My 7 Links

I was asked by esteemed fellow blogger @gourmetraveller to participate in a project called ‘My 7 Links’, which is organized by Tripbase. I haven’t really done a ‘meme’ post before, but thought this particular one would be a nice way to review my last two years of food and wine, re-focusing attention on some highs, some lows, and the unexpected. So, without further adieu, my seven links.

Most Popular Post:
The Fat Duck – A Blumen’ Great Day in Bray  

JELLY OF QUAIL, CREAM OF CRAWFISH: Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss & Truffle Toast (Homage to Alain Chapel) … at The Fat Duck in Bray, UK

I guess it comes as no surprise that my most popular post is a review of one of the UK’s high temples of gastronomy: Heston Blumenthal’s three-star Michelin restaurant, The Fat Duck, which was also awarded ‘Best Restaurant in the World’ by the Restaurant Magazine / San Pellegrino ’50 Best’ awards in 2005, and has been in the top five since 2004. Given that a large portion of my readership still hails from the UK and that Heston Blumenthal has become a very popular figure on TV and in the country’s print media, it makes sense. Happily, it was also one of the better meals I’ve had the pleasure of eating since I started this blog. I also like the chef’s approach towards food and his concept of ‘the meal’, and think he’s one of the more consistent and genuine characters in the higher echelons of chefdom. I therefore have no qualms about the success of this post. 

Most Controversial Post:
Le Gavroche – Unfortunately A Very Mixed Bag

The Signature Cheese Soufflé ... at Le Gavroche, London (photo: goodtoknow.co.uk)

It is unfortunate that my most controversial post came from a restaurant that I so much wanted to like. You see, Michel Roux, Jr. was a new hero of mine at the time, and I desperately wanted to love his food and his restaurant, which I saw as an extension of him. Unfortunately, we did not have a pleasant experience at all – it was certainly not befitting of its dual Michelin-starred status. This was one of my first posts, back in the days when I didn’t take photos, so sorry for the lack of visuals, but this was probably the angriest review I have written (which just goes to show I’m a big softy). The anger wasn’t due to the fact that Mrs. LF annoyingly had a big crush on him (and still does), but rather the bordering-on-rude service we experienced. It put me off ever returning this traditional yet quirky subterranean dining room. The signature cheese soufflé and innovative wine pairings were the only things that mitigated what was generally a very disappointing experience.

Post Whose Success Surprised Me:
The Loft Project with Samuel Miller from noma 

Samuel Miller Plating our First Course … at The Loft Project in East London

I really didn’t expect my post about a supper club in the East End of London to get the attention it did. But I guess The Loft Project is a pretty unique concept, as they do get some of the most interesting young culinary talents from around the world to cook for a few nights for 12 or so lucky guests. It’s not cheap, but for what you end up getting (sometimes 8+ courses with a wine paring included), it can often end up being phenomenal value. Anyway, the meal that Yorkshire man Samuel Miller – who is second only to Rene Redzepi himself in noma’s kitchen – stands out as one of the best dining experiences I’ve had anywhere. It was a wonderful evening in every sense, and for all my senses. The technical reason why I think it got so many views is because there was a television show on one night about noma, and Sam featured prominently in it, so I got a lot of people coming to the post after googling his name alongside the word ‘noma’. As of now, it is my 7th most popular post.

Post That Didn’t Get the Attention it Deserved:
Morgan M. – You Can Go Your Own Way

Oven-roasted Suffolk Red Leg Partridge, Sweet Potato Purée, Poêlée of Grapes and Savoy Cabbage, Liver Croûton, Bread Sauce … at Morgan M. in North London

Maybe it was the signature cheesy title, but I was surprised that my review of Morgan M. – which is one of only two reviews listed on Urbanspoon in nearly two years – did not garner more attention. Although the service was a little uneven, the food was certainly beautiful to look at and tasted very good to boot. I had really wanted to highlight this little gem of a place, which takes advantage of cheaper rent in North London but produces traditional French food with ample flair that competes with many of the more popular (and much more expensive) French restaurants in central London. The natural light during our lunch also allowed for some great pictures, making this one of the prettier posts I have done, IMHO. I was pleased to learn the other day that chef Meunier is, after many years, opening a second restaurant near London’s Smithfield Market.

Note: there was another post, which was somewhat controversial and also barely got any views, to which I would also like to direct your attention. It is an interview with the editor of Tong wine magazine, a publication that brings much-needed diversity to the global conversations taking place about wine. Read it here: Filip Verheyden is TONG – About Wine.

Most Beautiful Post:
The Sportsman – Captivating, Compelling, Complete

Cauliflower Tart … at The Sportsman on the Kent Coast

The food at The Sportsman, a one-Michelin star restaurant that could easily be mistaken for an unremarkable pub on an unremarkable stretch of England’s Kent coastline, is in many ways deceiving. It is presented simply and humbly, and you might not give it too much thought. However, the fact that a good deal of what you are eating comes from within a few mile radius of the restaurant, and that there is considerable technical skill and bounds of flavour packed into each bite, can take you by surprise if you’re not expecting it. One of the two brothers who own the pub is the (mostly self-taught) head chef and the other oversees the front of house. The interior has been honestly restored and locals still do come in for a pint at the bar, even if the bulk of the reservations now come from patrons living further afield. The tasting menu, which is available during the week, is well worth a visit, but requires special booking ahead of time. Although the dishes are certainly not as artistic as many other restaurants I have reviewed, I felt that overall, the images from this post were the most beautiful when taken together as a whole. The light was fantastic on the day, and for the most part, these images received almost no retouching. I hope you enjoy reading and looking at it. 

Post I’m Most Proud of:
noma – Northern Light 

break on through to the other side ... noma in Copenhagen

Not only was I proud of myself for simply finding a way to eat at what has now been ranked as the ‘best restaurant in the world’ for two years running, I was also pleased with the review I wrote. It was very long (hey, what else is new?), but it managed to synthesize my numerous thoughts and emotions about the restaurant and our meal. The food itself is also breathtaking to look at, and while my photos don’t really do it justice, this also made it a visually appealing post to me. Hopefully you feel the same. 

Most Helpful Post:
Lanka – The Perfect Little Place in Primrose Hill

Rum Baba ... at Lanka in London

I don’t know how truly helpful my posts are to readers – after all, I mostly just eat and don’t cook – though I did feel like I was providing a good service to the residents within walking distance of London’s Primrose Hill when I consumed copious calories over a number of visits to a cute little pâtisserie and café run by Japanese chef Masayuki Hara. These multiple visits confirmed that the pastries were generally very technically well made, plus some of them benefited from an injection of Japanese flavor (i.e. green tea features prominently in a few of the treats). They have also gradually expanded the range of food, which is simple but very tasty, and have a good selection of high-quality teas and coffee (they use Monmouth beans, or at least did on my last visit). If you are in the neighborhood, I’ve found it is normally worth the extra calories that a visit entails. The hot chocolate is also good.

I would now like to direct your attention to five great food-related blogs that I follow regularly, all of whom have agreed to do their on ‘My 7 Links’ post in due course. Look out for their reflections on their old chestnuts. The are listed alphabetically…like, duh.

Lanka – The Perfect Little Place in Primrose Hill

Lanka
71 Regents Park Road
London NW1 8UY
Website
Map
Note: Lanka is a small cafe with stool seating and three small tables; reservations are not taken

  • Pâtisserie & cakes from £3-4 (eating in) coffees & teas from £2-3 (eating in or taking out), plus a small daily menu of savory dishes from £5-10

I always enjoy paying a visit to Lanka. Their cakes are delicious & technically well made, with new flavors constantly being introduced (often bringing an infusion of Japanese flavors to French classics); their coffees are well made; there is a wealth of tea options; and the growing offering of savory dishes are cooked & presented with the same passion and care as everything else. Lanka is a breath of fresh air and breaks the mold of the High Street pâtisserie chains, bringing a lovely charm and individuality to the already pleasant High Street of Primrose Hill.

A fusion that works

In late February, Mrs. LF and I went for a stroll in Primrose Hill. I noticed that there was a new shop that hadn’t been there last time we were walking in the neighborhood, and my spidey-senses began tingling.

Lanka's muted gray facade, accented with little dots of pink

The place was called Lanka. It had a muted gray facade, and some beautiful pink potted plants neatly placed outside its shop front, immediately setting it apart. I peered in through the window and noticed that it the staff all seemed to be Japanese, but that the main thing on offer seemed to be some very French-looking pâtisserie and cakes. It looked very appetizing and inviting. Intrigued, we decided to step inside to see what this was all about.

The pretty, petite & spotless interior of Lanka

It turned out that Lanka is indeed owned and run by a Japanese man. The proprietor, Chef Masayuki Hara, is originally from Japan and since moving to the UK has worked in some very prestigious kitchens, including the two Michelin starred Le Gavroche. He has worked with a number of chefs over the years as well, such as Antony Worrall Thompson and Richard Corrigan, to name a few. In the early part of the new millennia, he moved into private catering, working for an exclusive company catering to City executives, and has now set up his own high-end catering company. Besides the cafe, Chef Hara offers cookery classes, bespoke private dining, party catering and a range of made-to-order cakes and pâtisserie.

The cafe is very cute, always immaculately clean and the service is good once you can gain the staff members’ attention, as they always seem to be busy helping someone, preparing something, or washing up. Chef Hara has been there himself on each of our visits, and I believe it is always a good sign when the owner is present, especially in such an intimate neighborhood place.

As we guessed from looking at the display from outside, Lanka does indeed specialize in French-style pâtisserie and cakes, many of which have a little twist, often with a Japanese infusion. Since first opening, they have gradually expanded their offering, and now have a small daily menu of savory dishes which are perfect for brunch, lunch or a mid-afternoon snack, as well as having expanded their drink range to include a range of iced tea cocktails (non-alcoholic and alcoholic). They use Monmouth Coffee beans and have an exclusive range of high-end teas (they are apparently the only ones to sell Expolanka Teas in the UK).

It is an inviting, fun and relaxing place to grab a quick bite, whether sweet or savory, and Chef Hara is a perfectionist, which is visible in everything they do. When you eat-in, your chosen slice of sweetness is presented beautifully, with a little dab of syrup or sauce, a side of their rich vanilla ice cream, and a few other tidbits, making for a very pretty plate every time (each sweet is dressed slightly differently, from what I’ve been able to make out). The coffees are made well and their hot chocolate is also good (even the infamous hot chocolate fiend @mathildecuisine gave it the thumbs up!). Their savory offerings are prepared with the same care and lovely presentation, and we really enjoyed our recent brunch there.

I have included some photos and brief descriptions of the different things we’ve had at Lanka over our many visits to give you a better idea of what they serve.

Chocolate Green Tea Gâteau

The green color certainly got our attention and we were curious to taste this interesting looking cake. The texture was very nice although the green tea flavor was fairly muted. The ever-finicky Mrs. LF said that she loves the flavor of green tea and wished it would have been more pronounced in this cake. I agreed with her and thought that while it was nice, it didn’t deliver on the flavor that the color hinted it might have.

Lemon Tart

The classic lemon tart was also very nice and well made, though not earth-shattering. It’s not a lemon tart with a difference, like the little Ottolenghi lemon and mascarpone tarts (probably the best ones I’ve ever had) or the fantastic classic lemon tarts from Clarke’s, but it does the job if that’s what you fancy.

Green Tea Bread & Butter Pudding

This was a Japanese spin on the traditional bread & butter pudding and tasted very good. Having said that, on our most recent visit, Chef Hara had us taste another version of the bread & butter pudding, which had a lovely tartness to it provided by some sultanas and berries, and we both preferred that version – it was really special. It’s this kind of interaction and passion that makes the place worth coming back to – there’s always something different on offer.

Pear Charlotte

The traditional pear charlotte was really excellent and full of the flavor of fresh pears. The consistency was also spot-on, and this one worked particularly well with the side of vanilla ice cream and a dab of acidity from the raspberry sauce.

Paris-Brest

Mrs. LF said that their Paris-Brest was “the real thing,” although the cream itself is traditionally more of a praline-brown color and she prefers hers with slightly more hazelnut flavor. That said, she noted that the homemade puff pastry was very light and excellent. Although it is served with a blob of chocolate on the side (probably simply for decoration), she said she would never deflower her Paris-Brest with an alien ingredient – such a traditionalist, our Mrs LF!

Passion Fruit Bavarois

I really enjoyed this passion fruit dessert and, in fact, preferred it to their lemon tart (which is usually one of my favorite desserts).

Mont-Blanc

On our most recent visit, Mrs. LF sampled the Mont-Blanc, which we had looked at many times in the past but for some reason never ordered. It is a chestnut-based dessert and was fabulous, with the delicate flavor of chestnut being infused well throughout, which is not necessarily easy to achieve as chestnut is not a strong flavor and often doesn’t come through well enough. At its summit was placed a whole chestnut, which is reminiscent marron glacé (a popular confection eaten in France around Christmas time), and there was a second one concealed within. This lent a very nice authenticity to the dessert, which we both really enjoyed.

Rum Baba

The last time I was at Lanka, I sampled their rum baba, which is one of the best I’ve had – even Mrs. LF agreed. Everything was in perfect balance. It was just moist enough, but not too much; the flavor of the rum was noticeable, but not overly so; and the ratio of cream to soft cake was just as it should be. I really enjoyed Chef Hara’s version of this classic dessert, after having been let down many a time in the past with inferior versions in restaurants of all sorts. As Mrs. LF pointed out, even if you don’t particularly like rum baba, it just looks so d*mn good, it’s quite difficult not to want to try some!

Scrambled Eggs, Smoked Salmon, Salad

Mrs. LF really enjoyed her recent brunch. The eggs were nice and creamy and dotted with chopped chives, the smoked salmon had been dressed with capers, and the salad leaves were particularly fresh – something to note given it was a Bank Holiday Monday (when we’ve often had issues with fresh salad leaves in restaurants). As you can see, the portion was also very generous, and it was served with some freshly baked bread on the side.

Cheese Omelette, Baguette, Salad

My cheese omelette was also very nice, presented in a classic style. The homemade baguette was particularly good (especially the crust) and I also enjoyed the little side salad, which had been just coated with dressing and well seasoned.

Macchiato

Double Espresso

Hibiscus Tea

Hot Chocolate

As noted above, the hot chocolate is particularly good, very rich and almost all chocolate with not too much milk. I will direct you to Mathilde Cuisine for any further enquiries, as she is the undisputed master in this arena.

The preparation table

Another thing I like about Lanka is that there is always something baking or being newly prepared, and Chef Hara is constantly experimenting with new flavor combinations. He often lets you sample things he is making to get your feedback, which is a lot of fun.

Even your dog will like it at Lanka :)

Abstaining from the dog biscuits, we instead took home some of their macarons one day & many of the flavors were very nice

Personality goes a long way

Lanka is definitely a great addition to Primrose hill. The word ‘Lanka’ means ‘island’, which I think is fitting in this case as it represents its own little island of cuteness, deliciousness and individuality in this shabby-chic high street. Places like this, which are infused with not only the flavors of the owner’s homeland but also their personality, are a dying breed and I love eateries like Lanka which break the monotony of higher-end chains such as Paul or Patisserie Valerie.

Although you may not feel like trekking all the way across town if you live on the opposite side of London, if you do happen reside in the general vicinity or are ever passing through, definitely stop by this delightful island of loveliness.

PS – Chef Hara has his own blog, which you may want to check out.

*Note: I have been to Lanka four times since it opened, mostly for sweets and coffee, but once for brunch.*

Lanka on Urbanspoon