food. Huge chunks of the fruit were hiding beneath the crispy crumble, and there was plenty of custard to drown it all in.

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The bill came to £81 (service wasn’t included), for a three course meal and three glasses of wine. At just over £40 a head this really is a good value meal. The food here makes you feel happy. It’s not overly fancy, just solid cooking and with the menu constantly changing to keep up with the seasonal ingredients, it is always fresh and exciting. It has firmly rooted itself in one of my favourite London restaurants, one I can’t wait to come back to.

Food: 9/10

Service: 7.5/10

Atmosphere: 8.5/10

Value: 8/10

Overall: 8.5/10

10 Greek Street, London W1D 4DH

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Bob Bob Ricard

Bob Bob Ricard has to be one of the strangest restaurants in London. After eating there I still don’t really know what it is. It’s a strange mix of Russian, French and English. A place where you can have afternoon tea, Oysters or a shot of vodka. People either rave about it or hate it. So I really had no idea what to expect.

I’ve passed Bob Bob Ricard hundreds of times, but I’ve never known what is hiding behind those gold windows. I certainly wasn’t expecting the dining room I walked into. It’s completely over-the-top glamour with a plush and decadent gold and dark blue interior. Even the waiters look the part in their  salmon coloured waistcoats. It has the look of a grand old train carriage, combined with a rich Russian’s splendidly decorated house. Somewhere between classy and novelty. This is summed up by the ‘Press For Champagne’ button which is conveniently located in each cosy booth which we immediately hit and a waiter appeared in a second to take our order. We stuck with Billecart-Salmon, Rosé (£86) which was lovely and was fair on the mark-up.

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Now to the menu, which again is an eclectic Russian, French and English mash-up. Oysters and souffle sits next to shots of vodka, which sits next to burgers and beef wellington. You can have a mound of caviar or a chateaubriand for one. It’s a greatest hits of all three countries. On the drinks list there are shots of vodka served up at -18 degrees, and a good selection of champagne. They also note the prices that other restaurants are charging for the same bottles. Maybe by making it sound like they are offering good value on these few bottles, they can get away with charging high prices for most of food.

To start I went for the three cheese souffle (£8.50) which came with endive, apple and hazelnut salad. I really didn’t like this starter. It looked great with a crispy darkened crust from the parmesan, and had risen so much that it was like a garden gnome sitting on my plate. But inside it was all runny egg white with absolutely no cheese flavour. It was unbelievably light, but without any substance, and mouthfuls of runny egg white doesn’t make for pleasant eating.

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My mum went for the scallops, black pudding and apple (£13.25). This was a well executed dish and looked good, as a dish this safe should be.

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My dad had the crab salad with chilli avocado mayonnaise (£12.50). Again it was well presented and tasted fine, but there was nothing too exciting.

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For main I was again left disappointed. For some reason I chose the Three Bird Burger made with crispy quail, guinea fowl and duck (£23.25). Surely that sounds good? But when it came I was immediately let down. Surely for that price they could throw in some chips? It was dry and boring and for some reason the quail still had bones in, making it annoying to eat. The meagre slither of cranberry sauce lubricated it a little, but it was really as bland as burgers can get.

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My parnter and dad went for the Suckling Pork (£22.25) and this was much better. The crispy skin was absoloutely perfect and the meat was juicy and packed with flavour. There was plenty of black pudding as well, although not much of the cabbage. And the truffle in the gravy was lost on me. Everything here seems to have some truffle in it, but never enough to really notice that it is there.

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My mum had the Fillet Medallions Rossini (£28.50), which is two small fillets of Scotch beef piled on top of each other with seared foie gras and a foie gras crouton, and of course the truffle gravy. This sounded a lot more indulgent than it was. I was expecting a heart stopping dish, but again the fancier ingredients were a little sparing. Still it was a lovely dish with a good balance of flavours and tender beef.

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The sides were forgettable. Truffle mashed potato (£6.50) (getting bored of the truffle here) was grainy and needed more cream and butter or some bloody truffle. The crushed mint peas and fries (£4.50) were both fine.

For pudding it was the Bob Bob Ricard signature Chocolate Glory (£9.75). Maybe I’ve seen the trick too many times to still get excited, but this wasn’t the most theatrical of melting puddings. The sauce just wasn’t hot enough which meant that it didn’t melt in quite the desired fashion. It was a pleasant dessert, but a lot more effort is put into the spectacle than in justifying the name of Chocolate Glory.

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We also shared the trio of Crème brûlée s (£7.50). Passion fruit, chocolate and Earl Grey. The passion fruit was light and really intense in flavour, but the chocolate wasn’t strong enough, and I didn’t get any of the Earl Grey flavour.

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The staff throughout were excellent, although they really couldn’t grasp who was drinking still or sparkling water. At one point I had been topped up by 4 different waiters so that my glass was split into quarters of still and sparkling. This is hardly a complaint though. The bill came to just over £400,making it one hundred per head, and although we did have two bottles of champagne, I would say that it is overpriced for what is essentially average food.

There is something really glamorous and appealing about this place, and I can see why it is popular, especially if you want to impress somebody. But despite the glittering surface, I couldn’t help but feel it was all just a bit too showy without the substance to back it up. I still don’t understand the restaurant either, but then given its location in Soho, maybe that is just it, a little bit of everything thrown in together. The tacky and the splendid living happily side by side. I wouldn’t rush back, but then my parents loved it. So my own experience of it is hit and miss.
Food: 7/10 (My meal was a 4/10)

Service: 8/10

Atmosphere: 8/10

Value: 6/10

Overall: 7/10

1 Upper James St, W1F 9DF

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Bone Daddies vs. Tonkotsu: The Ramen Battle

There is no better cure for a hangover than a bowl of steaming ramen. It’s the Japanese Alka-Seltzer. I discovered this trawling through Soho on a miserable afternoon when my hopes for my normal remedy of a burger had been dashed by the hour minimum queues for Honest Burger and Burger & Lobster, and so I had ventured through the rather uninviting black front of Tonkotsu.

Inside the classic Soho run-down reigns. Anybody else getting bored of bare walls and dim industrial lights? Why is it so many of these places seem designed to get you in and out with as little comfort as possible. At least the food looked good.

The menu is simple- a few Gyoza, some basic Japanese sides and Ramen. I was in no mood for fiddly little dumplings, and so it was straight to the main event. Soon sitting in front of me was a steaming bowl of richly coloured broth. The smell and sight alone was enough to lift my spirits. Chopsticks and a wooden spoon were presented to me, but neither would really do for this dish. As Tonkotsu say on their website- ‘You’ll find that devouring your bowl of ramen using the traditional Japanese method of slurping will make it highly pleasurable experience’- and so this is exactly what I did. Food splashed all over my face and the table. It was lucky that I was eating alone. There’s something so satisfying about letting all manners disappear and going hell-for-leather at food. The slow-cooking has taken away the chore of chewing for you.  All it required of me was to simply slurp and swallow it up- ideal for any hangover when this is the limit of your capabilities.

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The pork belly and soft-boiled egg are all wonderful little additions, but there is no mistaking that the stock is star of the show. It is the type you will never make at home, and you would be stupid to even try it. Every bit of those pig bones has disintegrated to make this a creamy and intensely meaty juice. The house chilli sauce is also great, and a few heaped spoonfuls had the alcohol sweating out of me. I left Tonkotsu feeling not full and greasy as I would have done after a burger, but instead like I had just had both a sauna and a massage. Yours for £11.

Tonkotsu was the regular Saturday haunt for a while, and then Bone Daddies came along. This is a much hipper and more Soho version of a ramen joint. A large open window ensures that is brighter and with trendy music playing and a bustling hipster crowd this is for a different type of hangover. If Tonkotsu is designed to soothe and ease you into the afternoon, then Bone Daddies is the hair of the dog.

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Again I went for the tonkotsu ramen (£11). It is a much deeper orange than Tonkotsu and after loading it up with more chilli and sasme seeds from a fun little grinder that distributes most of the seeds to everywhere but your bowl, I tucked in. The flavour is intense. It’s the daddy of ramen. The effect it had one me was so warming that the only thing it is comparable to is having a cup of Bovril at half time during the match in the winter months. I doubt too many football stadiums will go to the lengths of cooking their stock for this length of time though. So good was this ramen that I found myself ordering a pint of Asahi midway through it. It had done it’s job.

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Both places dish up excellent ramen, and it’s likely I’ll split my time going between both. But Bone Daddies does just edge it.

Tonkotsu: 7/10

63 Dean St, London W1D 4QG

Bone Daddies: 8/10

31 Peter St, London W1F 0AR

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