Monthly Archives: February 2012

Colchis: Georgian Restaurant in London

Vilma Darling reviews Colchis, a Georgian restaurant in Notting Hill.

If you ever get a chance to visit the Republic of Georgia, you HAVE to get yourself invited to the traditional feast called supra. Georgians are the most welcoming people I have ever met and their food-fests are beyond imagination.

A good supra lasts for hours, and unbelievable amounts of food are placed on the table. When more and more delicious dishes arrive, the plates are piled on top of the other, and such towers often reach several levels.

Georgia is sandwiched between the Black Sea, Turkey, Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan and all those countries have had their influences on the region’s cuisine. Georgian food is probably the most flavoursome of all former Soviet Republics with walnuts, garlic, pomegranate, lots of unique spices and herbs adding their distinctive flavour to meat and vegetarian dishes.

I fell in love with Georgian cuisine when travelling in the country and had an opportunity to experience their famous hospitality first-hand.

So I was more than overjoyed when I heard that a Georgian food and wine restaurant, Colchis, had opened in my neighbourhood in London and we were invited to sample their new weekend brunch menu.

Colchis Restaurant

The restaurant is named after the ancient Kingdom of Colchis by the Black Sea coast that is now Georgia. Jason and the Argonauts stole the Golden Fleece from the distant lands of Colchis, and Prometheus was chained to a mountain there for giving humans fire.

We were welcomed by the cheerful manager Maurizio Bianchi (not a Georgian name for sure) and ordered some “Wake up drinks” for an aperitif. My friend Viktoria definitely perked up after an extra spicy Bloody Mary mixed with Chipotle vodka. I was refreshed by the Georgian Martini (pear, brandy, Georgian spices, lime and Triple sec), both for £8.

We decided to sample as many dishes as possible at Colchis and started our own Georgian supra with Adjaruli Khachapuri – a huge portion of boat-shaped bread with cheese, egg and butter (£8.50).  It does sound like an extremely heavy dish, but Khachapuri was soft, warm and delicious.

Colchis Restaurant

We liked the Georgian meat dumplings, Khinkali, so much that after the fist bite ordered another portion and wanted one more after that… The only downside is that a portion of four average size dumplings costs £8.50. Blini with cheese and mint served with honey (£8.50) were equally great, but less exotic.

No Georgian feast is complete without wine, and during supra people drink buckets of locally produced gvino. Georgians believe the English word wine and French vin originated from their Georgian gvino. 

Archaeological findings such as 8,000-year-old ceramic storage jugs have been discovered in the country, suggesting that people in the region had begun to make wine earlier than nations in Western Europe.

We tasted some much younger wine at Colchis… 2007 Orovela White from the Kakheti region was perfect for my taste, but not acidic enough for my friend (£15.50/500ml).

We ate and drank without the famous Georgian toasts, which is an unimaginable thing for Georgians. But if you do get a chance to experience supra properly, a word of warning – you have to wait until the toastmaster finishes the speech, and each toast lasts longer and longer when more and more wine is involved!

Gaumarjos Sakartvelos (Long Live Georgia)!

Address: Colchis Restaurant, 39 Chepstow Place, London, London, W2 4TS

Phone: 020 7221 7620

Website: www.colchisrestaurant.co.uk

If you liked our review of Colchis, sign up to our blog below as we visits some of the best restaurants in London. In the meantime read our reviews of Novikov London, The Hollywood Arms, Michael Nadra Primrose Hill or 34 Restaurant.

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Competition! Win a Seafood Master Class at Bentley’s Worth £250

Join Bentley’s Head Chef Michael Lynch in the kitchen and learn how to prepare and cook a range of fish and shellfish, before enjoying a number of dishes over lunch.

The day will start with coffee and bacon sandwiches on arrival at 9.30am on a Saturday, before spending the morning in the kitchen. With tastings and refreshments throughout the class, you will learn how to create some wonderful dishes that you can re-create at home including Dressed Crab, Grilled Octopus, Prawns & Harissa Salt Chilli Squid with Lime Aioli, Bentley’s Classic Soda Bread, Beer battered Fish & Chips and Lobster & Clementine Salad.

Bentley's Restaurant

After the class you will be served a glass of champagne in the bar, while you watch the shuckers prepare Oysters for you to taste. At the end of the day there is a gift bag to take away including recipe cards from the lunch, a signed copy of Richard Corrigan’s book, The Clatter of Forks and Spoons, an apron and a loaf of soda bread.

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Ayanna Spa Review

Vilma Darling visits the lovely Ayanna Spa in Chelsea.

Freezing temperatures, Arctic winds, lack of vitamin D and too much comfort food are only a few things that I dislike about winter. But my skin hates the horrible weather with such passion, that it goes red and becomes so dry, that it actually hurts.

My body this time of year only wants to eat and sleep. But the show must go on and so to treat my miserable self I went to the Ayanna Spa on Holland Park Avenue in London.

The ladies there told me straight away that my problematic skin and body had come to the right place. They said that Ayanna was a results-based spa and that the therapists did not follow protocol – every treatment would be adjusted to your particular needs.

Ayanna Spa Reception

My experience started with a massage to relieve stress and tension. Like most desk-bound and heavy-bag-carrying people, I often have pains in my neck, head, shoulders and lower back.

Kay, the massage therapist at Ayanna Spa, concentrated on those areas and confirmed that I have ‘lots going on’, especially on my left side. She was full of very knowledgeable advice and was so good at making me relax that towards the end I did not want to leave the lovely heated bed.

I could have fallen asleep there and then, but another therapist was waiting to do my facial.

Ayanna Spa Treatment Room

Mariana looked at my skin and suggested the Prescriptive Facial. She cleaned it, hydrated, nourished, calmed and, where needed, skilfully decongested.

The Ayanna spa was opened only three months ago by ex-City girl Nalini Williams. She had been a regular spa client for many years and has been collating her experiences to one day open her own spa where clients can relax and leave feeling rejuvenated.

Nalini teamed up with her facialist of five years, and they pooled thoughts, knowledge and experience and the building of their dream began. They have decided to use Pevonia for their advanced formulation and innovative treatment products, Priori for anti-aging cosmeceuticals range and DANNÉ Montague-King for the paramedical products and treatments.

CACI has been chosen for its leadership in aesthetic treatment technology, HydraFacial for skin resurfacing without the need for lasers, Active Optima 518 for IPL hair removal and skin rejuvenation using a patented GEM technology and Radio Frequency for slimming treatments.

Ayanna Spa Relaxation

The spa owner is often a ‘guinea pig’ for treatments they are experimenting with, but she says she loves the HydraFacial and Lumafirm Lift & Glow facials that work wonders on her skin.

“We remain focused on our original vision – employing the best resources to provide clients with results-based treatments in an environment they can enjoy and relax.”

Bon Vivant’s members are entitled to a discount of 10% on treatments at Ayanna spa.

Address: 146 Holland Park Avenue, W11 4UE

Phone: +44 20 7998 7872

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Read some of our other spa reviews including Waterhouse Young clinic.

London Restaurant Guide: New Restaurant Update

By Emyr Thomas

Nobody does a power restaurant to ‘see and be seen in’ quite like Caprice Holdings or Chris Corbin & Jeremy King, and both launched new restaurants at the end of 2011 that will no doubt become firm favourites throughout 2012.

34′, located just off Grosvenor Square in Mayfair was Caprice’s first new restaurant launch, which adds to its portfolio of power restaurants including The Ivy, J Sheekey’s and Scott’s. 34 specialises in meats and seasonal game but also offers lighter dishes, fish and shellfish, all to the glorious sounds of a live jazz quartet in timelessly elegant surroundings.

34 restaurant

The Delaunay, new sister restaurant to The Wolseley from Corbin & King, has opened on the corner of Drury Lane and Aldwych and already has the familiarity of an institution on the London scene. The restaurant is open seven days a week serving breakfast, afternoon tea, and à la carte lunch and dinner menus inspired by the grand cafés of Europe.

With every celebrity, socialite and restaurant connoisseur already firmly ensconced, be prepared to sell your prized possession – kidney, trust fund or mother in law – to secure that reservation.

The best affirmation that a restaurant is doing something right is if a guest books a return visit. Within minutes of leaving dinner at Alyn Williams at the Westbury (which opened quietly at the end of 2011 from Alyn Williams, who was previously head chef at the two Michelin starred Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley), my client had emailed with three further booking requests for the coming months – a sure sign that this restaurant is on to a winner.

Another former Michelin darling to set up on his own is Ollie Dabbous, formerly of Texture, with his new restaurant ‘Dabbous’, which opened on Whitfield Street in Fitzrovia at the end of January, in partnership with mixologist Oskar Kinberg, formerly bar manager at the Cuckoo Club.

Spread over two levels, the restaurant and bar has an industrial feel with exposed brickwork, sheet metal and copper pipes.

Dabbous bar

While the restaurant features a modern European menu of ‘clean flavours and seasonal ingredients’, the basement bar offers a menu of classic drinks and signature cocktails that is ideal for a group of friends or a first date.

Thompson Hotels’ first hotel outside of North America will open in Belgravia in early February with 85 rooms and an 80-seat restaurant from celebrated chef Mark Hix. Hix Belgravia will feature another outpost of Mark’s Bar, his popular bar from his Soho restaurant, as well as a cigar garden. Although the menu will still be British focused, it will have more of an international feel, based on the chef’s travels across the globe.

Hix Belgraves

While the onslaught of Mexican burrito bars might still not have ended, this year it will be time for Peruvian cuisine to take the limelight. ‘Ceviche’ promises to be London’s first Peruvian restaurant in Soho, hotly followed by LIMA in Fitzrovia, both of which will also feature a Pisco bar. Grab a Pisco sour and meet me at the ceviche counter.

Refurbishment and reinvention seem to be popular themes for the start of the year from some of the city’s celebrated chefs.

Tom Aikens has recently reopened his eponymous Chelsea restaurant after a large refurbishment to create a more relaxed atmosphere. There is an à la carte menu and a series of tasting menus, including six, eight and ten course options that are also available with matching wines.

The 52-seat restaurant features broad-boarded oak floors, custom-designed hand-made wooden chairs, a variety of mismatched oak tables (no tablecloths), and has ‘evocative quotes about food and wine’ written on the walls.

Tom Aikens Restaurant

Over in Soho, Quo Vadis has undergone (another) refurbishment, this time to mark the occasion of a new partnership with Jeremy Lee who had previously spent 16 years at the Blueprint Café.

There’s a lot to digest as we look forward to another sterling year for the London restaurant scene, but if you’re interested in a one-off charity event with some of the biggest names in cooking, check-out the ‘Who’s Cooking Dinner’ charity event on 5 March at the Four Seasons Park Lane.

20 top chefs will prepare dinner for 200 guests, who can also bid for the chefs to cook dinner in their home at a later date, all in aid of Leuka. Each chef will create a four-course menu for one table of ten people with accompanying wines. Here’s the twist: only after a draw during the pre-dinner reception do guests discover which chef is cooking for them.

The restaurants taking part include some of London’s most sought-after tables, such as Scott’s, Dinner by Heston, Zuma and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay – so perhaps no need to sell your kidney after all.

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Alyn Williams at The Westbury – Restaurant Review

Alyn Williams at The Westbury opened to great acclaim at the end of 2011 – here we try out one of London’s most recent Michelin starred restaurants.

On a quiet night in January we zipped through The Westbury hotel and straight into the more glamorous bar of the hotel’s new flagship restaurant, Alyn Williams. The restaurant is oriented around a private room encased by floor-to-ceiling glass wine cabinets.

The décor at Alyn Williams at The Westbury is luxurious and chic; wood panelling, muted hues of creams and browns and a plush silver-threaded carpet (although get the interior designer back to match up the pattern).

The atmosphere was hushed and perhaps a little cold, certainly as a result of dining out on an unseasonal mid-week night when sensible people were home digesting the festive excess.

Alyn Williams at The Westbury London

Given the sybaritic tendencies of my companion, we eschewed the three-course á la carte (£45) and opted for the seven-course tasting menu, which was very reasonably priced (£55) for fine dining in London and indeed Mayfair.

The menus at Alyn William at The Westbury list out the primary ingredients of the dish (for example “Cod/seaweed butter/beach vegetables/cockles”) in a similar form to Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, perhaps unsurprising given Alyn was head chef there in a previous incarnation.

The staff at Alyn Williams at The Westbury were warm, courteous and informative, offering to swap dishes between the menus should we wish, and after one or two substitutions we were off.

We started with canapés over a glass of bubbles at the table:  truffle arancini were delicious and just as good as those at Marcus Wareing. Fourme d’Ambert gougeres were light as air while packing a cheesy punch.

Deep fried sea bass belly with tom yum jelly on prawn crackers were unusual. Bread is made in house and was near perfect, including star anise rolls, lavash flatbread and (a slightly heavy) potato bread, served with an excellent whipped caraway seed butter.

A particular highlight on the menu at Alyn Williams at The Westbury was a deconstructed onion soup served in a martini glass along with crab meat, melting onion and jellied beef with a potato wafer with gruyere on the side – a very innovative take on a familiar dish. T

he main course allowed a choice between Cotswold chicken with smoked egg and charred leek or Devon beef sirloin.

My companion opted for the latter and, before I even had a chance to sample, reported that it was very flavoursome. I had been too distracted with my Cotswold chicken, served with a perfect smoked egg yolk that sauced the meat as I pierced it with my fork. While the meat was verging on the edge of translucency, the dish was as tasty as it was beautiful.

Alyn Williams at The Westbury London

Courses were perfectly balanced and despite being rather full, we foolishly opted to add in a cheese course. The trolley was excellent as was the knowledge of our waiter, who was very accommodating and offered to bring my favourite cheese (Vacherin) from the kitchen.

No need at all and my tour of goat’s cheese was beautifully presented on slate with crackers or bread (we were too full to accept the latter) accompanied by chutney and a honey gel.

Desserts reached similarly heady heights: pre-dessert of crème Catalan with pear granita was subtle and refreshing (although the pine sugar was perhaps a little too subtle) and dessert of chocolate mousse with caramel and peanut butter consisted of a rich, dense chocolate “finger” with a caramel core and a peanut butter ice cream. Heavenly.

This is slick, elegant and contemporary cooking, as handsome as it is delicious.

We managed to finish off dinner with truffles and then rolled out of the restaurant. Alyn Williams at The Westbury may not have opened with a prestigious named chef on the door but this is certainly prestigious cooking and prestige will certainly follow Alyn Williams if he continues in this fashion.

Bon Vivant’s members receive a complimentary glass of champagne when dining in the restaurant – contact us now to enquire about becoming a member.

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In the meantime, read some of our best London content including our guide to the best afternoon tea, the best boutique clothes shops in London or where to sample the city’s best coffee.

Faberge Egg Hunt Around London!

Launching on 21 February 2012, The Big Egg Hunt will take place in London for 40 days and 40 nights, where over 200 uniquely crafted Faberge eggs created by leading artists, designers, architects and jewellers will be displayed in central London.

You can join the hunt for Faberge Eggs, picking up clues along the way – collect your map or download your app, gather your family and friends and get cracking to solve the challenge. The event aims to raise £1m for the children’s charities, Elephant Family and Action for Children.

Faberge Egg Hunt

English interior designer Sophie Conran has decorated an egg which will be on display at Jumeirah Carlton Tower, Knightsbridge, and set designer Rhea Thierstein has designed an egg to be displayed at Jumeirah Lowndes Hotel in Belgravia for the duration of event. Both hotels will also launch specially created ‘Eggs menus’ with a donation from each dish sold going towards the two charities.

The Dorchester Collection has also sponsored an egg for the hunt, which has been designed by Sir Peter Blake and is displayed outside The Dorchester on Park Lane.

The Dorchester’s executive chef Henry Borsi has created a spectacular dish ‘Eggs Fabergé’, a starter of quail’s egg with smoked duck and black truffle consommé. The consommé is poured in front of diners and melts the egg into a delicious broth, as shown in the photo below. It is priced at £19.50, with 50% going to charity, and available until 9th April.

Faberge Eggs at The Dorchester

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Cinnamon Soho To Open Mid-March

Cinnamon Soho, the third restaurant from executive chef Vivek Singh, will open mid-March, dubbed as the Cinnamon Kitchen’s ‘younger, cheekier sibling’.

Dishes on offer will include sticky desi pork back ribs; seared sea bass with aubergine-potato crush; and vindaloo of ox cheek. There will also be range of Indian-inspired ‘balls’, such as crab cake and Bangla-Scotch egg; and exotic pies, such as Keralan seafood and rogan josh.

Address: Cinnamon Soho, 5 Kingly Street, London, W1B 5PF
Phone: 020 7287 6080

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Lime Wood Hotel – The Perfect Country Retreat in The New Forest

A former 13th-century hunting lodge is now home to Lime Wood Hotel, one of the UK’s chicest boutique country house hotels, a mere 2 hours from London, in the New Forest Park.

The interiors, from celebrated designer David Collins, involve a modern take on the traditional country house style: effortlessly luxurious, striking a perfect balance between being cool, modern, classic and sophisticated.

Lime Wood Hotel Entrance

The main house perches ceremoniously at the end of a long, sweeping driveway, with beautiful manicured grounds leading the way. The 29 rooms and suites at Lime Wood Hotel are split between the main house and the various outbuildings – the Coach House, Crescent and Pavilions.

Rooms range from the entry level ‘Cosy’ (Cosy in Lime Wood’s definition means spacious and extremely comfortable) through to signature Forest Hideaway Suites. Our Crescent duplex suite was a delight with a wood burning fire on each floor – a real treat for us city folk!

Lime Wood Hotel Pavilion Room

The rooms of Lime Wood Hotel’s main house are a series of cosy lounges with plump couches and roaring fires, which are inviting at any time of day – from reading the morning papers with the sunshine streaming through the windows, to taking afternoon tea or sipping the final glass of port after dinner.

There are plenty of logs by each fire and the relaxed feeling of the house means you are free to feed the fire on your own and truly feel like the lord of the manor. Service at Lime Wood is seamless – the staff, dressed in fashionable country clothes, are ever present but never noticeable, which is a difficult thing to master.

There are two restaurants on offer at Lime Wood Hotel: The more informal Scullery, which, with its whitewashed wooden floors, flower pots and condiments on show, could only be described as ‘country house chic’, and the main restaurant, The Dining Room, which provides an informal setting for serious cooking and a perfectly glamorous night out, once again highlighting the hotel’s ability to be both luxurious and relaxed at the same time.

Lime Wood Restaurant

Organic and locally sourced seem to be high on the priorities for both restaurants – wild mushrooms, garlic, local venison and home-reared beef and lamb – which one would expect given nature’s prominence all around.

The Herb House Spa is a true gem, with a whole host of treatments on offer, a Technogym, an indoor pool, sauna, indoor Jacuzzi and a magnificent outdoor pool that was blissful on a January evening where temperatures plummeted below zero. (If you like hotels with pool, read our guide to London hotels with swimming pools).

The rooftop sunlouge was redundant on our visit but would surely be a huge hit in the summer months. There is also an adjoining Raw Bar serving a selection of fresh salads, smoothies and cocktails.

Lime Wood Hotel Spa

One of Lime Wood Hotel’s greatest assets is the natural surroundings within which it sits.  The immediate grounds surrounding the hotel resemble a beautifully groomed English garden, complete with a swing hanging from one of the century old oak trees.

On leaving the property through the designated gates, you are immediately in the heart of the New Forest with its stunning scenery and wild horses roaming freely in the parkland.  After a long walk through the forest, there is no better place to return to than Lime Wood and its roaring fires.

For a chic, glamorous yet utterly relaxing weekend country break from London, Lime Wood Hotel really hits the spot.

Our luxury travel service would love to plan your next weekend getaway – contact us now to enquire about membership.

Fashion Cocktails at the Light Bar

By Vilma Darling

The Light Bar in London’s St. Martins Lane Hotel has launched a new selection of Front Row cocktails in celebration of London Fashion Week. The glamorous event will begin this Friday in the nearby Somerset House, and so the bar hopes to lure fashionistas with some refreshing drinks.

The Front Row cocktail list caters to the weight conscious fashion crowd and is light on calories. For example, the Long Legged Londoner is made with Bombay Sapphire gin, rose syrup, pink clove cordial, fresh lemon juice and soda.

The Light Bar

My favourite, the $10,000 Breakfast (Wyborowa vodka infused with Jasmine and clove, shaken with creme de peche, lemon juice, sugar syrup and egg white), was pleasantly sour and very refreshing.

The St Martins Lane sister hotel, Sanderson, has also developed a new line of Skinny Cocktails inspired by Fashion Week. Six lightly crafted cocktails are made of the freshest ingredients that apparently won’t stick to your waistline.

Try the Scarlet Martini – Wyborowa vodka shaken with fresh strawberries and cucumber honey water and finished with pomegranate juice (135 calories) – or the Mexicana – Jose Cuervo Tradicional shaken with green grapes, apple puree, apple juice and elderflower cordial (150 calories).

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Greek Chef To Take Over The Capital Restaurant

Greek chef Athinagoras Kostakos will be ‘Guest Chef in Residence’ at The Capital Restaurant for one week from 5th March 2012.

Known for his work as executive chef at Bill & Coo Suites and Lounge, a luxury boutique hotel on the Greek island of Mykonos, he won this year’s version of ‘Top Chef’, Greece’s version of ‘Iron Chef’ from the US, and the restaurant won the Condé Nast Traveller 2010 Readers’ Choice Best Hotel Restaurant award.

The menu for The Capital is in the process of being finalised, but dishes may include the likes of Santorini cherry tomatoes cooked with honey, warm goat’s cheese, capers, olive oil & foam perfume with thyme and slow cooked sweet tomatoes and lamb marinaded with mustard & Myconian herbs.

Address: The Capital, 22-24 Basil St, Knightsbridge, London SW3 1AT
Telephone: 020 7591 1202
Website: www.capitalhotel.co.uk

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