Location: 161 Wardour St, near Tottenham Court Rd. station. London. W1F 8WL
Filled with fond fondue memories, easterbunny rallied the troops, made a reservation, and off we went to gather at what is apparently London's only Swiss* restaurant; certainly the website claims it's the oldest one. There were enormous cowbells and dark woodwork and narrow passage between the tables, all of which added to the visual theme which reminded us so much of Heidi. Although the menu offered a variety of other Swiss food options, including various sausage and veal confections, easterbunny, aca, haggisthesecond, billyabbott, Colin of colins_journal, and I all yielded to the siren call of burning tealights and molten cheese, and ordered fondue.
The female contingent shared a pot of Valaisanne aux tomates fondue, a "smooth blend of gruyere, vacherin, tomatoes", which was served with an endless supply of large bread cubes and boiled new potatoes. The tomatoes really made all the difference to the fondue, giving it a vegetal well-roundedness which I preferred to the all-cheese fondue ordered by the male contingent. Admittedly, they had vegetables to dip into their "traditional" fondue. And bread cubes. The fondue portions were generous and we
We ordered chocolate fondue for four, with Colin stealing the odd bit of ours, and billyabbott prefering to have a dish of chocolate cake all to himself, rather than sharing yet more food. The fondue came with a platter of varied sliced fruits, with an extra platter of crisp, tender dipping cookies. Like the cheese fondue, the chocolate spread in a thick, even layer over the dipped fruit. Rich, but not overpowering, the chocolate's darkness was balance for the fruit's freshness.
The fondue was a bit pricy, but good; I'd go back. Several people on London Eating have rated the place poorly for service, but both of our waitresses were good-natured, friendly, and helpful.
Epilogue: I never sleep through alarm clocks, but fondue-induced slumber tided me through the morning beepings. Oh, did I sleep. The next morning, the group of fondue eaters were either very thirsty, very sleepy, or else slightly off their food. Happily, sleep was my only aftermath.
Note: if you too want to go there and eat fondue, make sure to reserve a table in advance. The restaurant isn't all that large.
Location: Upstairs in the Mall Building, 359 Upper St, near Angel station. London. N1 0PD
I've been wanting to try Lola's since last summer, when the owner announced their new upscale ice cream van on eGullet. I never did try the van - there's always this coming summer! - but the restaurant itself was nicely reviewed in enough venues that it topped my list of places I wanted to try. And so when taldragon, on her week off, said she was coming into London and did I want to pick a restaurant? I certainly did. And that's how I came to be sitting on a banquette in a spacious, soothing space of white linen, pale neutral walls, and gauze curtains early this Friday afternoon, with taldragon's delightful company.
The restaurant offers a good-value three course lunch special for UKP 15.99 ( optional wine pairings also available) but we gave in to the lure of other dishes on the à la carte menu and ordered that way instead. I began with the most thought-provoking dish of the meal, a crispy duck, watermelon cubes, pomegranate seeds, parsley, and mint salad. The herbs brought all the disparate flavors and temperatures together, but it was a rare bite onto which I could juggle all the ingredients - the pomegranate seeds slipped away, the watermelon cubes were just large enough that it was hard to fit everything else on the fork at the same time, and the hot/cold contrast between watermelon and duck just never quite came together for me without the herbal intervention. taldragon liked the clear, decisive, but not overwhelming garlic and chili suffusing the oil in which her shrimp had been marinating.
My main was a tenderly roasted piece of rabbit, sauced with a finely chopped carrot-and-onion gravy, and laid on a fabulous, soft, parmesan-rich polenta which was a highlight of my meal. The rabbit was good - the polenta was wonderful. My eating companion tried the stylish jerusalem artichoke risotto; clear flavors, just al dente rice. It was very cheesy, a little too much so for taldragon, and not quite creamy enough for my taste in risotto - but quite competent.
We couldn't decide between all the desserts, so erred on the side of decadence and ordered three of them to share between two of us. We didn't have the appetite to actually finish all three of them, but nevertheless, I'm glad we did. The crême brûlée was perfect, a thin, crisp layer of caramelized sugar over top of a meltingly soft vanilla-touched custard.** It was accompanied by a rather bland chocolate chip cookie. The dark chocolate mousse was the most overall successful dessert, lovely and rich, and crowned with two roundels of mint glass, coaster-sized sugar laces scattered with pieces of fresh mint leaves; dubious at first, they'd grown on taldragon by the time she finished hers. If we hadn't ordered the coffee-flavored semifreddo, we'd never have known how beautifully-plated their dishes can be. A mug of chill semifreddo custard sat in the middle of a large slab of black slate, a pair of round, spiced doughnut balls balanced on a skewer against the mug.
The staff let us chat in companionable tranquility long after we were the only customers left in the restaurant, the afternoon drawing on. Yes, it was good. Yes, I'd go back. And it was a relief to finally eat in a comfortable, extremely competent, good London restaurant.
Location: Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, Wapping Wall. Vaguely near Wapping and Shadwell stations; across the street from the Prospect of Whitby. London. E1W 3ST
Wapping Food is, as its address will tell you, located in the old hydraulic power station. The building's industrial past dictates a great deal of its continued use. Much of the old machinery is still in place, rendering a substantial percentage of the large space unusable for eating. The ceiling towers stories above. The venue may allow smoking, but there'll never be an accumulated fug of old smoke with ceilings this high. We went in search of brunch*** and were yet again foiled in our attempts by arriving a good 45 minutes after they'd stopped serving it; but lunch was still an option, and so we ate that instead.
The industrial-chic restaurant concentrates on an impressive variety of alcohol, especially cocktails, but also dessert wines and ports. They serve lunch, dinner, and afternoon tea, plus - in theory - brunch on Saturday and Sunday mornings, but not afternoons. Food is cooked from high quality ingredients; guidebooks praise the place's consistantly innovative and interesting dishes. Indeed, the beetroot, goat's cheese, toasted walnuts, and dressed greens salad I had was particularly good and refreshing. I was less exciting about the gnocchi (another dish I'm picky about), but the gorgonzola sauce was nicely balanced, flavorful, but not too heavy on cheesy intensity. We had just enough room left to share a soft banana cheesecake topped with nutty praliné. Our first experience was promising - but how is their brunch?
* So this was apparently London's only Swiss restaurant. Does London have at least one restaurant representing the cuisine of each of the European countries? That could be a fun food tour theme.
** And such a relief after the last bizarre crême brûlée I'd eaten, a weird creature in which the layer of crisp sugar covered a slab of mascarpone.
*** We've only tried for brunch a few times in this city, and have been foiled every one of them. I want an American-style brunch - eggs benedict, pancakes, that kind of thing. The last time we tried for one, the restaurant no longer served it at all.