Bocca di Lupo – A Good, Reasonably Priced Italian in Wolves’ Clothing

Bocca di Lupo
12 Archer Street
London W1D 7BB
Website
Map
Online Reservations

Approximate pricing: small plates from £4-14, large plates from £9-22 & desserts from £5-7

A welcome addition to the London dining scene with a variety of good Italian dishes at reasonable prices – but as my cynical side expected, it certainly didn’t live up to the initial hype that surrounded its launch...on this occasion

A welcome addition to the London dining scene with a variety of good Italian dishes at reasonable prices – but as my cynical side expected, it certainly didn’t live up to the initial hype that surrounded its launch...on this occasion

Last one to the party

Just what everyone needs, another review of Bocca di Lupo, right?

I know other London-based food bloggers have claimed that they were the ‘last serious foodie’ to try this supremely hyped, moderately priced Italian in a small backstreet of Soho, but no, surely this supreme honor must now rest with yours truly (?).

Well, whatever the case, I tried to eat at Bocca di Lupo (BDL) a few times over the past few months, but my plans always seemed to get scuppered by something or other. I finally did take the missus for our first meal here last weekend for a very late lunch. And I must say I am becoming much fonder of long lunches than drawn-out dinners as you have the rest of the day to digest the food and the experience.

We didn’t eat too much that morning in order to be nice and hungry for our 2.30pm reservation. As we arrived, the restaurant’s facade was basking in the afternoon sunlight (see below) in what is a fairly nondescript little street that juxtaposes some of Soho’s more, shall we say, ‘juicier’ institutions. It turned out we didn’t need a reservation after all. Upon arriving, the gorgeous long marble bar was pretty much deserted and the square formal dining area in the back was two-thirds full at best. A waiter found us standing near the doorway after a minute and took us to the back, where our table awaited.

Bocca di Lupo - Facade Bocca di Lupo - Chandelier Bocca di Lupo - Interior
Transforming a rather awkward space to a very appealing interior – the grand & contemporary chandelier is particularly lovely

I rather like the interior design of the restaurant: soft tones on the walls and ceilings; wooden tables with not cloths and matchy brown chairs and benches; nice down-lighting; and a striking, enormous circular chandelier. It is sort of like a bowling alley, but a very well appointed one at that, letting you know at once that it is a casual place, but one that takes itself seriously. The only real niggle I have with the decor are the three large paintings that hang along the wall I was facing for the entire meal. They don’t really seem to mesh with the other elements of the space: while they are paintings of food, they are quite somber, recalling old master paintings. I would have imagined the walls to be covered with classy old viva Italia ads or something a bit more vibrant and present-day. But I am a diner, not a designer, so I will leave that to the experts.

Decisions, decisions, decisions

After being seated, we were given copies of the little paper menus, which are A4 sheets folded in half. As most of the other reviews of BDL have already commented on the menu, I will keep mine minimal. As others have noted, there are more dishes than you’d expect for the small physical size of the menu and it is great and fun that (a) you can have nearly all of the dishes in a ‘small’ or ‘large’ portion and that (b) it provides you with a broad if brief tour of some of Italy’s more interesting culinary regions, with ingredients that are meant to be well sourced.

I do have to say that if there are only two of you dining at BDL, it is quite hard to make your mind up about what to order, because there are so many possibilities. But this of course is pleasant quandary. After about 20 minutes of concentration and a few heated glances, we finally decided. As the meal would mostly be sans red meat, I opted for a glass of the waitresses’ recommended 2008 Terre Di Franciacorta Bianco (a Chardonnay/Pinot Bianco blend from Lombardia at £4.70 per glass). It was perfectly quaffable and not bad value for the price.

Amazingly tasty, buttery green olives

Amazingly tasty, buttery green olives

Before the food began arriving, we were served some bread along with a small bowl of beautiful, large green olives with some smaller brown ones. The green olives were definitely some of the best I have tasted, and had a very buttery and rich taste which provided a nice counterpoint to the inherent acidity. They were so good I have forgotten how the smaller brown ones tasted. The same goes for the bread: the focaccia was quite tasty, being warm and full of rich sweet onions, but I can’t for the life of me remember the other bread!

Fried eel, soft shell crab & red prawn with polenta & orange (small)

Fried eel, soft shell crab & red prawn with polenta & orange (small)

Our first dishes arrived a little while later. We started in Campania, according to the menu. I ordered this dish because it sounded like a combination I hadn’t tried before. And I think that is part of the fun of BDL – you can try a lot and if you don’t particularly like something, it won’t be a £30+ mistake you’ll regret for a long time. Sort of like more substantial Italian tapas.

Of the fried elements, I preferred the eel, which was meaty and moist, and the brittle, bittersweet orange. The soft shelled crab was not that crispy on the outside and neither here nor there on the inside, while the shrimp was quite dry and not particularly flavorful. The bed of polenta bed was however very nice and the sharp notes of orange integrated very well with it. A fun dish but a bit of a mixed bag. 6/10.

Veal & pork agnolotti with butter & sage (small)

Veal & pork agnolotti with butter & sage (small)

I liked my plate of pasta better. The butter and sage sauce was rich and toothsome, and the pork and veal were a good combination inside the agnolotti. It was real comfort food, and a plate I would have normally eaten way too quickly, except for one thing. The pasta itself, while it seemed to be made on site, was a bit too thick and hadn’t been cooked through properly around the thicker edges. Therefore, the hard texture and taste of slightly undercooked pasta slowed me down. Don’t get me wrong, I love pasta done al dente, but it just wasn’t right this time, which is a shame as everything else worked. 6.5/10.

Potato gnocchi with sausage ragù (small)

Potato gnocchi with sausage ragù (small)

Luckily, Mrs. LF’s gnocchi were light and fluffy, and we both liked the texture. The sausage itself had a wonderful deep flavor, and all together the sauce was the closest thing Mrs. LF has had to homemade Italian food she was accustomed to eating in Southern Italy when she used to travel there frequently and ate at many a nonna’s table. The problem here was that all of this loveliness was floating in a sea of oil. No exaggeration, the sauce was way too oily and just off-putting. We fished all the bits of sausage and gnocchi out, but left the ocean of oil to be washed away in the kitchen sinks. Also, the chosen variety of grated cheese was very salty, which on top of the already well seasoned sausage made the whole thing too salty. 6/10 (but probably an 8/10 if it wasn’t for the oil…really gross).

Grilled quail with tomato panzanella (small)

Grilled quail with tomato panzanella (small)

For some reason I really fancied quail. And it was pretty good. The bird was very tender and slightly pink inside, with a nice crispy skin. I liked the sweetness and softness of the tomato-soaked bread as a partner with the quail in my mouth too. A simple and well executed little plate of food. I guess the large portion contains two whole quails (?), but I thought this was substantial enough and pretty good value at £8. 6.5/10.

Chilled spinach with lemon & oil (side)

Chilled spinach with lemon & oil (side)

The side of spinach was fine. Very fresh greens with not that much too them, which is what we wanted to balance some of the richer dishes we had ordered. It did seem quite tannic though, as it left a distinct coating in the mouth. 6/10.

Burnt almond granita with bitter chocolate sorbet

Burnt almond granita with bitter chocolate sorbet

After debating between this dessert and the Cassata Siciliana (ricotta, orange and chocolate layered with sponge cake & marzipan), I got excited when I saw four of the bitter chocolate sorbets being served to another table. I am a sucker for big ice cream desserts (remember, I am American), and this really tempted me to the dark side. I asked the waitress if it was preferable, and she said it was really nice, so the deed was done.

Oh, fate is sometimes cruel. It turned out to be an utter disappointment. I don’t know how to put it any more elegantly, but the sorbet just didn’t taste nice. It had none of the bitter chocolate flavor I had wanted, and just kind of didn’t taste like anything. It certainly didn’t taste homemade, and if it was, that was certainly not a good thing in this case. The almond ‘granita’ was just a soft and fluffy amaretto tasting affair, and was too sweet for me. I had expected it to be sort of icy, but no luck…and I certainly didn’t detect any ‘burnt’ almond, just sweetness. We were both disappointed to leave on such a low note, and I guess I ordered an espresso just to have another taste in my mouth before heading out (it was perfectly fine, by the way). 3/10.

It could have been worse...

It could have been worse...

Not the next big thing, but not bad

I had tempered my expectations before dining at BDL, but I still felt sort of let down. Perhaps this was because so many respected food journalists had opined with such flattery about its merits and virtues. Or perhaps it is because we just didn’t order right. I do hate the notion of not ordering the ‘right’ thing, though, as restaurants just shouldn’t put ‘wrong’ dishes on the menu. But I don’t think it was this either. I think it was just the feeling that, with a few minor adjustments, the food could have been so much better. So maybe it was just an off service in the kitchen, who knows. That said, what is clear is that BDL certainly serves up decent Italian food at reasonable prices (for central London) in a very appealing and comfortable dining space. And the menu is good fun too.

The staff were all very pleasant, but we did find ourselves waiting around for long periods of time for someone to notice that we wanted or needed their attention. These often long gaps were all the more strange given that the restaurant wasn’t even half full for most of the time we were there. Maybe they just lost focus as it was the end of the lunchtime service, but I can’t imagine them being so lax in the middle of a completely packed out restaurant.

Despite all of these niggles, I still did like BDL and would return, but certainly won’t expect the world. For me, BDL is just a good, casual Italian restaurant serving reasonably priced food in a fun atmosphere – not the ‘wolf’ the press has made it out to be, devouring all other Italian establishments in the city of smoke.

As a final note, I find it amusing that they added ‘Two Spoons’ to our bill for the shared dessert – luckily the cost was £0.00. 🙂

Rating

Ambience: 8/10

Service: 6/10

Food: 6/10

Wine List: 6/10

Wine Selected: 6/10

For more about my rating scale, click here.

*Note: I have only dined at Bocca di Lupo once.*

Bocca di Lupo on Urbanspoon

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Le Caprice – The Perfect Pre-Theatre

Le Caprice
Arlington House
Arlington Street
London SW1A 1RJ
Website
Map
Online Reservations

Pre & Post Theatre Menu at £15.75 (2 courses) or £19.75 (3 courses); À la carte starters from £6-16, mains from £14-29, desserts from £6-8

For me, there is nothing to dislike about Le Caprice. The food is classic and well executed, the dining room is pleasantly monochrome and art deco, and the service is professional and friendly. The pre & post-theatre menus also provide tremendous value for money.

For me, there is nothing to dislike about Le Caprice. The food is classic and well executed, the dining room is pleasantly monochrome and art deco, and the service is professional and friendly. The pre & post-theatre menus also provide tremendous value for money.

Preceding a Phantom

I had planned a little surprise for the missus a few months ago. She had never seen a certain West End musical fixture and hinted that she would indeed like to see it someday. So I booked some tickets and then had to decide where we could have a quick but nice meal beforehand. After a few minutes, the answer was staring me straight in the face. There was only one choice.

You see, last year a business partner had taken me out for lunch to Le Caprice, which was only a few seconds away from my old office. It was the first time I had been to the restaurant (or any of the establishments within the Caprice Holdings portfolio, which include such stalwarts as The Ivy, J Sheekey and Rivington Grill), and I was quite impressed. The menu had been very simple, but the food had been exceedingly fresh, well prepared and had left a very favorable impression in my taste buds’ memories (how long do taste buds live anyway?). I particularly remembered that the fish had been excellent. So I booked a table online and forgot about the whole thing, until a few Fridays ago, when the evening had arrived.

Having opened its doors in January 1946, Le Caprice has been a London institution for a long time now, and has always enjoyed a consistently good reputation. It was originally one of the few really good restaurants in the capital, serving many celebrities and stars, and has managed to continue pulling its weight over the decades by most accounts. The talented Mark Hix became head chef around 20 years ago, before going onto run the kitchens of all of Caprice Holdings’ restaurants – a position he left in December 2007 in order to follow his own ambitions (see his new group’s website here). Given all of this history, and the fact that I had a very good meal there last year, I was really looking forward to revisiting Le Caprice and hopefully giving Mrs. LF a very pleasant surprise.

We’re not senior citizens, we just don’t want to feel rushed.

Our reservation was for 5.30pm. I know, I know. Quite early, but I hate feeling rushed during a pre-theatre meal, and wanted it to be a nice, leisurely affair. We were not surprisingly the first people to arrive, so we didn’t have the fanfare of the bowler hat man opening the door for us (he actually walked in right behind us), and the empty restaurant was certainly not the lively scene I remembered from my previous meal at the bar counter (which serves the full menu and is a great option to try if you haven’t booked).

We were seated at a nice table against the wall, from where we could survey the silent and pristine monochrome glory of the dining space. The restaurant is arranged in an L-shape and has a very classic and slightly art deco decor: black chairs with wicker backings, crisp white linen and black & white photos of the famous and infamous which are full of character. (I do have mention that there are some very odd looking fake lily-esque flowers hanging from the ceiling at both ends of the bar, which is the only thing that seems slightly off). Overall it is a very pleasant space, but it was understandably a bit dead with just the two of us there with the waiting staff! Speaking of the staff, they were all dressed immaculately in black in white, and at first impression they came across as being, warm, friendly and professional.

All the time in the world

After being seated, we were presented with a basket of bread accompanied by a small plate of butter. The bread had just come out of the oven, and we were given a few white and brown pieces of a rather thick baguette. The white bread was very crusty and was outstanding. We were so impressed that we asked our waitress if they make it on the premises. She explained that all of the dough for Caprice Holdings is made centrally, and then it is transported to each restaurant where it is baked fresh for each service. The brown was also nice, but it was the white that really stood out.

We perused both the à la carte and pre-theatre menus and the former seemed very promising, with three choices for starters and mains (one vegetarian option in each) and the option of two desserts or cheese afterwards. The price also seemed very reasonable, so we took the bait.

Eventually, we decided on a half bottle of Pouilly-Fumé (a 2007 ‘La Charnoie’, Domaine Patrick Coulbois at £24) to go along with the meal as we were both having the fish main course. As the waitress was waiting for me to give her the okay on the wine, I remarked to Mrs. LF that it had one of the hallmarks of a Pouilly-Fumé on the nose – it smelled slightly of cat piss. The waitress heard me too, and seemed a bit shocked and slightly concerned for us at this revelation. But we explained that this was a completely normal thing to smell and that there was nothing wrong with the bottle. It was very cute at how concerned she was, though :).

Not too long thereafter, the first courses arrived, which was good as we were both hungry.

Mixed endive, shaved fennel & pear salad

Mixed endive, shaved fennel & pear salad

Mrs. LF wanted something light to start with and, as such, opted for the salad. While she said that it contained nice fresh endive and fennel, she pointed out that there was not enough pear, which threw off the balance between bitter and sweet. She also said that the dressing just didn’t stand out for her, and I quote: “It missed that kick that you need from the dressing, which is the only thing that can make a simple salad like this really stand out in your memory.” 5/10.

Baked Lincolnshire onion tart with poached Burford Brown egg

Baked Lincolnshire onion tart with poached Burford Brown egg

On the other hand, I could see my baked onion tart was going to be a winner from the moment it was brought out. It had a thin, flaky, buttery pastry base (very much like a good croissant) which had been well cooked through – this is usually the main stumbling block of the savory tarts I am accustomed to seeing in the UK. The onions contained within the tart were rich and sweet, and when the poached egg was split open it revealed a lovely dense, deep yellow yolk which seeped into the onions and made the dish a very pleasurable and satisfying one. It was a rich and indulgent start to the meal, and I was surprised at how large the portion was, given that we were having the pre-theatre menu (not a bad thing!). 7/10.

Fillet of plaice with spiced arrocina beans

Fillet of plaice with spiced arrocina beans

This was a very good plate of food indeed. The plaice fillets were quite substantial, which we were again pleasantly surprised by, given the half or two-thirds portions you often get with appended menus. The fish had been lightly dusted in flower and cooked in probably quite a bit of butter, which resulted in a very rich and luscious flavor. They say that plaice is the ‘sole of the poor’ and while it was not sole, it was certainly a very fresh fish that came pretty close to providing the same delicacy as a well executed sole dish. The beans worked brilliantly not only as an accompaniment, but also as a sauce. Mrs. LF commented that it was “…like a really good homemade dish, the kind of dish I would love to have the recipe for, as you could make it at home. It was very Mediterranean and very nice.” The only issue we both had with the dish was that it was slightly too salty and made us quite thirsty. 7/10.

As we still had quite a bit of time to spare, we conceived a clever plan for the last course: we made it into 2 courses! In other words, we decided we would split a cheese plate first, and then split a dessert. By this time, there were quite a few more tables present and seated, and the piano player had arrived, so things were into a fuller swing.

Barkham Blue with damson jam

Barkham Blue with damson jam

The cheese arrived and we divvied up the rations. It was an excellent rich English blue cheese that had a very smooth and buttery texture. The biscuits, which seemed to be homemade (I forgot to ask), were good, but the damson preserve was what I remember best. It had a very thick consistency and its purple sweetness was a perfect pairing with the sharpness of the blue cheese. The portion was perfectly sufficient for two people sharing, which again demonstrated the streak of generosity from the previous courses. 8/10.

Honeycomb ice cream with hot fudge sauce

Honeycomb ice cream with hot fudge sauce

The dessert was also rather large, which suited me just fine. It was three scoops of vanilla ice cream, with a good measure of honeycomb ‘crisps’ stuck into the ice cream. It came with a side sauce of hot fudge, which was made from a good quality dark chocolate. Like the meal so far (sans salad), it was simple but very good. The honeycomb was really crispy and made a good spoon for the ice cream and hot fudge. 7/10.

We had also decided to share a glass of sweet wine and, on the recommendation of the head waiter, we were served a 2007 Essensia Orange Muscat from the Andrew Quady Winery (not so cheap at £8.25/glass). It was a very memorable muscat, with lovely Seville orange on the palate and a nice slightly sticky texture in the mouth. I am a sucker for a good dessert wine and could have had another, but that would have been too greedy for a Friday night – and we had a haunted opera to visit.

Many happy returns

This is a phrase more common to British than American English, and something I didn’t quite get in the first few years I saw it on my office birthday cards when I first arrived on this side of the pond. But it is particularly apt on this occasion as Le Caprice is someplace I will definitely return to in the future, and cannot imagine my time there being anything but happy.

Le Caprice is a classy place that hasn’t lost its little ‘je ne sais quoi’, despite recent changes to the kitchen and the fact that it is a bit of a dinosaur in the London dining scene. I like the simple design, the classic cuisine, the precise kitchen, the warmness and professionalism of the staff and the fact that you can eat comfortably at the pleasant bar counter.

It is often little touches that make the biggest difference, and the doorman with bowler hat, the piano man who has no written music and chats to regular customers while playing, and the polished front-of-house act help to make Le Caprice a restaurant at which I hope to have many happy returns with my friends and family…or just alone for a cheeky long lunch at the bar.

Rating

Ambience: 7/10

Service: 8/10

Food: 7/10

Wine List: 6.5/10

Wine Selected: 6/10 (loved the muscat but the Pouilly-Fumé didn’t do it for me)

For more about my rating scale, click here.

*Note: I have dined at Le Caprice twice, once for lunch and once for dinner.*

Le Caprice on Urbanspoon

L’Espérance – A Star is Reborn Along the River

L’Espérance
52, rue Abbé Alix
14 200 Hérouville-Saint-Clair
France
Reservations: +33 (0)2 31 44 97 10
Website
Map

Entrées around €10-15, Mains around €20, Set menu at €34 (3-courses + amuse bouche) or €40 (same menu + cheese, 1 glass of wine & 1 coffee)

A lovely location with a high standard of food at very affordable prices

A lovely location with a high standard of food at very affordable prices

A weekend in Normandy

After hosting my wife’s nephew for a week in London, it was time to return him to his parents in Normandy. We decided to take the ferry from Portsmouth to Caen as this is the most direct route to their home, and left on the mid-afternoon boat two Fridays ago.

On the Saturday night, Mrs. LF’s brother and his wife had invited us out to a meal nearby their home in the suburbs of Caen. We were very much looking forward to the meal as the chef, Pascal Angenard, is well known to my wife and her family. Mrs. LF used to look after his daughter when she was younger and has very fond memories of hanging out in Pascal’s former restaurant in Deauville, which was called Le Spinnaker and carried a Michelin star for many years, as she got to eat many of the leftovers from the kitchen.

Pascal has recently opened up a new restaurant called L’Esperance which is situated on the inlet that connects the port of Ouistreham (where the cross-channel ferries dock) to the interior of Caen.

A view of the restaurant from the riverside

A view of the restaurant from the riverside

The restaurant was formerly a hotel and Pascal and his partner Claudine have completely renovated the building inside and out to create a very pleasant and modern space. They live on the large top floor of the building and the restaurant is situated on the raised ground floor with great views of the water. There are also plans to build a terrace and create an outdoor dining area.

The newly decorated interior

The newly decorated interior

The restaurant is quite sizeable, bright and has an attractive bar to your right upon entering. A nice feature is that the upstairs kitchen is visible to diners through a large glass window. As we peered into the kitchen, Pascal saw us and came out to greet us. Apparently he rarely if ever does this as he is quite a reserved man and a perfectionist in the kitchen. Everyone was introduced and he explained that the part of the kitchen we could see was only where the dishes get ‘finished’ and that the main kitchen was on the lower floor.

Our table – ‘quietude’

Our table – ‘quietude’

Menus, menus – but just choose what you like

We were soon seated at our table and began looking through the menus. There is an à la carte menu which does not change much and also two set menus (‘Le Menu du Canal’ or ‘Le Plats Canaille’) both of which have three choices each for the starter, main and dessert but are priced slightly differently. In addition, Claudine told us about the daily specials, a few of which sounded particularly appetizing. My brother in-law said that we should just order what we wanted regardless of what menu it happened to be on and they would sort it out later. He also explained that in most restaurants in France (unless they are very high-end), you usually can’t do this because restaurateurs tend to want to stick strictly to their already prepared menus, but that since we knew them it would be okay. That sounded like a good plan :).

Puffy canapés

Puffy canapés

The canapés of salmon mousse and pepperoni were both nice and the little puff pastry well cooked and light. To me, they were like very good quality homemade canapés you would have at someone’s house in France before dinner to go with your mandatory glass(es) of champagne.

Amuse Bouche: cauliflower velouté

Amuse Bouche: cauliflower velouté

This was chilled, rather thick and infused with the flavor of cauliflower. I am not the biggest lover of cauliflower in the world (wouldn’t eat it up until 4-5 years ago), but it was well seasoned, flavorful and made a good first impression. 5/10.

Crab salad on a sable biscuit

Starter: Crab salad on a sable biscuit

I loved this starter, which I found to be quite original. The fresh crab meat was delightfully sweet, and had been mixed with ripe tomatoes. On its own it would have just been some good crab with a little dressing, but the foundation of the dish was a homemade sable biscuit, which gave it a solid structure and held everything together. The biscuit was slightly sweet and blended surprisingly well with the delicate flavors of the sea. This was a simple yet original dish that was well conceived and well executed. 7/10.

Starter 2: Four-spice duck foie gras with red onion chutney and toasted ficelle

Starter: Four-spice duck foie gras with red onion chutney and toasted ficelle

Mrs. LF explained to me that Pascal has always made his own foie gras, which is a nice thing to see, especially in this day and age. This particular version was the special of the day and came served with red onion chutney on the side, along with two thin, toasted slices of bread (the best type of toast for foie gras – oftentimes it is way too thick). It looked like it had been de-veined and was truly excellent. 8/10.

We had ordered a Chablis 1er Cru upon sitting down, which obviously went much better with my first course of crab then the foie gras. It was a nice example, being close to bone dry and with a nice mineral core. It had good fruit on the palate and quite a bit of length on the finish. Nothing out of the ordinary, but solid Chablis. 6.5/10.

Main: Sole Normande with chanterelle mushrooms & potato

Main: Sole Normande with chanterelle mushrooms & potato

The sole was another accomplished dish. Again, nothing fancy, just a perfectly cooked fish (look at how well browned it was on the outside), with a rich cream sauce – what else do you expect in Normandy?! – that had a bit of bite to it. 7.5/10.

Sea bass fillet, fresh salmon stuffing, with savory puff pastry, seasonal vegetables & a tangy sauce

Sea bass fillet, fresh salmon stuffing, with savory puff pastry, seasonal vegetables & a tangy sauce

My mother in-law had the bar (which I understand to translate as either sea bass or grouper – it looked like sea bass to me) and said it was excellent. I noticed it had what appeared to be another sable biscuit, although Mrs. LF informed me that it was a ‘feuillete’ (or savory ‘puff pastry’ in English), and wondered whether it was as successful in this dish as the pastry element had been in mine. As my mother in-law is even more, shall we say ‘direct’, than my wife is, we would have known very quickly if something had been amiss.

To go with the main courses (which were mainly fish dishes), we had ordered a bottle of Sancerre Rouge, which I had never had before. It was served slightly chilled, much like young Beaujolais, but tasted more like a Pinot Noir and was really nice. It had soft notes of red fruit and a refreshing acidity which performed a good balancing act. It was a great, light red wine to accompany the seafood flavors. 7.5/10.

Apricot tart with frangipane

Dessert: Apricot tart with frangipane

Most of the table opted for one of the special desserts of the day, which I believe was an apricot tart of some kind with frangipane. Pascal’s father was a pâtissier, and that helped to explain the high quality of the pastry in this dessert, as well as that present in some of the other dishes we’d had. It was well cooked with just the right texture and thickness. It wasn’t what Mrs. LF had been expecting (she had thought it was a dessert she had fond memories of from Le Spinnaker), but she liked it nonetheless. 6/10.

Dessert: Crispy biscuit, roast apple in a toffee cream, ginger bread ice cream

Dessert: Crispy biscuit, roast apple in a toffee cream, ginger bread ice cream

I was the rebel of the bunch and opted for the caramel apple dessert which was on the menu (how can that combination ever be bad?!). The apples certainly tasted much better than they looked on the plate. They had retained their shape but very were soft and full of toffee flavor. The gingerbread ice cream cut through this Halloween sweetness and the little crispy chip had a nice burnt, bittersweet caramel taste to it, with little accents of pistachio. A satisfying finish to the meal. 7/10.

Petit fours of soft chocolate mousse

Petit fours of soft chocolate mousse

A strong glass of calvados later

After the meal, we were one of the last tables left, and Pascal and Claudine came over to our table to say hello. They offered us a glass of whatever champagne or spirit we wanted on the house, so I figured I’d opt for the local speciality they had first offered, calvados. Now, I fully admit that I am a bit of an amateur and lightweight when it comes to full-on spirits, but I can confidently say this was one strong glass of calvados…I sipped it very slowly for a period of half an hour or so.

Although I couldn’t understand most of what was being said (can you believe I haven’t learned French even though I’m married to a French woman – shame on me!), I did pick up some of it, and got some translation here and there. Pascal seems like a shy but extremely sweet man, and we did manage to communicate regarding the world of restaurants and cooking, to some degree. I was fascinated to learn that his favourite chef is currently Jamie Oliver – he has seen all of his programs (even the school dinner ones) and is a real fan of his approach to food and of what he is trying to do through all of his various projects. I didn’t know they showed his programs with translations in France. He also said that, in his opinion, the UK (London particularly) was currently the center of world gastronomy. He feels there are so many talented chefs in the capital city right now that it is probably one of the most exciting dining cities to be in food-wise. In some ways I agreed, and said we’d be happy to host him and Claudine anytime they wanted to visit. So hopefully I can update you on that if such a visit ever transpires.

After this relaxing chat, we piled back into my brother in-laws car, and slowly zig-zagged our way back to their house down the deserted country back roads. A lovely evening, and I was ready for bed.

The nitty gritty

The food had been very good overall: simple but confidently and precisely cooked. Keeping in mind that it is located in a small town outside of Caen, and that its patrons are not the same as you would find in Paris or even Deauville, it is a high standard of food for the area which I think represents very good value for money (at €34 for the 3-course menu). Pascal had been a consistent 1 Star Michelin chef at his previous restaurant, and you definitely see flares of his skill and attention to detail in some of the dishes. The restaurant was full and had a nice but quiet buzz to it. The service was okay, although there were only a couple of waiters handling the whole restaurant, which meant we sometimes poured our own wine, but it was no big deal. If you ever happen to be in the area, it would definitely be a nice place to have a lazy lunch or a leisurely summer evening meal.

Rating

Ambience: 7/10

Service: 6/10

Food: 7/10

Wine List: 6/10 (not a long list, but well selected producers)

Wine Selected: 7/10 (the Sancerre Rouge was new for me and fit the bill)

For more about my rating scale, click here.

*Note: I have only dined at L’Espérance once, though Mrs. LF has dined there twice and knows the chef.*

York & Albany: Great Food, Fantastic Value – Long Live the Empire

York & Albany
127-129 Parkway
London NW1 7PS
Website
Map
Online Reservations

Starters from £7-9, Mains from £15-24, Desserts £6

Sumptuous surroundings, excellent service and simple yet elegant food with precise flavors and solid execution. The York & Albany is a good all-rounder and makes a great venue for sipping some excellent cocktails and/or having a flavorful and well-prepared meal.

Sumptuous surroundings, excellent service and simple yet elegant food with precise flavors and solid execution. The York & Albany is a good all-rounder and makes a great venue for sipping some excellent cocktails and/or having a flavorful and well-prepared meal

In town with the in-laws

My wife’s brother and his 11-year old son visited us two weekends ago. We wanted to take them out for a nice dinner on Saturday night and, as he runs a bar in France and loves English pubs, Mrs. LF said we should try to go for something pubby. Well, I wanted to make sure the food was good too, besides having a pub-like atmosphere, so came up with the idea of the Ramsay Empire (RE) joint venture with prodigal daughter Angela Hartnett: the York & Albany (Y&A), on the Northeast corner of Regent’s park, on the way up to Camden Town. I had never been there before, but had driven by a number of times since it opened its doors. I am a fan of Mrs. Hartnett, and have enjoyed her menu (if not her own personal cooking) at her Cielo restaurant in Boca Raton, Florida, where the food was as spectacular as the views of the ocean. I did my homework on Y&A too, where Head Chef is Colin Buchan (though Mrs. Hartnett is sometimes present), and couldn’t find a bad review from the professionals, so thought it would be a good bet.

Not really a pub after all

We had been walking for much of the rare sunny afternoon – along the Grand Union Canal and then around Primrose Hill – so had worked up an appetite by the time we reached our evening destination. We had a table reserved for 7.30pm, but turned up a bit early to have some drinks beforehand in the bar. I noticed as we walked up to the venue they had finally gotten an awning fitted, a nice purple one upon which the name of the place was clearly branded. This must have happened quite recently, because I’ve driven by countless times and always wondered why they didn’t have the name somewhere! Weird to have an un-branded RE venue indeed.

A dramatic approach, non?

A dramatic approach, non?

Upstairs: interesting combinations

Upon entering, I was a bit surprised as it definitely felt like we had walked into a fairly posh bar, not a pub. This wasn’t a bad thing though, and the design was actually quite pleasant, with some of the more interesting historical features retained and restored. The building itself was apparently originally a coaching inn designed by John Nash in the 1820’s. In keeping (no pun intended) with this history, there are 10 sleeping rooms on the upper floors, which look very nice and well appointed from their online photos. The bar had some very ‘hotel bar’ music playing, so it did sort of feel like you were in the bar of a 4-star boutique hotel that had been around for a while – not what I had expected, but not at all unpleasant. There is also “Nonna’s Deli” (occupying the space where apparently the stables used to be), which you can enter through either an outside door or through a door at one end of the bar, and is home to some of Mrs. Hartnett’s favorite foodstuffs – it all looked pretty good. The in-laws purchased some of “Nonna’s” homemade preserves. So, a bar-cum-hotel-cum-deli-cum…restaurant! Yes, that’s what we were really there for, the food!

The soft & mellow tones of the bar area

The soft & mellow tones of the bar area

But we were waiting for a fifth guest, our long-time friend, who we shall call “Mr. S”…and we needed to have a drink. After perusing the very nice cocktail list, the missus’ brother order a Pimms No. 1, I ordered the signature cocktail out of pure fascination (since it mixed champagne with vodka, which my brother in-law said was a cardinal faux-pas), while the missus and her nephew made do with fruit juices and such.

Champagne & Vodka – didn’t think the two would match, but it was surprisingly good & refreshing

Champagne & Vodka – didn’t think the two would match, but it was surprisingly good & refreshing

Well, let me tell you, the cocktails were excellent. The Pimms No. 1 was a master class in how to make this drink, which usually fails to inspire me when I go to peoples’ houses for outdoor parties, etc. My brother in-law, who is the former national cocktail-making champion of France (yes, for the WHOLE country), said it was done perfectly. And mine was tasted great too – sour citrus, fizz and a little clean hit of vodka: a surprising combination which was surprisingly good. The service at the bar was also excellent. They even proactively made sure that the restaurant was aware that we were there and coordinated everything for us.

Downstairs: simply red

Mr. S arrived fashionably late just as we were making our way to our table, fancy that. The upstairs section of the dining room was rather dimly lit and slightly brooding, though very full. I was a bit surprised as the hostess led us down the stairs because I hadn’t realized there was a proper downstairs, and had figured that was where the bathrooms were located. But more discoveries lurked down below.

First, it turned out that our round table for six afforded a perfect view of the kitchen window – so we had scored a Chef’s Table for free.

Chef’s Table, gratis

Chef’s Table, gratis

Second, it was like we had walked into a sumptuous red boudoir of some kind! And I am not joking. The walls were covered in a soft red fabric, the tables were red, the chairs were red, and so and so forth. A bit strange, but I began to make myself comfortable after the initial shock.

Only the lights aren’t red

Only the lights aren’t red

We were shortly thereafter welcomed by our waiter for the evening, who was the perfect Italian host: pleasant, professional and passionate. It also turned out that he would also double as our sommelier, so as I was under strict instructions not to order anything French, I eventually came to decide upon one of the Italian options (I don’t think my brother in-law wanted to stray too far from his home country after all :)). It was a 2005 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Poliziano (Tuscany, Italy) at £55/bottle and it was a good example, displaying deep and ripe red fruit, with a bit of leather and tobacco mixed in, plus a hint of spice. The tannins were a little strong at first but softened a bit after resting in the glass and bottle. A nice choice.

After a few sips of the wine, our orders were taken, and one of the dishes sounded so good that both Mrs. LF and I ordered it – a rare happening indeed (see Starter 1 below). Overall, the menu was rather abbreviated and offered fairly simply prepared dishes with very promising ingredients and flavor combinations…with a subtle but definite bent towards Italy.

Starter 1: Ravioli of braised rabbit leg, peas, wild mushroom and marjoram emulsion

Starter 1: Ravioli of braised rabbit leg, peas, wild mushroom and marjoram emulsion

My starter of rabbit ravioli was good…real good. The flavors were dense, precise, individual and all worked in concert to create a very more-ish dish. The pasta was perfectly made and the sauce was rich but with just a hint of tartness to keep it from being too full-on. Mrs. LF liked it just as much as I did. You can tell that the ingredients had been well sourced and brought to their full potential It got a 7/10 from both of us.

Starter 2: Ballottine of poached Scottish salmon, pickled mooli, watercress, spring vegetables, deep-fried quail’s egg

Starter 2: Ballottine of poached Scottish salmon, pickled mooli, watercress, spring vegetables, deep-fried quail’s egg

My brother in-law had the salmon ballottine, which he said was excellent, no complaints whatsoever. As he has a pretty discerning palate (also being a humble yet rather good chef), I took his word for it, but did get one fork-full and agreed. Not really my ideal type of starter, but it was a good piece of salmon and the dish had been executed to a high standard. I will refrain from giving it a score though, as I only had one bite.

By this point, I had began to notice that the salmon, and indeed all of the other dishes, had been served on the signature Gordon Ramsay Royal Doulton collection. After eating at so many RE establishments in the past little while (maze in New York and Claridge’s most recently), it was becoming a familiar site. But this wasn’t a negative at all, because the food at all of the RE establishments hadn’t let me down yet as of yet, which is saying something.

Starter 3: Smoked, peppered fillet of mackerel, Jersey royal potato salad, broad beans, truffle mayonnaise

Starter 3: Smoked, peppered fillet of mackerel, Jersey royal potato salad, broad beans, truffle mayonnaise

Mr. S had the mackerel salad and was not too forthcoming with a portion to taste. He said it was excellent and scoffed it down in about 1 minute flat. So no score, but again, high praise for the simple but defined and well combined flavors.

Main 1: Roasted Devon plaice with sweetcorn and girolle risotto, buttered runner beans

Main 1: Roasted Devon plaice with sweetcorn and girolle risotto, buttered runner beans

I really enjoyed my plaice main course. The fish was cooked very well and tasted nice and fresh. The risotto was perfectly al dente and creamy. The beans added a nice crunch to the other rather soft textures and the richness of the mushrooms rounded out each bite. No rocket science here, but good distinct flavors that worked well together. 7/10.

Main 2: Fillet of sea bream with gnocchi, warm crab and broccoli salad, shellfish butter

Main 2: Fillet of sea bream with gnocchi, warm crab and broccoli salad, shellfish butter

Mrs. LF’s brother had the sea bream, which he was very impressed with, saying that it had been cooked exactly right, and that it all worked together brilliantly. No taste for me, so no score.

Main 3: Cod tagine with spiced chick peas, carrot and coriander

Main 3: Cod tagine with spiced chick peas, carrot and coriander

Mrs. LF and Mr. S (getting confused yet?) both had the tagine. She said, and I quote: “It was really well seasoned and very flavorsome. Oftentimes these type of stew-ey dishes tend to be overcooked, lacking taste and seem to be a pointless mish-mash of things, but in this instance, all of the flavors were clear, and the spices used to make the tagine came together to make it a very hearty dish that was not at all boring and tasteless. The cod wasn’t too fishy, and was a well selected mild and firm companion to the stew. This definitely wasn’t a tagine you’d get in a cheap Moroccan restaurant in London, it was a tagine with a difference.” She gave it an 8/10.

Dessert 1: Millefeuille of pistachio and chocolate with glazed cherries, sesame tuile

Dessert 1: Millefeuille of pistachio and chocolate with glazed cherries, sesame tuile

Well, we are all wholeheartedly impressed with the presentation of this dish – it was absolutely beautiful. My brother in-law had one and Mrs. LF and her nephew also shared one. Unfortunately, while it tasted absolutely fine, it was not as mind blowing as its appearance led us to believe. Mrs. LF was more let down than me because she loves millefeuilles, and for her this really wasn’t one, as the only reason it could be given that title was because of the pastry which sandwiched the chocolate mousse on the top and bottom. When she thinks of millefeuille, she thinks crème patissiere, and this chocolate mousse was a let-down, being far from the real deal. If it had tasted amazing in its own right, she was very prepared to let it go, as it looked so pretty, but there are very few things that can escape the watchful eyes and discerning palate of my lovely French wife. After all that, her brother did seem to rather like it though :). All things considered, 5/10.

Dessert 2: Yoghurt parfait, melon salad, peach foam

Dessert 2: Yoghurt parfait, melon salad, peach foam

Mr. S continued his normal approach to dining out, and consumed his dessert in about the same time as his main course, with not a crumb reaching another soul’s mouth. Fair enough, I suppose, but not if he were a member of my family. He said it was a very refreshing dessert and liked it very much. But rules are rules: no taste, no score!

Dessert 3: Basil pannacotta with warm English strawberries, aged balsamic

Dessert 3: Basil pannacotta with warm English strawberries, aged balsamic

I ended the meal with a very pleasant and tasty basil pannacotta. Also a refreshing dessert, with the sweetness of the fresh fruit (and it actually was sweet, even the strawberries for once!) offsetting the creamy and subtly herbaceous cream. The perfect light finale to a very satisfying meal. (Note: the pannacotta was much greener than it looks in this picture do the flash going off).  7/10.

What can I say, Messrs. Ramsay & Buchan and Mme. Hartnett?

Indeed, what can I say? Another good performance from a slick RE operation. Good food, nice surroundings and very pleasant and professional service all around. Plus a free view of the goings on in the kitchen and plenty a helping of dark red allure.

My brother in-law was very impressed with everything, and summed it up best by saying (and I loosely quote and translate from memory): “I could not fault the service, which was much better than we typically get in France. And the food was so close to fine dining, and so well executed, that for the prices they were charging it was extremely good value for the money.”

I agree, and would recommend the York & Albany if you want a good semi-casual place to hang out with friends or your partner for a few cocktails, wines by the glass and/or some good, simple, well prepared flavorful food.

Rating

Ambience: 7/10

Service: 9/10

Food: 7/10

Wine List: 7/10 (not a lot of depth, but good selections and a rather low average price/bottle)

Wine Selected: 7/10 (it did a little better than what it said on the tin)

For more about my rating scale, click here.

*Note: I have only dined at York & Albany once.*

York & Albany on Urbanspoon

maze at the London NYC – Another Good Show

maze at the London NYC
151 West 54th Street
(between 5th & 7th Aves.)
New York, NY 10019
Website
Map
Online Reservations

À la carte small plates from $13-20, market specials (i.e. mains) from $20-32, desserts from $9-11; or five-course chef’s tasting menu at $70/person

M@TLNYC is a good option for an informal meal in midtown Manhattan; the food is good and it has a nice ambience and buzz about it. With so many interesting dining options in Manhattan, I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat at maze, but if I lived in the city I would definitely go there, and if I worked or lived in the neighborhood, I might visit quite often.

M@TLNYC is a good option for an informal meal in midtown Manhattan; the food is good and it has a nice ambience and buzz about it. With so many interesting dining options in Manhattan, I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat at maze, but if I lived in the city I would definitely go there, and if I worked or lived in the neighborhood, I might visit quite often.

Ramsay over Broadway

On my recent trip to New York (see also Le Bernardin, Ess-a-Bagel and photos), my brother and his girlfriend invited us to the Broadway musical that she was managing. It was a very nice gesture, and we in turn wanted to treat them to a nice pre-theater dinner. After looking through the different restaurants that were within a few blocks of the venue, I eventually decided to book a table at maze at The London NYC. As many of you will know, maze is part of the Ramsay Empire (RE), being the American sister of the restaurant that goes by the same name in London. I have not yet been to the English version, but have always liked the look of the chef’s (Jason Atherton) cooking, which features small plates with bold colors and, at times, small nods to fusion flavors.

maze at the London NYC (heretofore referred to as the only slightly less complicated name of M@TLNYC) has the same small plate approach although, based on the menu when we dined there, it seems to focus on slightly more traditional flavor combination and ingredients. It is housed in what used to be the iconic New York all-suites hotel, the Rhiga Royal, home to rock stars of yesteryear. That hotel has been completely overhauled by the Blackstone Group and renamed as The London NYC. They have also recently done the same thing in Los Angeles with The London West Hollywood. And in true RE/Blackstone fashion – Blackstone helped to bankroll Ramsay’s international expansion – the two groups have collaborated in both ventures, just as they have with the RE’s other US venue in Boca Raton, Florida, where Blackstone owns the Boca Beach Club that Angela Hartnett’s Cielo sits on top of – by the way, it is a very good restaurant with a nice view.

Phew, now that we’ve navigated that labyrinth, onto the maze at hand.

Unfortunately, my brother’s girlfriend had to leave town earlier in the day, so it was just going to be the three of us for dinner, two from London and one from NYC – perfect.

Small plates, healthy prices

The London NYC from across the street

The London NYC from across the street

Mrs. LF and I arrived at 5.30pm, quite early but we didn’t want to rush the meal to get to the play. There is not much of a lobby to the hotel, and the two restaurants are located through a door on the right side when you walk in. When you pass through that door, you are in maze, which functions as the hotel’s bar and casual dining restaurant. To your back left is Ramsay’s eponymous fine dining restaurant, which is not really visible unless you actually walk over and look through the single door – it does 45 covers.

My brother was already there and had downed a drink at the bar. For being so early in the evening, the place was actually fairly busy. It was a very mixed crowd, with some in jeans and t-shirts and some in suits. The place is decorated very nicely and is quite dark. It has a nice vibe to it, with cool blacks, flourishes of metallic (mostly silver but some gold) on the walls and fittings, and dark gray-green accents provided by the upholstery on the chairs and banquettes. There are nice little details too; for instance, we noticed that the indentations in the banquette’s leather were filled with metal ‘buttons’ and not just circular pieces of metal, and you can tell a lot of care has gone into the design of the room. The tables are also quite cool, with an interesting layer of fabric underneath a transparent cover, lending it a textured appearance. It does all feel very RE, but it has been executed well in this case, except for a few of the wall fixtures which we thought were a bit silly.

maze @ The London NYC 3

The bar area

maze @ The London NYC - Dining Area

Some tables from the dining area

Our table

Our table

There was a tasting menu available, but given the time scale we thought it would be safer to order à la carte. There were a number of dishes that sounded great, however I was slightly surprised by the relatively high prices of the ‘small’ plates and was hoping they would be worth the money. I also had to keep reminding myself it was dollars, not pounds, although the prices still seemed a little punchy for being the informal dining space for hotel guests.

Would anything steal the show?

The head waiter knew that we had a show to get to, and acknowledged this when he first introduced himself (he did also tell us that we could fit in the tasting menu if we wanted, which was good to know). That said, it did take a little while for them to come back and take our order.

Once these formalities were out of the way, the sommelier came over to offer some help with the wine. After recommending two or three which the missus didn’t like the sound of (subtle glances confirmed this), he finally arrived at a bonafide US specimen which I had never tasted, so we went for that (Mrs. LF’s eyebrows had perked up at the description, you see). Oddly enough, I am least familiar with US wine, so I thought it would be good to experiment. The bottle in question was a Stony Hill Chardonnay, and while I liked the taste of it when I was given the first sip, the other two at the table were less enthusiastic. After taking a few more sips, I saw what they were saying and moved closer their opinion, although I did think it was a pleasant wine – it was just a very neutral and ordinary chardonnay with no bite and little finish to speak of. At $78/bottle, that had been a pretty costly decision – oh well, it’s always good to try new things, right?

The food began to arrive, which deflected attention away from my poor choice of wine :).

Sautéed sea scallops with chorizo, orange and white onion compote

Small Plate: Sautéed sea scallops with chorizo, orange and white onion compote

My scallops were excellent and started the meal off with a bang. Dusted with paprika salt, they were plump, meaty, sweet and seared perfectly. The compote hidden beneath was perfectly matched to the scallops, adding sweetness (onion), saltiness and bite (bacon) and a tad of acidity (orange). The scallop crackers served on top of the scallops gave the dish a great alternating texture, between soft flesh and crunchy scallop. It may have been a bit too sweet for some, but I’ve got a sweet tooth, so 8/10 from me.

Salad of confit fennel and beetroot, fresh ricotta and candied walnuts

Small Plate: Salad of confit fennel and beetroot, fresh ricotta and candied walnuts

Mrs. LF had ordered the salad, which sounded pleasant and certainly looked very beautiful. She said it was good, but nothing more than that. Each vegetable was fresh and tasted nice in its own right, however it wasn’t a particularly unified dish. 5/10.

Tortellini of beef short rib, escarole, trompette royale and dashi

Small Plate: Tortellini of beef short rib, escarole, trompette royale and dashi

My brother had ordered the short rib tortellini, after a bit of debate around the table. It certainly looked the part. After it was laid down on the table, one of the servers poured the dashi (a Japanese soup/stock) around it. When I think short ribs, I think slow-cooked, rich meat. The meat on the inside of the pasta was a bit too dry and lacked depth of flavor; it tasted alright, but didn’t live up to any of our expectations. The accompanying broth was very nice on its own, but it was also quite sweet and, in our opinions, overshadowed the beef flavor. 6/10.

Roast breast of duck with caramelized plums, sweet corn and red chili sauce

Main: Roast breast of duck with caramelized plums, sweet corn and red chili sauce

The duck was a successful dish, which is a good thing because both my brother and I had ordered it as our main course. The Long Island duck breast was nicely pink in the middle and the texture was spot on, and not at all rubbery (which you often find). The accompanying bits were very Thanksgiving-ish, but I have always liked cranberries with turkey, and the fairly sweet caramelized plums and corn provided me with the same kind of satisfaction. The soy vinaigrette went nicely with the flavor of the duck too. I don’t recall much of a chilli heat from the dish, though. Another 8/10.

Roasted Berkshire pork chop and braised belly with pear and saffron chutney

Main: Roasted Berkshire pork chop and braised belly with pear and saffron chutney

Mrs. LF had ordered the pork for her ‘market special’ (i.e. a main course portion). The chop itself was perfectly cooked, moist and flavorsome. The best part was the tiny piece of braised belly tucked beneath the carrots, and the apple cider gravy was perfect. We can’t remember can’t remember the pear and saffron chutney though! 7/10.

Valrhona chocolate fondant, green cardamom caramel sea salt and almond ice cream

Dessert: Valrhona chocolate fondant, green cardamom caramel sea salt and almond ice cream

The fondant was superb. The slight notes of salty caramel and cardamom felt right at home with the rich gooey chocolate, and the almond ice cream was able to cut through some of the richness. It wasn’t overly sweet and all of the ingredients worked to support each other. 8/10.

Lemon quark cheesecake with strawberry gelée and pistachio ice cream

Dessert: Lemon quark cheesecake with strawberry gelée and pistachio ice cream

This was my kind of lemon cheese cake. It had a soft texture and I recall little bits of crunchiness hidden within the lemon velvetiness. There was not that much strawberry, being  located in the bottom middle of the little tower, but fit in nicely. The pistachio ice cream was well done (not overly and artificially green), and again provided a nice counterbalance to the main part of the dessert. Simple, well conceived and well executed. 8/10.

Petit Fours: Chocolate & Salty Caramel Truffles and Peanut Brittle

Petit Fours: Chocolate & Salty Caramel Truffles and Peanut Brittle

The petit fours were good too, we liked both (my brother and I especially adored the brittle, as it brought back childhood memories, whereas Mrs. LF loved the caramel truffle), and it was a good close to a very pleasant meal.

Cool loos, big kitchen

The scallops, duck breast, pork and desserts had certainly given a good performance, but there were two supporting acts which deserve special mention too.

Bathroom Alley (photo courtesy of gordonramsay.com)

Bathroom alley (photo courtesy of gordonramsay.com)

A trip to the bathrooms revealed a narrow corridor with lots of doors and funky lighting. All of the bathrooms are for one person only and have their own door. They were very nice and very clean, which is always a good sign.

Secondly, we had organized to have a brief tour of the kitchen. In the interests of full disclosure, after my review of Claridge’s, Gordon Ramsay Holdings tweeted me to thank me for the review, and when I told them I would be at maze in NYC in a few weeks, they offered to set up a kitchen tour: nothing more, nothing less.

So the head waiter took us into the trenches after our meal. What is crazy is that the kitchen at The London NYC is responsible for maze, the 2 Michelin Star restaurant and all of the room service and corporate event catering for the hotel. The space is enormous: one long rectangular room with high ceilings that is loosely broken up into three areas (one for fine dining, one for maze, and one for catering). It is really an impressive kitchen, and I have to say that it was gleaming and completely spotless. It was interesting to note that most of what we overheard from the fine dining section was in French. I didn’t feel it was appropriate to take a photo, so you will just have to imagine it!

Chef’s Table (photo courtesy of gordonramsay.com)

Chef’s table (photo courtesy of gordonramsay.com)

We also got to see the chef’s table, which is located on one of the short ends of the rectangular space. It is a u-shaped banquette seating arrangement that looks out over the vast kitchen. We were told that you can hire it for lunch or for dinner and that there is only one price no matter how many people are at your table (it seats up to 8). Josh Emmet, the Chef de Cuisine at both M@TLNYC and GR@TLNYC, will prepare a special menu for your table. For lunch, this privilege will cost you $1,000 for five courses, and dinner is $1,900 for eight courses, with both including canapés and a glass of champagne for each diner. So if you have 8 people, it’s not completely unreasonable as I imagine it would be a pretty unique and fun experience.

Opening night review

I have to hand it to the RE, they certainly can be relied upon to provide a good meal in pleasant surroundings. This is true for other outposts such as Plane Food at Heathrow’s Terminal 5, which is possibly the best thing about flying from T5 – I had an amazing sole dish there a few flights ago. And M@TLNYC was another good show.

While there were a few ordinary dishes that made us begin to worry (salad and tortellini), on the whole the food was simple, satisfying and well executed. My brother did have an insightful comment, in that nearly all the small plates and main courses we had contained a component that was very sweet, which in some cases seemed to dominate the dish. While this didn’t bother me and my rather sweet palate, he didn’t find it as appetizing (especially the dashi/short rib combo), but did note that the desserts were not at all too sweet. So, a word of caution for those that are not fans of sweeter non-dessert courses.

The ambience and surroundings were pleasant and the table was comfortable. The service was fine, although there were a few long waits during the course of the evening. But we made it to the next show on time without any problems.

Rating

Ambience: 7/10

Service: 7/10

Food: 7/10

Wine List: 7/10 (good variety, but the average price was too high in my view)

Wine Selected: 2/10 (sorry Stony Hill)

For more about my rating scale, click here.

*Note: I have only dined at M@TLNYC once.*

Maze (at the London) on Urbanspoon

Le Bernardin – La Passion du Poisson, But Nothing Fishy Here

Le Bernardin
155 West 51st Street
(between 6th & 7th Aves.)
New York, NY 10019
Website
Map
Online Reservations

Four course prix fixe menu at $109/person, Tasting menus at $135 or $180/person

Le Bernardin is all about refined elegance. The service is discreet and professional; the food is original, inventive and lifts some of the seafood on offer to its highest state; and the dining room is an oasis of calm. It does not scream loudly, but is quietly confident. Highly worth a visit.

Le Bernardin is all about refined elegance. The service is discreet and professional; the food is original, inventive and lifts some of the seafood on offer to its highest state; and the dining room is an oasis of calm. It does not scream loudly, but is quietly confident. Highly worth a visit.

Une affaire de famille

When I knew I would be heading to New York for nearly a week, and that I would only have one or two nights to spend in Manhattan itself, my mind began to race: where could we have one really nice dinner in the Big Apple? I don’t get there nearly as often as I used to, so it had to be a well considered choice, with no margin for error. My thoughts drifted from obvious choices like Thomas Keller’s Per Se, to which I still have not yet been, to other places I hadn’t been to for a little while, such as Aquavit (a perennial favorite), Mario Batali’s Del Posto (where we had an excellent family event last year), Jean Georges (which we went to last time we were in the city and loved) and Daniel (always great). Then, there were so many new openings which sounded interesting, that I was getting a bit lost…until I remembered the remarkable serenity of Le Bernardin, the seemingly forever 3 Michelin-starred restaurant where I had partaken in an excellent lunch in my younger years (the memory is hazy but I remember I loved it), and to which I had always wanted to return for dinner.

Eric Ripert, the head chef at Le Bernardin, is a renowned culinary artist with seafood, and is a familiar face to food television viewers in the US after having been a feature on programs such as Top Chef, where an episode recently featured him and Le Bernardin. He is also a good friend of Anthony Bourdain, another Food TV personality and proprietor of a good restaurant in his own right  (the steak frites at his Les Halles in NYC are still ‘bloody’ great).

The food blogosphere is chock full of extremely positive reviews of this NYC culinary landmark, and I was certainly getting excited to go back. However, I did take note that Chef Ripert says that the fish is the main ‘star’ of his menu, and the accompanying flavors are simply meant to complement and to highlight the fish. Thus, my expectations were not that I was going to experience something that would take the various tastes of fish to ‘another dimension’, but that each piece of fish would be given the best chance it had to dazzle…but more on that later.

Le Bernardin is thoroughly French, with Maguy Le Coze (the owner) opening the restaurant in New York in 1982 to critical acclaim. Before the American iteration of Le Bernardin, she and her brother Gilbert had opened a restaurant of the same name in Paris in 1972. They originally hail from a small fishing village in Brittany, and are from a thoroughly ‘fishy’ family, with her grandfather being a fisherman and her parents owning a small restaurant-come-hotel in the village. As my marriage is also a French affair of sorts, I figured the whole thing fit and would be a good idea. So I made the reservation for deux. Done.

I should have known better. Dinners in my family are rarely straight-forward. I learned a few days later that my father would now be in New York during the weekend of the booking. And this meant a rapid change of plans as my Aunt would now surely come into the city that weekend (which was great) plus, since we would all be together, my brother and his girlfriend should definitely come too. I thought we might encounter a problem changing things around with such short notice on a Saturday night, but luckily it was fine, and they upgraded our table from two to six. Phew.

Menu extraordinaire

We all arrived at the restaurant slightly early, except for my brother, who made a late appearance and rushed straight for the men’s room to dry himself off – no, it wasn’t raining, but it was one of those unbearably hot and muggy days in NYC, and he was sweating like crazy after running around all day on the streets and in the subway. We waited for him in the pleasant air conditioned bar area (hehe), where we had been given some great homemade parmesan breadsticks to munch on, and eventually we made our way to the table.

It was a good sized circular table near the window (a bit too close to the entry way for my liking, but I was very glad just to have it). We settled ourselves into the comfortable chairs and soaked up the calmness inspired by mellow colors and the attractive teak wood panelling that abounds throughout the interior. But we weren’t there to sit, we were there to eat.

I must admit I had a bit of trepidation about the food – not because I thought it would be bad, but because Le Bernardin is renowned for its seafood, and that’s not always to everyone’s taste. Plus we were a table of six very finicky eaters. For instance, my Aunt has been known to send back many a piece of fish in her day for not having it cooked the specific way she asked for it…but that is another story.

Once we were given what has to be one of the most extraordinary menus I’ve seen before, I knew we had nothing to worry about, even if the dishes only tasted half as good as they sounded. The menu is a barrage to your senses and imagination. It is arranged in a rectangular, landscape-layout fashion and is broken up into four sections, which you read horizontally across the long part of the page. There is ‘Almost Raw’, ‘Barely Touched’, ‘Lightly Cooked’ and ‘Upon Request’. As far as I can remember, all of the dishes from the first three categories have fish as their main, or one of the main, components. The latter is mostly non-fish main course options, such as kobe beef, duck and squab. The flavor combinations, the variety of fish available, and the diversity of preparations (and of the ingredients themselves) was really staggering, and there wasn’t one thing on the menu that any of us did not like the sound of.

This, of course, can lead to a bit of a quandary, because there are also two tasting menus available, which capture some of the chef’s signature dishes. After literally a half an hour or more of reading through the menu, we finally decided that we would go for the ‘normal’ four course menu (two starters, one main, one dessert). My brother and I used sign language across the table to let each other know that we would be ordering a supplementary course, because there were a few too many dishes which looked like ‘must-haves’. Once everyone had chosen, my father chose a beautiful bottle of white wine (see below), and we were off and running.

And the food to match

The food began arriving, and it looked amazing. Each dish was very individually and beautifully presented. As there were six of us, it would be too difficult to review more than one or two of the individual meals in detail, so I have put a photo for each dish that we remembered to capture with the camera, along with a brief description and rating (where either I or Mrs. LF tasted the dish). You can click on any of the photos to see more detail.

Amuse Bouche: Lobster & Avocado ‘Soup’

Amuse Bouche: Lobster & Avocado ‘Soup’

We were all brought a little cup of what looked like a broth of some kind. The waiter explained that it was a lobster and avocado ‘soup’, and we were eager to try it. It turned out to be much thicker than we had expected – amuse bouches are often lighter broths that you can sip in one go – but the flavors were fresh, distinct and went well together. The top half was warm and contained the lobster, while the bottom half was cool and had little chunks of avocado. It was an interesting and good start to the meal.

Almost Raw: Fluke – Fluke Sashimi; Crispy Kimchi in a Chilled Citrus, Soy, Jalapeño Nage

Almost Raw: Fluke – Fluke Sashimi; Crispy Kimchi in a Chilled Citrus, Soy, Jalapeño Nage

As I put the first bite into my mouth, I think I paused and audibly oohed & awed about the wonderful flavors. The fluke was really my kind of food. It was some of the freshest tasting fish I’ve ever had, and the citrus and soy nage sauce was the perfect compliment. I loved this dish – it was so fresh and light and had a great little chili kick from the red jalapeños. I think I could have drunk a glass of that sauce. A full 10/10 from me; I would definitely have it if and when I go back.

[Not Pictured]
Almost Raw: Hamachi – Marinated Hamachi Vietnamese Style; Nuoc Mam Vinaigrette

My brother had ordered another ‘almost raw’ dish which was also excellent. I only had a bite of it, but the hamachi was probably the best example of this fish I’ve had (competing for this prize would be a special starter I had at Max London’s a few years ago, where the hamachi had been overnighted from Hawaii and served with citrus flavors over some flatbread). The Vietnamese flavoring was fragrant, gentle and had a good sharpness as well. It was a very accomplished dish. 8/10.

Barely Touched: Scallop – Ultra Rare Scorched Scallop; Garlic Chive - Goat’s Milk Butter Emulsion

Barely Touched: Scallop – Ultra Rare Scorched Scallop; Garlic Chive - Goat’s Milk Butter Emulsion

My second starter was this amazing-sounding scallop dish. Well, it didn’t disappoint either. The scallops were ‘scorched’ perfectly and they were bursting with that sweet scallop flavor. This was in turn balanced by the rich butter sauce (as it was derived from goat’s milk, it wasn’t too heavy), which had a good kick of garlic and fresh chive flavor. Everyone that got a taste loved it. 9/10.

Barely Touched: Sea Urchin – Sea Urchin Risotto; Toasted Nori; Urchin - Citrus Emulsion

Barely Touched: Sea Urchin – Sea Urchin Risotto; Toasted Nori; Urchin - Citrus Emulsion

A few people around the table had ordered the sea urchin dish. I have only recently begun to try urchin, and it is not yet a flavor I particularly like. I do understand the attraction, but my palate just isn’t there yet. My brother, however, loves the stuff, and was excited about this dish. He commented that the risotto was cooked perfectly al dente and, as you can see, it was really creamy. He said that the urchin flavor didn’t come through enough for him though, and he would have liked to taste it more. I did taste the dish and thought it was very good, but not outstanding, and agreed with his assessment. 7/10.

Barely Touched: Calamari – Sautéed Calamari Filled with Sweet Prawns and Shitake Mushroom; Calamari Consommé

Barely Touched: Calamari – Sautéed Calamari Filled with Sweet Prawns and Shitake Mushroom; Calamari Consommé

My Aunt had the calamari and I only got a tiny bite of the big fleshy part, so will refrain from giving it a score. I did think that the squid itself was rather too chewy, which I was really surprised to find in this restaurant, where everything else had been cooked so perfectly thus far.

Barely Touched: Langoustine – Seared Langoustine, Mache, Wild Mushroom Salad, Shaved Foie Gras; White Balsamic Vinaigrette

Barely Touched: Langoustine – Seared Langoustine, Mache, Wild Mushroom Salad, Shaved Foie Gras; White Balsamic Vinaigrette

This was the dish a lot of us had been most excited by – I mean, just read the description. It was a bit disappointing, though, if I’m honest. While the langoustine was perfectly fresh and sweet, the other ingredients sort of faded into the background and didn’t add too much. The little mushrooms were excellent in their own right, but they were tiny and didn’t really come through if you took a bite with everything together. Same with the few little flakes of foie gras. I personally think it needed a little more of a sauce with it to lift it beyond a fresh piece of langoustine. 6.5/10.

Lightly Cooked: Black Bass – Crispy Black Bass; Celery & Parsnip Custard; Iberico Ham-Green Peppercorn Sauce

Lightly Cooked: Black Bass – Crispy Black Bass; Celery & Parsnip Custard; Iberico Ham-Green Peppercorn Sauce

My main course of black cod was an accomplished dish. The skin was just the right crispness and the flesh was moist yet firm. The sauce lent a bit of saltiness and spiciness through the ham and peppercorns respectively, and celery was a good accompaniment. I think I had misread the menu, because I was expecting to see the Iberico ham, but it was only infused in the sauce. This dish didn’t completely bowl me over, but it was very enjoyable. 8/10.

Lightly Cooked: Surf and Turf – Escolar and Seared Kobe Beef; Sea Bean Salad and Eggplant Fries; Mr. Kaufman’s Pesto and Anchovy Sauce

Lightly Cooked: Surf and Turf – Escolar and Seared Kobe Beef; Sea Bean Salad and Eggplant Fries; Mr. Kaufman’s Pesto and Anchovy Sauce

The other hotly anticipated dish was the ‘surf and turf’. If you are familiar with American menus, you will know that this usually means a huge hunk of beef served with a lobster or a bunch of shrimp. So this was a clever and refined take on the concept. And boy did it work. This was, in my mind, hands-down the best main course. Each of the three parts was perfect. The kobe beef was as tender and flavorful as you’d expect and had a very nice little jus with a few strands of what I believe were samphire. The escolar was by far the best example of this fish I’ve ever tasted. And the little deep fried eggplants (that’s aubergines for British readers) were truly delectable – I could have eaten about two dozen easily. Back on track then: 10/10.

Lightly Cooked: Monkfish – Pan Roasted Monk Fish; Israeli Couscous Tabbouleh; Black Garlic and Persian Lemon Sauce

Lightly Cooked: Monkfish – Pan Roasted Monk Fish; Israeli Couscous Tabbouleh; Black Garlic and Persian Lemon Sauce

Mrs. LF had this as her main course, and said it was superb – I did get a little taste, and wholeheartedly agreed. She said that “the tabbouleh had a hint of fleur d’oranger and that the dish had a very Middle Eastern and subtle edge to it. The king of this dish was the fish, and it was cooked amazingly well. It had a texture that was unbelievable – very meaty yet soft and delicate, like a springy sponge, almost fluffy. The black garlic and lemon sauce was just as good and simple as it sounded, and was the perfect dressing for the monkfish; it woke up the fish and gave it that kick that it needed. The little bits of black garlic were delicious in the sauce, too. It was a very simple dish that provided an explosion of flavor, and it was also a generous portion. No nonsense, superb.” 10/10.

Dessert: Apricot – Apricot Cream and Coulis Wrapped in White Chocolate; Vanilla Poached Apricot; “Noyau” Ice Cream

Dessert: Apricot – Apricot Cream and Coulis Wrapped in White Chocolate; Vanilla Poached Apricot; “Noyau” Ice Cream

Mrs. LF said of her sweet course: “This was a very light and well executed dessert. The apricot cream was surrounded by white chocolate and those are two flavors that go well together. The little poached apricot had a jammy texture, and was placed on top of a biscuit which added some weight to the dish. The ice cream tasted of yogurt, apricot and almonds, and was also delicate and delicious. It had the advantage of being light and refreshing, yet you didn’t feel that you had been depraved of a ‘real’ dessert, as it was substantial enough.” 8/10.

Dessert: Chocolate-Peanut – Dark Chocolate, Peanut and Caramel Tart; Meyer Lemon Puree, Peanut Powder, Praline-Citrus Sorbet

Dessert: Chocolate-Peanut – Dark Chocolate, Peanut and Caramel Tart; Meyer Lemon Puree, Peanut Powder, Praline-Citrus Sorbet

I wish it would have been twice as big. Chocolate and peanuts – where can you go wrong? It did everything I had hoped for, the perfect trifecta of deep, rich dark chocolate, peanuts and caramel. The sorbet was a nice pairing as it provided a little bit of sharpness, and I even liked the pralines (believe it or not, I have not historically been a fan of chocolate/hazelnut combos, although my palate seems to be evolving as of late and I am slowly joining the rest of the civilized world). 9/10.

Dessert: Chocolate-Chicory – Chocolate Cremeux, Pain de Genes, Orange “Meringue”, Chicory Ice Cream

Dessert: Chocolate-Chicory – Chocolate Cremeux, Pain de Genes, Orange “Meringue”, Chicory Ice Cream

Another excellent chocolate dessert, and pretty original too. I loved the combination of the delicate orange meringue and the smooth chocolate cream. The chicory ice cream really stood out as the star in this dessert, with its slight coffee bitterness perfectly melding with the chocolate cream. 9/10.

Petit Fours

Petit Fours

Lastly, we were brought some petit fours to have with our coffees and teas. They were also very good, and beautifully presented as with everything else during the meal.

Vin excellent (though not necessarily a perfect match)

The wine list was extensive and exquisite. We had three wines over the course of the evening, the first of which was a lovely Grüner Veltliner, and the second and third of which were high quality Bordeauxs. The second one (St. Julien) was a bit too powerful for the seafood dishes in front of us if you ask me, but I wasn’t paying on this occasion – my ‘poor’ father was – and I wasn’t going to turn down the chance to taste some of these wines, which I would normally not be able to choose if I were on my own budget!

2007 Prager Grüner Veltliner (Wachua, Austria)

2007 Prager Grüner Veltliner (Wachua, Austria)

This Grüner went down a treat with the first courses – it was one of the best I’ve had, extremely complex and continually revealing more. It was very lively on the nose, with lots of citrus (grapefruit) which balanced the wine’s honey and peach flavors. It was also quite spicy and had a really zingy mineral streak. It was a little warm on the finish, and left me wanting more.

2000 Chateau Figeac (St. Emilion, Bordeaux)

2000 Chateau Figeac (St. Emilion, Bordeaux)

This Bordeaux was still quite closed to me. It had a beautiful dense purple color to it and smelled of blackcurrants and a medley of herbs. It was powerful yet with some finesse, and it did become more and more drinkable as it oxygenated. Still, I felt it overpowered the fish dishes.

1999 Grand Vin de Léoville du Marquis de Las Cases (St. Julien, Bordeaux)

1999 Grand Vin de Léoville du Marquis de Las Cases (St. Julien, Bordeaux)

This superb Bordeaux had a very discreet nose, and didn’t reveal a lot of itself until it had sat in the glass for a while either. It was definitely an elegant and smooth wine. It had slightly smoky or roasted taste to it, with a good dose of ripe fruit and good grippy tannins. Again, maybe not the best choice for the food, but I actually thought this worked rather well with a few of the dishes.

Pretty parfait

All in all, Le Bernardin met my expectations. It wasn’t a perfect meal, as some of the dishes didn’t live up to their descriptions for me (i.e. rather plain langoustine and tough calamari). But then again we did order a lot of dishes, and for the most part they were excellent, with a few standing out as the best examples of the fish I’d ever had. And that is saying something. The desserts were all fantastic, something I hadn’t been expecting after reading numerous accounts of people being underwhelmed by them.

The menu by itself is unbelievable and really makes you salivate, but is it too much to take in if you’re not having the tasting menu? With so many amazing things on offer, you feel as if you might be ‘cheated’ if you can’t order the 5-7 that you really like the sound of. I guess this is a good problem to have, though.

The service throughout was discreet, professional and attentive, exactly what you’d expect from the atmosphere the dining room exudes. They weren’t overly interactive, but were knowledgeable and friendly when you needed them. The sommelier was Austrian and offered a good deal of insight from what I could gather across the table (he was shocked and delighted when we choose the Grüner as he said most customers from the States don’t even know about it), while letting the customer (my father) arrive at his own decisions. Our main waiter was very classy and the whole thing seemed rather effortless for them, which is not easy with a fairly large table.

Le Bernardin is highly worth a visit if you are in New York and want an intimate dinner for two or are celebrating an occasion of some kind. I doubt you’ll be disappointed, and you just may have a dish or two that you won’t be able to forget.

A final note: as we were getting ready to depart, they handed us each a special blue and gold edition of the Zagat New York guide, which has Le Bernardin’s rating and review on the cover. I thought this was a nice little touch.

Le Bernardin - Zagat Special Edition

Rating

Ambience: 7/10

Service: 8/10

Food: 9/10

Wine: 9/10 (the mark-ups seemed high though)

For more about my rating scale, click here.

*Note: I have only dined at Le Bernardin once for dinner and once for lunch (but that was many, many years ago…).*

Le Bernardin on Urbanspoon

Ess-a-Bagel – The Real Deal (NYC)

Ess-a-Bagel
831 3rd Avenue
New York, NY 10010
Phone: +1 212 260 2252
Website
Map

For an authentic bagel and New York experience, head for Ess-a-Bagel - you will leave feeling stuffed, satiated, and just may be able to finish a whole one!

For an authentic bagel and New York experience, head for Ess-a-Bagel - you will leave feeling stuffed, satiated, and just may be able to finish a whole one!

When in New York two weekends ago, I took the opportunity to make a quick pilgrimage to one of my favorite bagel places.

Now, I know some of you out there may be thinking, “This guy is a bit crazy – how good can bagels be? I mean, who makes a bagel pilgrimage?!”

In fact, upon my return to the office, my Welsh colleague said, “I really don’t get what’s so great about bagels,” or something to that effect.

Well, this is obviously because he – and you, if you are doubting me – has NEVER HAD A PROPER BAGEL!

They can be amazing, but it is rare to get very good ones – nay, near impossible in London I would say. But in New Yoik, there are a few places where you can be assured of a satisfying bagel experience.

One of these such places is Ess-a-Bagel, which sadly I only discovered a few years ago, way after I moved away from the Big Apple. It was totally by accident, when we were in the NYC for a family event. Our hotel was nearby their midtown branch (there is also a downtown location on 1st Ave., but I’ve never been), and one of my relatives had been there the day before and said we should definitely go. So we did, and I go back every time I can when I am in town now.

I have been reliably informed by my relative who lives in NYC and works near the shop that on weekdays, at both breakfast and lunch time, the line snakes well outside the front door – meaning that there are normally at least 30+ people waiting for their fix at peak times. We went at a very ‘off-peak’ time on a weekend (when it is meant to be slower), and check out the line/queue…

That's a lot of people...

That's a lot of people

…which meant that we still waited a good 15 minutes to reach the guy at the counter. During that time, I was debating what to order. My favorite combo – handed down to me by my father – is lox, cream cheese, onions and tomatoes (capers optional), and this is what usually have. But this time I opted to for eggs, lox and onions with a schmear of cream cheese. Okay, so not that much different, but if it aint’ broke…

While waiting, I also had a chance to snap some photos (below) to help show you the place – see, I am listening to constructive criticism! Meanwhile, Mrs. LF was hovering over the outdoor garden-esque chairs and tables for a spot to sit, and eventually found us place to plonk ourselves down.

The bagel counter - the front of the 24-hour operation (you can go straight to the counter and order bagels 'to-go' as well)

The bagel counter - the front of the 24-hour operation (you can go straight to the counter and order bagels 'to-go' as well)

Not quite Baskin Robbins' 31 varieties, but still a lot of choice

Not quite Baskin Robbins' 31 varieties, but still a lot of choice

But, hey, they make up for this with the diverse offering of cream cheese!

But, hey, they make up for this with the diverse offering of cream cheese!

In any case, our bagels were toasted and wrapped, and we sat down to devour these devilish beasts. The bagels lived up to my high expectations, being very crispy on the outside with the right amount of chew on the inside (although I still prefer my normal order, sans eggs). The coffee, as usual, was just about passable, in that black New York diner coffee sort of way.

Makes me hungry - an everything bagel with egg, lox, onion & a schmear of plain cream cheese

Mine: Makes me hungry - an everything bagel with egg, lox, onion & a schmear of plain cream cheese

Mrs. LF's - an everything bagel with lox, plain cream cheese, onions & tomatoes + a black coffee

Mrs. LF's - an everything bagel with lox, plain cream cheese, onions & tomatoes + a black coffee

Bottom line: if you go to New York City, are in midtown, and fancy a bagel, go here. Other places of a similar ilk worth a mention and/or visit are:

Ess-a-Bagel on Urbanspoon