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Where to eat on Seymour Place

Where to eat on Seymour Place

Once upon a time, I had a truly terrible job working for a company on Seymour Place.  I think I lasted all of four months, and they felt like the longest four months of my life.  There wasn’t even anything exciting in the area to make up for the work woes.  I spent my free time eating claggy pasta salad from the local caff or drinking cheap wine in one of the old man pubs nearby.  So, funnily enough, it’s not a part of town that I tend to frequent much these days.  But, London being what it is, Seymour Place has evolved and developed over the years into somewhere really rather interesting.  The lower part of the street, closest to Marble Arch, is now a hub of independent shops and restaurants, with everything from Italian to Basque to the good old fashioned British pub.

Bernardi’s
Located right at the bottom of Seymour Place, Bernardi’s is a slick Italian restaurant with the relaxed atmosphere of a neighbourhood bistro.  The team behind it – the Bernardi brothers and chef Sabrina Gidda – have injected both the venue and the food with a youthful energy, while still retaining classic Italian flavours.  A large globe of burrata was wonderfully squidgy, its richness offset by the sweet roasted peppers from the accompanying peperonata.  Cornish squid with garlic, parsley and peperoncino (a type of chilli) looked simple, but the perfectly tender squid and smack-in-the-mouth flavours demonstrated real culinary skill.  Italian staples like arancini and pizza are given a modern twist with the inclusion of more unusual ingredients such as n’duja, taleggio and celery leaf.

Donostia and Lurra
If you’re a lover of Basque food then you need to get down to Seymour Place asap, as you will find not one, but two, great Basque restaurants.  Both are owned by Melody Adams and Nemanja Borjanovic; a couple who decided to jump head first into the hospitality industry with no prior experience.  Their gamble has paid off because both Lurra and Donostia are now firmly on the culinary map.  If you’re feeling flush, go for the dry aged Galician Blond beef.  It’s everything a great steak should be.  The meat was presented on a sizzling hot plate and was already sliced, making it easy to share.  Not only was it melt-in-the-mouth tender, it embraced all the naughty stuff like beautifully rendered fat and a generous sprinkling of rock salt.  Their cheesy croquettas, bursting with bechamel sauce, are also worth checking out.

Vinoteca
I’m a big fan of the Vinoteca brand and have visited some of their other branches several times over the years.  They’re always reliable; you know that you’ll get good, safe food, together with a stellar wine list.  Their Seymour Place offering is consistent with the rest of the group.  It has a relaxed, bistro feel, with a broadly European menu that changes every day.  What’s more, they have over 300 different wines available – so even the most discerning oenophile will find something they like.  If Oxford Street drives you completely around the bend, then you can escape just around the corner to Vinoteca and numb the pain with a few glasses of wine.  It may only be a few minutes walk, but it feels a world away from the West End nightmare of nasty shops and slow moving tourists.

Sandy’s
Sandy’s is an old fashioned pizzeria – with a twist.  Their speciality is Corsican cuisine.  If you love beer and pizza but you’re bored of the usual fare, then I recommend paying Sandy’s a visit.  Their pizzas feature lots of gruyere; a departure from the usual mozzarella and indicative of that French/Italian fusion that’s so typically Corsican.  The pizza bases are light and thin, letting the toppings take priority.  They even have a pizza named after Napoleon Bonaparte, in a cheeky nod to Corsica’s history.  Another first for me was Corsican beer.  I’m not much of a beer drinker but I really enjoyed the glass of light, crisp Pietra that came with our pizzas.  Oh, and they also do takeaway.

The Gate
The Seymour Place location is the third and latest branch of vegetarian powerhouse, The Gate.  Even a dedicated carnivore like me can find something interesting on their menu (which has so many allergies flagged that it reads like a periodic table).  I tried their butternut rotolo – sage infused potato lined with a mushroom duxelle and stuffed with butternut squash.  It was served with smoked butter beans and courgettes, a maple parsnip puree and a few other miscellaneous veggies.  I’m pretty certain I got all of my five a day in one meal but, perhaps unsurprisingly, I found it all a bit too sickly and rich.  Their jalapeno margarita, on the other hand, was immense.  I consider myself to be a bit of a margarita connoisseur – or a bit of an alcoholic – and this fiery version of a classic ticked all the boxes.

The Portman
The Portman is a two in one experience.  Downstairs, it’s a traditional pub; upstairs, it’s a smart restaurant.  If “classic British” is what you’re after, then this is the place to be.  Their menu plays it fairly safe with dishes like fish and chips or pie of the day.  However, everything is given a little more finesse than you would perhaps expect from a West End boozer.  My shepherd’s pie was made with generous chunks of slow cooked lamb in a rich, meaty gravy, with fluffy mashed potato prettily piped over the top.  It was a hug in a pie dish.  In true “classic British” form, The Portman also specialises in game so you can expect to find things like venison, hare or teal on their daily changing menu.

Many thanks to The Portman Estate and Coverdale Barclay for giving me the opportunity to visit the restaurants on Seymour Place.  All views are, as ever, my own.

Pascual Toso: Tasting Argentinian Wine

Pascual Toso: Tasting Argentinian Wine

A selection of bottles of Pascual Toso wine

I don’t write about wine very often.  I think this is probably for two reasons.  Firstly, despite attending many wine tastings, I still don’t know that much about wine.  This is probably because of the second reason: I always end up drinking too much wine and forgetting everything.  However, it’s safe to say that I am very enthusiastic about drinking wine, so hopefully that makes up for my lack of expertise.  Recently, I made a big dent in a selection of wines by the Argentinan winery Pascual Toso.  This was a really fun experience, not only because I got to hang out with loads of lovely bloggers, but also because we got to learn all about the wine directly from the winemaker himself, Felipe Stahlschmidt.

Pascual Toso, the eponymous founder of the winery, was actually Italian, not Argentinian.  Back at the end of the 19th century, he left his home in Piedmont and travelled to Argentina.  Having been involved in his family’s winery in Piedmont, he recognised that there was potential for winemaking in his new home.  He established his first winery in 1890 and the rest, as they say, is history.  You know that a wine is going to be good when it’s got over 100 years of expertise behind it.

A glass of red wine

Anyway, onto the wine itself.  Argentina is known for its big, bold reds and Pascual Toso was no exception. We kicked off with that classic Argentinian wine – Malbec.  The Pascual Toso Estate 2014 Malbec – their “entry level” variety – was everything you would expect.  It was peppery and spicy, with hints of berries which took the edge off the oak.  It tasted lighter on the palate than a lot of other Malbecs that I have tried – which is probably a dangerous thing!  I took a bottle of this home with me and discovered that it goes fantastically well with camembert!  The next wine was also from the Estate collection but this time it was a Cabernet Sauvignon, also from 2014.  This is another favourite of mine and it did not disappoint.  Classic Cab Sav flavours of berries and vanilla made it very easy to drink.

As per all wine tastings, we worked our way steadily towards the really good stuff.  A Malbec from the Selected Vines collection was richer and fuller bodied than the first one we had tried.  It had that “ooomph” that I have come to associate with Malbec, and I could easily imagine enjoying a couple of glasses with a great piece of steak.  The Selected Vines collection is so called because Pascual Toso only use grapes from specially selected vineyards, and it certainly tasted like it was a bit more special.  Things were kept interesting with the inclusion of a spicy Syrah, before we moved on to the cream of the crop: The Magdalena Toso.  The Magdalena Toso is the ultra-premium blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvigon, and was created as a tribute to Pascual Toso’s mother.  This really was a treat.  Why choose between a Malbec and a Cab Sav when you can get the best of both worlds?  The combination of the two grapes created a real depth of flavour, that was also soft on the palate.

A winemaker holding a bottle of Pascual Toso wine

The great thing about all of these wines is that none of them – with the exception of the Magdalena Toso – are particularly expensive.  They start at £10 which is a steal for wine this drinkable.  And, of course, I did end up drinking too much of it.  But why change the habit of a lifetime, eh?

Pascual Toso wine can be found at Soho Wines, Whalley Wine Shop and The Vintner.  If you want to treat yourself to the Magdalena Toso then you can buy it from Addison Wines Online
Many thanks to The Forge for inviting me along to the wine tasting.  All views are, as ever, my own.

Wine from the Rias Baixas

Wine from the Rias Baixas

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It’s not often that wine evokes strong memories; usually it has the opposite effect.  However, I will always remember the first time I ever tried wine from the Rias Baixas region of Galicia, in north-west Spain.

We had journeyed across northern Spain, starting out from Barcelona, and our trip so far had been defined by rain, rain, and then a bit more rain.  As we headed towards the north-west coast, I wasn’t expecting anything different.  This corner of Atlantic Spain was known for it’s wild weather and it’s equally wild coastline.  When we arrived at the city of Santiago de Compostela, the rain looked like it had well and truly set in for the duration.

We went for dinner that evening at a tiny hole in the wall restaurant, the name of which I have long forgotten, although the memory of the food and drink remains.  It was the kind of place that grinds to a halt when you enter, and all the local diners stare as you make your way to the table.  There was no menu; you were served whatever was going.  In Galicia, this usually means seafood, especially shellfish freshly harvested from the rain soaked seashore.  We ate mussels and scallops, the biggest and juiciest I have ever encountered, octopus sprinkled with paprika, and razor clams.  This was all washed down with a bottle of the local white wine.

I had never tried Spanish white wine before.  In fact, I didn’t even realise that such a thing even existed.  My only experience of Spanish wine up until now had been trusty old reds.  I was delighted to discover that this was a wine of beauty.  Light and crisp, it was the perfect accompaniment to the salt water freshness of the seafood, and was both dangerously cheap and easy on the palate.  It was no great surprise that we ended up stumbling out into the glistening granite streets of Santiago more than slightly worse for wear!

I have always since struggled to find a wine that matches up to what we tried in Galicia.  Sadly, it appears that wine from the Rias Baixas doesn’t travel all that well.  However, the Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Albarino comes pretty close.  It has the same drinkability, with a fresh, clean taste that makes it very easy to finish off a bottle before you even realise it.  Now that we are moving towards the warmer months, this is definitely a wine to put on your shopping list.  Although, as my experience in wet and wild Galicia testifies, you don’t necessarily need the sun to be able to enjoy Galician wine.  Which is probably just as well when you are dealing with the British summer.