wine & dine
We Love Lillet
SUE SAUNDERS rediscovers the Gallic joys of evening spritzers and gentle gaming at Lillet's ‘Pétanque in the Square’
I rediscovered my joie-de-vivre this week on a sunny evening in Sloane Square celebrating the welcome return of the Café Colbert outdoor terrace…complete with a pétanque terrain to add that authentic touch of la belle France.
Pétanque (it rhymes with ‘plonk’) is just another term for the classic continental pastime of boules, and it was an absolutely inspired idea to set it up beneath the majestic plane trees in this beautiful public space. The click and thud of the silver balls, and little exclamations of approval or commiseration, create a focal point which can simply complement your people-watching – or you can get up and join in. Team up to play doublettes (in teams of two), or pit your wits against a friend tête-a-tête. However you enjoy it, it certainly adds to the friendly ambience, and the rules seem blissfully simple.
We were seated right next to the action, near the lovely fountain with its sculpture of Venus. Everything – from the red and white garden furniture and exquisite rosy flower-arrangements, to the pretty white sun-umbrellas sporting the name of Lillet (whose collaboration with Café Colbert this is) – created a convivial, summer-y spectacle.
Soon my daughter and I were happily sipping our Lillet spritzers, garnished with strawberries, while enjoying a very tasty charcuterie platter. I had never tried the wine-based apéritif, and found it divinely sophisticated and refreshing, the perfect cooler for the warmer months to come. It is classic, crisp and bubbly with just ice and tonic, but for fruitier flavours try the Lillet citrus or even the zesty pamplemousse spritz. Established in 1872 in the wine-cellars of Podensac (a small village south of Bordeaux), Lillet is still lovingly prepared using the original 19th-century techniques, and our second glass, of the rosé variety this time, transported me as close to France as I’m likely to get for some time.
As the twilight deepened and the fairy-lights twinkled, delicious smells wafted from the little crêperie stall, and soon we were served with delectable savoury pancakes. A little later, my daughter even found room to sample the chocolate and banana version, but by this time I was quite replete, and content just to drink in the charming scene around me.
With red buses and iconic black cabs swirling around us, I gazed at Tiffany’s across the road, and wasn’t quite sure whether I was in Paris, New York or London, but I was feeling extremely mellow, and certainly glad I’d left the house.
A delightful experience of outdoor escapism, in the heart of our Royal Borough.
‘Pétanque in the Square’ is running from 20 April to the 4 July 2021.
Opening times are from 11.30am to 9.30pm Wednesday to Saturday, and
11.30am to 9pm on Sundays.
Our pick of Easter treats
Our daily walks have taken a turn for the sunnier, clouds of daffs are raising their sunny heads and there's a cautious hopefulness in the air – yes, spring has sprung, and what better way to celebrate than with the most indulgent eggs and seasonal treats.
COTSWOLD LAMB EGG (£16 FROM DAYLESFORD)
Emblazoned with a whimsical illustration by artist Hugo Guinness of Daylesford's own rare native breed Cotswold lambs, this extremely tasteful (and tasty) egg has a lot of things going for it. Its cocoa comes from sustainable Colombian farms, it's been crafted by award-winning Welsh artisans, and it's made of creamy milk chocolate wrapped in a white chocolate shell. But overall it's an incredibly cute offering from the farm shop that never fails to delight.
A FLUFFLE OF BUNNIES NIBBLE BAG (£13.50 FROM ROCOCO)
We're long-time fans of Rococo's wildly flavoured bars and dangerously moreish caramels, and maybe the only thing that can improve on their already stellar output is crafting their chocolate into adorable bunny shapes. This bag is a great alternative for those who can't get through an egg in one sitting (although the bag probably won't last long. Plus, it's sustainably made and ethically sourced.
HAND-PAINTED CHICK EASTER EGG (£95 FROM FORTNUM & MASON)
Fortnum's Easter output is impressive this year, with chocolate- and hazelnut praline-filled dippy eggs made from real hollowed-out eggs, hazelnut-encrusted sweet Scotch egg, and Easter eggs with the daintiest of floral boutonnieres. But it's this adorable yet strikingly modern egg that caught our eye, with natural pigments deftly slicked on and a high cocoa content.
LARGE RABBIT EGG (£139 FROM PIERRE MARCOLINI)
Marcolini's Easter collection playfully riffs on an Easter-egg hunt with bunnies popping out from eggshells and more pralines than you can shake a cottontail at. We demolished his Little Pink Basket filled with chocolate goodies in under an hour, but if you want to linger on his silky smooth confections then indulge in this sweet-as-can-be egg, which comes with two drawers filled with praline eggs. A worthy investment, we assure you.
SALTED CARAMEL AND GANACHE DUCK EGGS (£6.50 FROM ARTISAN DU CHOCOLAT)
To get that sweet sweet sugar high, sometimes you gotta break some eggs, and these faux duck eggs, with their stylish eau de nil shell and gloriously creamy centre are the ones to get your teeth into. And, if you're looking for something more ostrich-sized, go for the caramelised white egg or dark-chocolate Tumaco egg.
EXTRA THICK ROCKY ROAD TO CARAMEL EASTER EGG (£29 FROM HOTEL CHOCOLAT)
Knobbly, built to endure and filled with cookie pieces – this beast from Hotel Chocolat is a thing of tooth-cracking beauty that will last well beyond Easter (clearly they anticipated this as it comes in a reusable tin). It's made with 40 per cent cocoa for maximum chocolatiness and is filled with pralines, caramels and those dessert chocolates you always eye up as you're waiting for a train. It's a challenge to demolish, but one you'll gladly accept.
Come to Como
KATE WEIR rediscovers the joys of fine Italian feasting with Como Garden's delivery service…
If you’re a fan of the zesty Latin American fare in Kensington’s Zuaya (indeed, we’ve covered it previously and could seriously do with one of their mezcal- and pisco-loaded cocktails right now) then it might excite you to know that Alberto and Arian Zandi, the Spanish twin brothers behind the venture, launched an Italian restaurant just next door late last year. Como Garden, as you can tell from the name, is inspired by Lombardy’s great lake and botanical beauty. The dining room resembles an extremely elegant planter, with trailing ivy clinging to the walls and even a fully grown tree buffered by cosy cream banquettes, plus a few Renaissance-inspired statuettes for a true holiday feel.
There’s just one teeny problem – you can’t see any of it – at least until Boris lowers the chequered flag on lockdown restrictions. But Como’s Italian pasta chef and dedicated team are soldiering through, turning to Deliveroo to get punters excited about their tapas-style plates and hearty mains, made using ingredients nonna would approve of from the motherland. And so, in a somewhat more modest dining room, we awaited a delivery that would, at least in spirit, whisk us away to the Med.
The restaurant recommended three dishes each, but this isn’t a hard and fast rule – with delights such as raviolo filled with gorgonzola and pear, and truffle and pecorino, and crowd-pleasing cacio e pepe and rich beef ragu, you may want to challenge your appetite. We shared the calamari with lemon aioli and steak tartare with sweet mustard – the former is a little diminished by the travel time and would be crisper dining in, but it was still succulent squid, the latter, while not pretty, had a generous helping of meat punched up by the sauce.
For seconds, the lasagna had a good ratio of meat, cheese and sauce, and was as comforting as a bear hug from mamma, while gnocchi slathered in gorgonzola with sweetened walnuts was a decadent rustic dish with a warming autumnal feel. To follow, a seductively unctuous osso buco, where the veal easily tore from the bone, and a tender tentacle of grilled octopus. But, there was more still, the big finale was the Como Ferrero Roché dessert: essentially a haute take on its namesake.
We’re still longing for the buzzy ambience of a restaurant in full flow once again, and even moreso a getaway to the Italian lakes, but at least with such top Italian food just a few clicks away, you can still satisfy some desires. Order via Deliveroo.
MADÉVI DAILLY revels in returning to London's dining scene
Pop-up. Pop. Up. In the dark, desolate depths of lockdown, I had almost forgotten those two magical little words, carrying with them the heady promise of a joyful night out in London. I love everything about pop-up restaurants – the ephemeral, blink-and-you’ll-miss it nature of them; the playful, experimental menus; the hint of chaos in the kitchen.
Papa L’s Kitchen is a prime example of the genre. The Papa in question is chef Lawrence Gomez, an alumnus of the Ivy and Sexy Fish, who’s set up shop at the Gojk on Brompton Road for five weekends. I headed there on a quiet Thursday night, determined not to let anything dampen my first dinner out in six months – not the imposing bouncer wielding a temperature gun at the door, not the masked and visor-toting staff, not even the torrential rain that meant the venue’s bijou terrace was off-limits. Papa L, it turns out, knows a thing or two about lifting spirits. His set tasting menu is generous to a fault – he’s the sort of man who’ll ply you with eight courses and send you waddling happily home. Our waitress, wisely, warned us to take our time. We fiddled ineptly with the digital menu, conjuring small plates from the kitchen at our leisure, over four very civilised hours. Sweet potato croquettes, zingy and piping hot, opened proceedings with aplomb.
Then came a grilled chicken salad dressed with mango and avocado, tiger prawns in a rich, buttery sauce, perfectly al dente asparagus and a handsome piece of soy and sesame salmon that flaked sultrily under fork. Thankfully, Papa L had our back: courses came paired with titchy but punchy cocktails designed to guide us giddily to gluttony.
‘This meal feels like a holiday!’ I exclaimed tipsily after the first course or four, breathing in the transporting scent of pineapple, rum and coconut from a small, delightful coupe. While ostensibly influenced by the chef’s Gambian roots – plantain chips and Jollof rice featured in later courses – Gomez’s cooking trots around the globe, borrowing flavours and ingredients from different cultures and cuisines – and sacrificing, perhaps, a certain sense of identity along the way. But there’s no denying Papa L is a deft hand in the kitchen: as we left and thanked him for an immensely cheering evening, he confided the gas had cut off half-way through service. A hint of chaos in the kitchen? I’d have never noticed.
Papa L’s Kitchen runs for five weekends from 28 August 2020.
Tickets are £65, and include an eight-course tasting menu with four paired cocktails; a vegan menu is available.
Little beats a perfectly chilled glass or two of wine to enjoy during our lazy, hazy evenings this Summer. Here are some of our top tipples to savour.
Danebury Reserve 2018
Showcasing just how incredible British wine can be, this Reserve from one of the most awarded and respected vineyards in the UK recently won the Gold Medal and Best Wine by the Glass for English still wine at the prestigious Sommelier Wine Awards.
A mouthwatering delight of fresh citrus, green apple, fragrant grass and a limestone finish.
Louis Jadot Chablis
For those who prefer to enjoy fine still wines, this Chablis is an excellent choice. Established in 1859, Louis Jadot is one of the Premier Negociant names in all of Burgundy.
Hand harvested and softly pressed, this wine is perfect with oysters, charcuterie and goats’ cheese.
A true taste of Tuscany, the wonderful multi-award-winning fine organic wines from the MonteRosola winery are well worth seeking out. Try Crescendo, a rich and characterful choice with spices, herbs and cherries, and also the excellent Merlot , Canto della Civetta, with its heady ripe dark stone fruit and blackberry flavours.
Taittinger Prestige Rosé
Hints of berry and peach with a light lemon lift make this a totally moorish champagne perfect for any celebration – or a stay at home treat.
Oastbrook Sparkling Rosé 2014
Another award-winning British delight, this time from the Sussex countryside, is a sparkling delight of cherries, strawberries and fresh brioche, the perfect for a smoked salmon supper. Oastbrooke has a “Bubbles” Wine Club where you can enjoy regular deliveries, straight to your door.
Jenkyn Place Brut 2014
A final wine from deep in the English countryside is the delicious Brut 2014. Made with the classic champagne blend of 60% Chardonnay with 25% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Meunier, this bubbly is fresh, fragrant and delicate. A perfect accompaniment to seafood and even strong cheeses.
Taittinger Nocturne NV
Another fine fizz from Taittinger is the Nocturn NV. Taittinger remains one of the few Houses to be owned and actively managed by the family named on the label. Its origins date back to 1734 when the original house was founded by Jacques Fourneaux.
Ripe peaches and apricots are freshened with hints of zesty citrus and white blossom. Perfect with sweet or savoury dishes.
KATE WEIR revisits old-favourite hotel the London Edition to see what’s new.
A few days before London went into lockdown, I went to the London Edition hotel, an elegant Ian Scharger-backed stay on Berners Street. At the time the world felt normal, we watched the news in our room predicting – wrongly, of course – that this would all blow over. Writing this now, long after hotels and restaurants have shuttered their doors, it feels almost incomprehensible that we spent such a carefree night here and feels like aeons until we can do so again. But, in the hope that one day this will once again be our reality, I present our experience at this refined Fitzrovia stay.
This wasn’t my first visit to the London Edition; I visited the newly minted stay on a journalistic mission when it first opened its doors. At the time, I didn’t associate its Marriott branding with a place of such polish and pomp, but I was duly impressed with its idiosyncratic artworks, English country lodge rooms and Jason Atherton’s excellent cuisine in connecting Berners Tavern. I was smitten with the lobby’s olive-green-velvet fainting couches, the furry throws and cocktail carts in the upper-tier rooms, the alluring amber glow of Berners Tavern’s well-stocked bar.
And these delights have remained, except one: the basement nightclub, undoubtedly added at the behest of the Studio 54 magnate; its devolution to gym hints that perhaps some late nights proved too rowdy. Ingo Maurer’s mirrored egg still draws focus from the hubbub of the huge lobby, Korean artist Chul Hyun Ahn’s portal pulls the eye to the back of the room, close to where the Punch Bowl bar is hidden, and behind the check-in desk is a custom-made tapestry depicting an 18th-century scene. The workspace and lobby bar throng with guests, and the babel of happy diners can be heard next door.
We take a time out in our room first – it’s one of the hotel’s lower categories, but the wood-lined space with its top-drawer linen, considered tech and tongue-in-cheek photography by Dutch snapper Hendrik Kerstens make it a haven. The bathroom has a shower that could fit a few more in and the minibar is well-curated – there’s Crystal Head vodka, Patron tequila, Joe and Seph popcorn and Jealous sweets for the taking, if the price list doesn’t make you wince. But, there’s no time for snacking now, as Berners Tavern beckons.
The decadent decor in the restaurant – paintings on every inch of wallspace, cream-leather banquettes, circular chandeliers – prepares you for how indulgent the menu is – after a meal of warm bread with flavoured butters, lemon sole with capers and a gloriously dense and cheese-laden macaroni cheese with beef brisket, we can only muster the energy to stagger back up to the room. The rest of the night passes in lazy wine drinking and TV watching, with a cheeky charcuterie platter requested from room service sometime in-between. Considering its central location, the hotel’s rooms are immensely cosy and calm, so much so that we saunter down with just a few minutes until check-out the next morning. On the way out, I notice that one of the alabaster women carved into the ceiling is still wearing the red lipstick someone jokingly added during renovation – a small joyful reminder of things staying the same, much needed when everything is about to change.
The London Edition, 10 Berners Street, Fitzrovia, London W1T 3NP, www.editionhotels.com/london