Tag Archives: dinner

Recipe: Jewelled Aromatic Rice by Amira

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This recipe is based on the classic Persian dish, Javaher Polow, or “jewelled rice”, an opulent dish of fluffy rice, sweet and tangy fruits and crunchy nuts. It’s traditionally served at weddings and celebrations. Each of the ingredients represents a precious jewel; berries for rubies, pistachios for emeralds. The dish is a symbol of wishing sweetness and wealth for the newly married couple – of course it was on my wedding menu last year!

So when the people at Amira rice contacted me to ask if I’d like to try their recipe, I was instantly reminded of happy, delicious memories and had to say yes. The recipe on the Amira website is not totally authentic (traditionally you’d use zereshk/barberries not cranberries, for example) but I was really pleased with the outcome, so it’s a good one to keep hold of particularly if you live in an area where sourcing Middle Eastern ingredients may be a challenge.

The buttery golden crust that develops on the bottom of the pan, “tahdig“, is the best bit – to be able to turn out a perfect crust in one clean motion is a good sign that you’re marriage material (phew – I passed the test!)

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Using high quality rice is really important – please don’t assume that all rice is the same because that’s just not true. You will notice the difference if you source properly aged rice – ordinarily I would always go for basmati for the exceptional fragrance, but Amira’s “Superior Aromatic” is not basmati yet still has the fragrance, nuttiness and and the extra long grains you would expect from the best quality rice.

Ingredients:
300g high quality rice such as Amira Superior Aromatic Rice
Generous pinch of saffron threads
150 g dried cranberries
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
60 g unsalted butter
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp cardamom pods
1 cumin seeds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To finish
100 g walnuts, roughly chopped
Seeds picked from 1 large pomegranate
Generous bunch of parsley, chopped
Finely grated zest from 1 orange
1 garlic clove, very finely chopped

Method
Add rice to a sieve and rinse under running water. Tip into a bowl and cover well with cold water. Set aside to soak for 1 hour. Add the saffron to a small heatproof glass and cover with 2 tablespoons of boiling water, then set aside to soak. Add the cranberries to a small heatproof bowl and cover in boiling water, set aside to soak.

Add the oil and half the butter to a deep frying pan and set over a low heat. When the butter has melted, add the onion, cinnamon, cardamon and cumin and fry gently for 30 minutes until the onion is soft and lightly caramelised, then turn off the heat.

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Drain your rice and add to a large saucepan. Pour over boiling water so it comes a generous 3 centimetres above the rice and set over a medium high heat. Boil for 3 minutes, then drain and rinse under cold running water to cool and drain well. The rice will have started to cook but will still have plenty of bite and the grains will not yet be fluffy.

Combine the cooled rice with the onions, along with the saffron, cranberries and their soaking water. Stir well but be careful not to break the grains of rice, which would make them stodgy and starchy – you want separate, elegant grains! Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then dot the surface of the rice with the remaining butter.

Using the handle of a wooden spoon make 5-6 holes through the rice all the way to the bottom of the pan – this helps it to steam evenly.

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The recipe instructions said: “tear off a sheet of baking paper, scrunch it up under cold running water, shaking off the excess, then lay snugly over the surface of the rice. Cover the pan tightly with a layer of foil and set over a very low heat.”

I did what I’ve always done to achieve a perfect tahdig: wrap the lid of your saucepan in a tea towel to ensure a snug fit, so no precious steam escapes. Pomegranate pattern optional!

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Cook for 40 minutes on a very low heat, after which time your rice will be fluffy and a delicious buttery crust will have developed on the bottom.

While your rice is cooking, toast the walnuts in a dry frying pan until golden. Tip into a bowl and stir through the pomegranate seeds, parsley, orange zest and garlic. Set aside.

Once your rice is ready, remove the lid, place a large platter on top and in one swift, brave movement, flip the pan upside down. Your rice should slide out in a cloud of fragrant steam. Ta da!

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(If you’re not feeling brave, you can scoop the rice out onto your serving dish and then scrape the lovely crunchy caramelised rice from the base of the pan to arrange over the top.)

Enjoy! We ate ours with chicken thighs cooked simply with diced onion, garlic, saffron, salt and pepper over a medium heat, with sides of salads, yoghurt, and my mum’s torshi (Persian pickle) – keep meaning to post the recipe here, bear with me.

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I was sent Amira rice to sample and review and will definitely be buying it in future! Amira rice is stocked at selected Morrisons, Asda, Tesco and Waitrose stores.

Farewell to Food for Thought…

Food for Thought is the oldest and longest running vegetarian restaurant in London. After more than forty years of service, it will close its doors on Sunday 21st June – Father’s Day.

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My father has been a regular since it opened in the 1970s. He took me when I was young; I too fell in love with the alternative vibe and hearty, homespun, delicious and low priced food.

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As the team from Food for Thought put it, “It has been a remarkable venture. That such an awkward, cramped and unconventional set-up could have survived so long is, in no little measure, due to the commitment of our staff and the loyalty of our customers.”

The news that it’s shutting in a few weeks because of escalating rent prices is incredibly sad, but my dad and I will always smile at the fond memories we’ve had here over the years. I love the food scene in London and how there’s always an exciting new opening, but the flip side is seeing historic stalwarts like Food For Thought shut down more than they should.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy – thank you for sharing memories with me over the years, including our last meal together at Food for Thought.

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The Botanist Broadgate Circle

This piece first appeared on The Holborn

London is most certainly a city of villages: whether you are loyal to the tribes of the north, south, east or west, you are never too far from a venue owned by the ETM Group, which has gastro pubs all over town. Over the past 15 years brothers Ed and Tom Martin have learnt a thing or two about adapting successful concepts according to their location.

The Botanist Broadgate Circle is the latest addition to the ETM Group, recently opened in a corner of London which has just undergone significant redevelopment. The concrete area near Liverpool St has seen a flurry of buzzy openings from big names like Jose Pizarro, artisan coffee house Beany Green, sourdough pizza specialists Franco Manca, and brand new surf&turf concept Crab Tavern.

Botanist BGC Exterior smThe Botanist Broadgate Circle is one of the latest to join this newly dressed up restaurant hub. Named after its “sister” restaurant in Chelsea, the family resemblence can barely be detected: something was lost in translation in the few miles travelled from West to East. Arriving at the restaurant is a bit of a shock if you’re expecting the genteel vibe of the original outpost of The Botanist: in this neck of the woods, you’re greeted by an outdoor terrace heaving with thumping music and braying suits fresh out of their Square Mile offices.

The familiar name is there to appeal to punters who know the Sloaney stomping ground, while the wholly new offering has been calculated to appeal to punters from the Square Mile heartland.

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Dining booths

The venue is all handsome dark wood and leather banquettes over two floors, with surprising flourishes such as exotic taxidermy in the downstairs nightclub the “Soda Room”. Unfortunately the sound system for the whole venue is connected to the club, meaning it was impossible to hear anything.

At the risk of sounding like an old fogey, having to strain to understand the waiter and your table-mates, and going hoarse from shouting to be heard, is not an enjoyable experience. By all means, crank up the volume when the night has moved on from dinner to dancing, but most people don’t want to dine among nightclub-level volumes – it can’t be good for digestion and unfortunately taints the whole dining experience.

The only similarity to the Sloane Square Botanist is the drinks. The waiting staff know their way around the cocktail and wine lists, recommending a bottle of South African Kanu wine with confidence that we would enjoy the unusual variety – shame there had to be so much shouting and pointing to order it.

The menu is an appealing mix of British and European dishes, with market-fresh fish sourced daily from Billingsgate and a solid selection of steaks.

For a starter, I ordered the special of salmon cured in Thai flavours of galangal and lemongrass. Slivers of fried lotus fruit, crisp radish and shiso leaf scattered on top added crunch to a pleasingly fragrant, fresh starter. Meanwhile my companion was busy piling forkfuls of her dressed crab onto delicate melba toast.

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Monk’s beard, is an underrated green vegetable which is available for so short a time each year that I am compelled to order it whenever possible. My main course of roast cod, clam chowder and monk’s beard was a showcase for the best foods in season.

Roast cod, clam chowder, monks beardIf it hadn’t been so good I would have succumbed to food envy for my friend’s Iberico pork shoulder, served with almonds, pickled nectarines and nasturtium flowers.

Iberico Pork shoulderThe dessert menu was a surprisingly long list of tempting dishes, all vying for our attention. In the end we ordered the sticky date pudding, served with a refreshing, clean-tasting cornflake milk sorbet which captured the very essence of cereal bowl dregs, in a good way.

Sticky date pudding, cornflake milk sorbet

It alternated beautifully with spoonfuls of the other dessert we shared, coconut and lime panna cotta with mojito sorbet.

Coconut and lime panna cotta, Mojito sorbet

The Botanist Broadgate Circle is a decent, dependable addition to the City, but will be vastly improved once the issue with the music is sorted out.

This restaurant’s food is commendable, and deserves an appropriate setting; it is a disservice to the kitchen’s skilled cooking to serve it in an oppressively loud environment.

While my ears recover from the evening entertainment offered at The Botanist, I will return for one of their weekend brunches: great value at £25 for three courses and surely 11am is a quiter time of day (depending on the number of bottomless Bloody Marys you order)… Until the sound system is sorted, I will have to agree with the Sloaney saying, at least when it comes to The Botanist: west is best.

The Botanist, Unit 5 Broadgate Circle, City of London, EC2M 2QS, 020 3058 9888.

botanistlondon.com
@botanistlondon

Bah Bah: a Persian pop-up at The King & Co

Usually I would start off a blog post with some sort of a pre-amble but I’m so excited to tell you about this that I’m going to cut to the chase. The quicker you get the message that you must go as soon as possible to Bah Bah, the Persian pop-up at The King & Co pub, the better.

It’s only on until the end of March so time really is of the essence.

If you need some more reasons as to why you need to head over to Clapham Park Road quick-smart, behold the menu:

Bah Bah at The King & Co - menu

Bah Bah at The King & Co – menu

 

For those of you who don’t know, “bah bah” is what Persians say when something is especially appetizing; it’s the equivalent of “mmm” or “yummy” and a very apt name for the cooking from Bah Bah’s founder and head chef James Nicholson.

Like me, James has an Iranian mother and grew up on Persian food. Middle Eastern and Persian cuisine is finally starting to get the recognition and reputation it deserves which is brilliant. James is flying the flag in an innovative way; as he pointed out, you can get excellent Persian food in London if you know where to look, but never in a pub! Or in Clapham!

The King & Co is a relatively new independent freehouse, launched in September 2014. It’s a great place with a diverse selection of craft beers and interesting food; the pub hosts lots of different kitchen residencies. After Bah Bah there is word of a Ghanaian pop-up moving in.

The food served by the Bah Bah team definitely has a bit of a British accent; it is a more modern adaptation of traditional Persian dishes, often done in a very clever way.

If you go to an old-school Persian place you will be served huge mountains of buttery saffron rice and vast platters of chelo kabob with bread the size of tablecloths.

James and his team have a more refined approach and serve small plates inspired by classic bright, fragrant Persian flavours.

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The best small plates are the kufteh (lamb and dried fruit meatballs with pomegranate and pistachios) – addictively moreish and juicy. The kookoo sabzi (a sort of frittata loaded with herbs, walnuts and barberries) is really good, as is the bademjan (smoked aubergine with yoghurt) – although I do think James should use the traditional kashk (whey) instead of yoghurt for the distinctive tangy flavour.

Pirashki, crepes filled with spiced beef, was new to me. James said the dish is actually Russian in origin (quite a few Persian dishes are originally from Russia, such as salad olivieh, a rich potato salad) and that this was a family favourite. I thought they were a little on the oily side but my partner in crime gobbled them up.

Bah Bah ghormeh sabzi

Bah Bah ghormeh sabzi

Bah Bah’s showstopper is the ghormeh sabzi, a hearty khoresh (slow cooked stew) I was practically raised on, made with small pieces of meat, kidney beans, dried limes and masses of herbs (usually a mix of parsley, fenugreek, chives and others) – it’s always served with fluffy basmati rice. James’s version is one of the best I’ve ever had; he uses beef shin with roasted bone marrow which gives an amazing unctuousness. So inspired to use this cut rather than the more typical lamb neck – it’s rich, full of flavour without being overly fatty, and perfect in a slow cooked dish like this. I am simultaneously thankful to James for giving me the idea, and kicking myself for not thinking of it first!

Luckily there are still a few weeks left before Bah Bah moves on to new pastures – James is considering a few opportunities for the future and is definitely one to watch.

I will be back again soon for more of that incredible ghormeh sabzi and to try the regularly changing specials such as roast quail, which had sadly sold out when we were there. The team is planning specials for Nowruz (Persian New Year aka the first day of spring) which will be an excellent time to visit.

Nush-e-jan!

@bahbahlondon

Bah Bah’s residency at The King & Co ends Sunday 29th March 2015. To book a table or reserve an area, email hello@thekingandco.uk

http://www.thekingandco.uk

Gordon Ramsay’s Heddon Street Kitchen, Mayfair

HSK Neon Sign

Last Autumn, “wedmin” (and a few weeks of last minute carb-dodging before the big day) meant I neglected to keep up with my always-growing list of must visit new restaurants with my usual vigour.

One of the places that has been on my radar for several months is Heddon Street Kitchen, the latest in Gordon Ramsay’s international portfolio. Mr “Big Sweary” has a dozen or so restaurants in London and this newest offering promises informal Modern European food in Heddon Street, a pedestrianised section of Mayfair which is being dubbed “Regent Street’s Food Quarter”.

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HSK Ground Floor

The restaurant has received a mixed reception since opening, and I was looking forward to sampling it for myself now the venue has had a few months to bed in to the London dining scene.

The atmosphere is buzzing; the crowds of people did not seem to be put off by any negative reviews. The industrial chic vibe is offset with cosy tables and banquette seating, plus some inviting details dotted around such as retro desk lamps and piles of rolled up blankets. It’s all very dark and my camera couldn’t capture any decent shots, so I’ve relied mainly on PR images.

Our assembled group of food bloggers kicked off with cocktails: Brits Spritz reminded me of a combination of a classic Aperol Spritz and Pimms fruit cup, combining Kamm & Sons, elderflower cordial, soda and Prosecco.

The Lady Regent was an elegant and refreshing blend of Hendricks gin, Ruinquinquin peach, elderflower, lemon and mint, garnished with a single rose petal.

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Most memorable was the Heddon St Grog – a quirky metal tankard brimming with Bacardi Oakheart, Cherry Heering, pineapple, lemon, Bitters, sugar, Innis & Gunn original beer.

Heddon Street Grog

We then shared platters of hot and cold starters so we could sample a variety of dishes from the menu.

The spicy tuna tartare, chilli garlic, sesame oil, wonton crisps (£12) was incredibly moreish and just the type of thing I would be happy picking at throughout the evening over cocktails with friends.

Similarly, the California maki roll with snow crab mix, avocado, tobiko made a great bar snack – I’ve had better sushi not too far from this restaurant, but it was tasty enough.

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The Fried Rock Oysters with fennel and lemon confit salad (£13.50) were popular, but in my humble opinion, I don’t see the point of deep frying oysters, or smothering them in accompaniments. This rare treat is far better ice cold, raw and freshly shucked for that pure taste of the sea.

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My top choice was the Tamarind spiced chicken wings (£8.50) which had a perfect crunchy crust, tender flesh and lip-smacking, tangy sauce.

Another winner was the potted salt beef brisket, grain mustard and piccalilli, buckwheat crackers (£9.50) – the bold, salty and meaty flavours of the meat were a brilliant foil to the punchy piccalilli accompaniment. I couldn’t stop piling it onto the nutty buckwheat crackers.

Roasted veal carpaccio with dill pickles and tuna dressing (£12.50) is an interesting combination and while it was pleasant enough, was not a finely balanced dish as the dressing overpowered the delicate flavour and texture of the veal.

Moving on to the mains, we sampled bites of a variety of options, starting with slow-roasted saddleback pork belly, spiced apple sauce (£16). Like several of the dishes at Heddon Street Kitchen, I couldn’t help but think that I’ve enjoyed better, cheaper versions not too far from this restaurant. The meat was a touch dry and mealy, which is surprising for such a fatty cut.

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Similarly Herdwick lamb cutlets (£26) were fine, but could have done with more “zip” in flavour, either from a marinade or a smokier finish from the grill.

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The spiced plaice, piperade, chorizo, cauliflower purée and parsley oil (£22) was a divisive dish: it was my favourite of the mains while others felt it could have been didn’t go particularly well with the other dishes we sampled.

Typically, the dish I most looked forward to was one of the most disappointing. The best mac & cheese should make you want to bury your face in it; I abandoned the Macaroni cheese with garlic roasted crumbs (£5) after a couple of forkfuls. Someone on the table queried whether the chefs may have forgotten to put cheese in – not a good sign.

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The highlight of the evening was hands down the Chocolat fondant (£8). We held our breaths as the first spoon went in, the moment of truth – sure enough, molten chocolate goo spilled out joyfully over the plate. A perfect example of this favourite dessert.

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I almost overlooked it but the Pineapple carpaccio (£7) quietly stole the show. Shaved slices of the aromatic fruit were served with a syrup infused with star anise and chilli – it was the most delicious way to round off the evening’s indulgences with something light yet interesting. I have made a mental note to recreate this at home; it would be an amazing, refreshing dessert after a curry night.

So to summarise, there were some hits, some misses, a pleasant evening of food all in all with nothing particularly astonishingly good or bad. While I would advise heading elsewhere if you want to be wowed by a truly unique dining experience, Heddon Street Kitchen is spot on for catching up with group of friends over cocktails and crowd-pleasing bites.

I was invited to dine as a guest of Heddon Street Kitchen.

Heddon Street Kitchen

3-9 Heddon Street, London W1B 4BN

http://www.heddonstreetkitchen.co.uk

@heddonstreetkitchen

Facebook.com/heddonstreetkitchen

 

Taking a break from shopping at Tapas Revolution, Westfield

Confession time: I really hate shopping. I would rather (and often do) wear scruffy hand-me-downs or hopelessly outdated clothes I’ve owned forever to avoid battling through crowds, endless shopping rails and sweaty, heaving changing rooms.

“Retail therapy” my arse – I feel like I actually NEED therapy after most retail experiences.

It’s a different story when it comes to food and makeup which I could browse happily for hours, but for everything else I typically binge-order online and end up returning most of it. I even took less than 1 hour to choose, try on and buy my wedding dress because I couldn’t bear the thought of spending any more time browsing.

Saying that, with the nuptials now properly looming (for which I blame the neglect of this blog, sorreeee) my “to do” and “to buy” lists are growing alarmingly and a serious shopping trip is required.

Thank god then for malls like Westfield in Shepherds Bush which make the whole experience relatively painless – particularly because of the surprisingly good food offering. A few years ago the idea of going to a shopping centre for a enjoyable meal, or even a quick pit-stop between shops, was alien but you can definitely be assured of a decent feed at Westfield.

I took a break from the shops to meet a friend at Tapas Revolution on the mezzanine level. Here, you don’t escape the crowds as such; you are still very much aware that you’re in a mall but it feels quite civilised to stop and perch at the bar with a glass of wine and a delicious array of tapas to nibble on, while watching shoppers continue to bustle around.

We had been told that the Madrid-born chef behind Tapas Revolution, Omar Allibhoy, had introduce some new dishes to the Spanish tapas menu, so we tried a couple.

Arroz Negro, £5.25, was a richly flavoured dish of black rice with prawns and squid, served with alioli.

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Ensalada de Tomate, £4.50, combined red and yellow tomatoes with olives and red onion to make a fruity and moreish salad.

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More juicy, ripe tomatoes were to be found in the pan con tomate, toasted bread moistened with garlic and olive oil, £2.95.

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I can never resist Boquerones, and Tapas Revolution’s version is marinated in olive oil, garlic and parsley were delicious squished into house bread, £4.75.

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Ordering Pimientos de Padrón (£4.95) is like playing Russian roulette; the green peppers are mostly sweet and juicy but every now and then you get a fiery one. Whether hot or mild, I love the blistered skin and crunchy topping of sea salt.

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We fought over the last of the croquetas de jamón, £4.50, crunchy deep-fried Iberico ham croquettes with an addictively crisp crust and silky centre.

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It would be sacrilege not to indulge in a plate of Jamón Iberico and at Tapas Revolutions they are served with a smile.

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This acorn-fed ham was sliced skilfully thin so the slivers melt on the tongue. Blissful.

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Tapas Revolution is due to open a new restaurant in Shoreditch later this year and I can’t wait for the chance to enjoy authentic, quality tapas, without having to venture near a clothes shop!

Tapas Revolution
Kiosk K2024, The Balcony
Westfield London
Shepherd’s Bush
London
W12 7SL
http://www.tapasrevolution.com

Teppan-yaki at The Matsuri St James

I have wanted to go to Japan for years but have never quite made it. So I’m thrilled that finally, tickets are booked for next spring (honeymoon!) and have been literally feeding my excitement by visiting some of the best destinations for Japanese cuisine here in London.

The Matsuri St James is a traditional Japanese restaurant in the heart of Mayfair. It specialises in authentic (I’m told – ask me again after spring 2015!) and theatrical teppan-yaki, in which fresh fish, meat and vegetables are cooked by a chef on an iron grill in front of customers seated around a semi-circular table.

On arrival, you are greeted by a gigantic mask made of washi paper and bamboo – apparently the symbol of one of the largest Japanese festivals, called Nebuta. The rest of the restaurant carries on this festival theme, such as the colourful kimono worn by the waitresses.

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We started with a newly invented cocktail which as yet has not been named by the skilled barman; the combination of unfiltered sake and passionfruit pulp gave an unusually silky, creamy texture.

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Just the thing to wash away the day’s stresses.

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You can order individual dishes from the a la carte menu at The Matsuri, but it’s more fun to let the knowledgeable staff guide you through the suggested menu of impressively showy dishes, many of which are prepared before your eyes.

The first course was a selection of sushi; turbot, salmon and seared tuna sat atop palm-warm parcels of rice.

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Then the house special, Matsuri roll with plenty of chilli bite:

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Next came tempura, which Mark pronounced the best he’s ever had. The batter was impossibly light and not remotely greasy; it encased perfect specimens of prawns and vegetables.

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Meanwhile the teppan-yaki grill was being fired up and the chef began to prepare the next course in the procession, egg fried rice. Watching the deft knife and stir fry action was mesmerising.

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As well as being a dab hand on the teppan-yaki, the chef was remarkably affable, sharing a couple of trade secrets.

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Top tip: the secret to egg fried rice is to use day-old rice; the dryness means the grains will brown better and give more flavour to the dish.

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I wouldn’t want to betray any of the courses by picking a favourite, but special mention must be given to the black cod, which is marinated for a minimum of three days until it is meltingly cloud-like.

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Chunks of rare, flash fried fillet beef, served with a mild wasabi dip.

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We couldn’t help but rubber-neck at the table next to us, who were clearly having fun with the company card and ordering amazingly marbled wagyu beef:

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To complete the experience, the Fireball Ice Cream is a must for dessert – brandy is poured onto ice cream to create a huge fireball which is then served on a pancake with grilled pineapple.

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For those not in the mood for pyrotechnics, the matcha green tea ice cream is a lovely way to round off an excellent meal.

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Every course was matched by an excellent selection of wines and to finish, the whisky trolley was wheeled over, groaning under the weight of an impressive array of rare Japanese spirits.

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The experience at The Matsuri has made me even more excited to visit Japan; and I will know just where to come to help along the slow countdown until our flight takes off.

I was invited to dine as a guest of The Matsuri and to give an honest review. I will be back!