Restaurant review: M Twickenham

Reviewing the latest addition to the M restaurants, the Twickenham branch, is somewhat tricky for me. If, like me, you usually do fine dining more than anything else, this doesn’t really measure up to those standards. If, however, you prefer hearty meals in standard restaurants or pubs, you would consider M to be an upmarket place. Either way, you should be prepared for the pinch to your wallet. Most of my reviews will be of fine dining restaurants, so I think I have to use the same considerations, standards and ratings for comparison. Only very rare restaurants will ever get 5 stars from me. 4 is very good, 3 good and above average. 2 would have something missing and be below average, and 1 poor (I hope I will never have to give 1).

We had been to this restaurant once since it opened a while ago. We thought it was decent enough, although as mentioned above, not exactly the fine dining standard. This time, we decided to go for a Sunday dinner (however not roast, but a la carte). Restaurant was busier than we expected, but we had no problem getting a table. Couple of tables from us there was a group, and they had two big dogs with them. This was inside the restaurant, quite close to the open kitchen. If the place was a country pub this would be something you’d expect, however I was slightly uncomfortable with this, especially when one of the dogs started shaking it’s body. I was trying to calculate the distance and what amount of particles floated onto my food (I don’t really want to think about it too much). I do like dogs, just not in a supposedly upmarket restaurant.

Restaurant had run out of couple of options, one of them being what my husband would’ve ordered.

Apart from the bread, you have to pay for absolutely everything separately. Things got to a good start with the bread. One of the first things we always use for assessing a restaurant is the butter. You still sometimes get butter that’s rock hard, and almost impossible to spread. Perfect butter should be very soft, almost mousse-like. At the M, the butter was perfectly soft. For the wine we went for Argentinian Malbec, which was the restaurant’s own label, and decent enough.

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For starters I had ‘Courgette’, and my husband had ‘Wagyu scotch egg’. I enjoyed my starter, which had differently prepared courgette: fermented, pickled, and courgette flower filled with cheese, coated with batter and deepfried.  The cheese was very light, almost foamy, and oozed out when the flower was cut. Coming from fine dining in mind, the plating was probably lacking a bit of finesse.  My husband’s dish was also nice, however spiced wagyu beef didn’t taste spiced at all. The beef itself was quite like tartare, so if you don’t like raw / medium beef you might want to reconsider your choice. The egg inside was nice and oozy, just as it should be.

With the main, you must be prepared to order sides, as you literally get nothing else on your plate. We ordered spiced chickpeas, spinach and rocket salad, and triple cooked chips. I’m not too big a fan of chunky chips, so asked for skinny fries, but the only option was their chips. When the chips came they were actually ok for me as they were more like skinny fries than chips. The salad came without any utensils, so we had to try to get some out with our knives and forks. That might be awkward if you weren’t just with your other half. The chickpeas for me were slightly too tomato flavoured, not fresh tomato but tinned. They also didn’t appear spiced as promised on the menu. My husband liked them but I was disappointed.

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The star of the meal without doubt was the meat. I had a fillet steak, and my husband had fillet medallions (as his first choice had run out). Both were perfectly cooked as requested, medium-rare. When I saw my piece of meat arrive I was thinking it wouldn’t be, as it’s very difficult to get a thick piece of fillet cooked right. We both ordered black garlic aioli as the sauce for the meat. I couldn’t really decide for quite a while what I thought of it, but I think in the end my decision has been that it’s not my thing. My husband did however like it, so it might just be a question of taste.

For dessert I had ‘bakewell tart’ and my husband had ‘pumpkin brulée’. I thought the cake was quite nice and moist. My husband liked his dessert. I would often order crème brulée in a restaurant, and I’m not sure I would’ve been happy if I had received that. I don’t think it was exactly brulée.

Final additional comments:

One of the serving staff made an insensitive comment whilst serving our food. It didn’t personally affect us, but would have potentially affected someone with a family member suffering from Parkinsons.

We asked to move to the bar with our remaining wine and water after finishing our meal, and it didn’t seem to occur to the staff to take our drinks, until we asked about it again.

The ladies’ and gentlemens’ rooms are supposed to have high-end hand soap. My husband came back horrified. What the bottle said, was the same fragrance as one of his shower gels from the same brand. The colour should be yellow, but was green, and smelled completely different. It was also foamy at the top, and appeared to be something like dish washing liquid. My thought following this is that if you’re lying about something like this, what else would you be lying  about?

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Moussaka

Greek food somehow seems to often get forgotten in my kitchen, as well as when dining out. There is no particular reason for it, but it just doesn’t seem to be an obvious first choice. Apart from moussaka that is, which is a dish I make quite regularly.

3 aubergines (eggplants)
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2 medium onions
2 green peppers
bunch of parsley
50ml olive oil
25g butter
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 dl tomato puree
4 dl water
500g minced lamb
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3 dl milk
2 1/2 tbsp plain flour
pinch of salt
2 eggs

1. Finely chop onions and parsley. Cut the green peppers into small pieces.

2. Fry the onions in the oil until translucent. Add the chopped green peppers and parsley, fry for 5 minutes.

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3. Add butter, salt, pepper, tomato puree, water and the lamb. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Check the taste, add more salt and pepper if required.

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4. Mix the flour with the milk, and heat until the mixture thickens. Pour the eggs in whilst mixing, and season with salt.

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5. Cut the aubergines lengthwise, to about 1cm thick slices. Use half of them to layer bottom of an oven casserole dish. Add the lamb mixture, and put a layer of aubergines on top. Pour the white sauce over everything.

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6. Cook in preheated oven 190°C for 45 minutes.

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Salmon soup

I would probably go as far as to say this is my all time favourite Finnish food. My husband and I have been together for nine years, however he still hasn’t bought into the Finnish style soups of thin liquid base with chunky pieces. He does enjoy the flavour of this soup, so I’ve added a step to make this soup (step 1) slightly thicker. It does actually make it richer, so this has now become part of my recipe.

500g salmon
5-6 large potatoes
1.5 liters water
100g fine green beans
3 large onions
bunch of dill
celery stick
2 dl frozen peas
2-3 dl double cream
2 tbsp bouillon powder
sea salt
ground white pepper

1. Peel and cut half of the potatoes into small pieces. Put the pieces in a large pan, with 1 liter of water. Boil for about 30 minutes, until soft, and mash the potatoes.

2. Whilst stage 1 is cooking, peel and cut the remaining potatoes. Finely chop celery. Add both ingeriendts to the mashed potatoes.

3. Cut the green beans, and add to potatoes.

4. Slice all onions, and add to the soup. Pour the remaining 5 dl water into the pan, and add the bouillon powder, pinch of sea salt and pepper.

5. Cut the salmon into bite size pieces. I usually use salmon with skin on, so once I’ve removed the skin I have to wash the pieces, to make sure none of the large scales end up in the soup.

6. Add the salmon to the soup with the peas (as long as the potatoes are cooked through). Pour the cream in. The soup won’t need any more cooking after this, as they are pretty much cooked as soon as they touch the hot liquid. Just heat it up (adding cream and frozen peas may have cooled it). Add couple of more pinches of salt and some pepper, to taste, and add chopped dill. I tend to use scissors to cut the dill straight into the soup.

 

Wiener Schnitzel

This dish, one of Austria’s national offerings, is one of my favourites. It’s a thin piece of breaded, pan fried steak, traditionally veal (however I use sirloin steak when cooking at home). The key is you will use a mallet to hammer the beef thin, which will keep the steak tender. The dish should be served with a slice of lemon, however I ran out of fresh lemons so I just drizzled some lemon juice on top.

sirloin steak
1 dl plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 egg
2 dl breadcrumbs
butter
slices of lemon

1. Hammer the meat with a mallet until thin, 5-10mm. I tend to place the steak inside a freezer bag for this, to reduce mess. After this, it’s easy to cut the fat off.

2. Mix flour and the spices on a plate. Beat the egg, and place on another plate/ bowl. On a third plate, pour half of the breadcrumbs.

3. First, coat the steak with the flour / spice mix. Second, coat with the egg. When lifting the steak off, let excess egg drain back onto the plate. Third, place on the breadcrumbs, and pour the rest of the breadcrumbs on top. At each stage, make sure the steak is fully coated.

4. Let rest for 5 minutes on your chopping board.

5. Melt the butter in a frying pan, and fry the steak, 2 minutes each side.

 

 

Marinated pan fried tuna steak with salsa verde

I can’t remember exactly when I had fresh tuna steak for the first time, but what a magnificent find it was. It’s now a regular visitor on our table, and so different from the tinned version, it’s like they are just distant relatives. It is usually served very pink, but even if you want it cooked through, it should still be lovely and juicy. To bring out all the glory it can offer, I would recommend marinating it. I also make salsa verde to accompay it, and it works beautifully with the tuna. I can’t wait until the next time!

Marinade
1 small green chilli
1 garlic clove
1 shallot
1 tbsp capers (in water, drained)
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp olive oil
handful of parsley
salt
black pepper

1. Finely chop chilli, garlic, shallot, capers and parsley. Mix all marinade ingredients together.

2. Place the tuna steaks in a re-sealable bag, and pur the marinade in. Make sure fish is coated with the marinade all over. Close the bag, and place in the fridge for 1/2 – 1 hour. Half way through, turn the bag with the fish inside upside down, so that it’s marinating more evenly.

Salsa verde
1 small green chilli
2 garlic cloves
1 shallot
1 tbsp capers (in water, drained)
large handful of parsley
large handful of basil leaves
tarragon leaves ( from 3-4 stalks)
2 tbsp lemon juice
4 tbsp olive oil
pinch of sea salt
pinch of black pepper

1. Mix all ingredients in a blender.

Tuna steak

1. I don’t add any oil onto my griddle pan for frying the tuna steaks, as the marinade have oil in it.

2. My steaks were quite thick. If you want them pink I would recommend frying them 4-5 minutes on each side on medium to high temperature. Alternatively, if you would like them cooked through about 6 minutes on each side should be enough.

Cinnamon buns

This very Finnish bake (some might say Nordic) brings back many memories of cold winter days, steaming cup of hot chocolate with a big cinnamon bun. I don’t make them very often, but have been thinking about them for a while now. I’m so glad I decided to make them, this batch is the best I’ve ever made!

5 dl milk
2 saches of quick action dried yeast or 50g fresh yeast (I used dried)
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 dl caster sugar
1 tbsp coarsely ground cardamom
1 kg wheat flour (400g plain flour / 400g strong white bread flour / 200g self-raising flour)
200g butter, melted
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soft butter
cinnamon
caster sugar
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egg

1. Measure 900g of the flour in your mixing bowl. I use food processor for mixing the dough, but if you’re mixing by hand use a large wooden fork, as it’s important to get air in the dough mixture. Save the remaining flour until later. I have to confess I found the perfect mix of flours by accident. I have normally mixed plain and strong white flour half and half, but run out just a little bit, so had to finish with self raising, which turned out to be the best situation.

2. Heat the milk until lukewarm. Add the yeast, salt, sugar and cardamom, and stir until sugar has dissolved. Add slightly beaten egg.

3. Pour the liquid mixture to the mixing bowl with the flour in, whilst mixing.

4. Knead for 5 minutes, then start pouring in, little by little, the melted butter. At this stage, it’s a good idea to add spoons of the remaining flour, to help the butter to be incorporated with the rest of the dough. Knead for another 5 minutes. During this time, if the dough keeps sticking to the bowl, add some more flour until it doesn’t stick anymore.

5. Cover the bowl with cling film and a cloth,  and place the bowl in a sink with hot water in. Leave to rise for an hour.

6. I then knead the dough again in the food processor for 30 seconds (or alternatively, you can of course do this by hand too).

7. As this is quite a big dough, I then cut it in half, and do the following steps in each half. With a rolling pin, roll the dough onto a flat plate. About 5-10 mm thickness should be good.

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8. Spread on soft butter, followed by ground cinnamon, and then sugar.

9. Let rest for 15 minutes, then roll the dough, and cut into desired size pieces with a knife.

10. At the top part of the bun, using your fingers bring the edges of the outer layer of dough to the middle part of top of the bun and press down, so that they stick. Let rise for 30 minutes, covered.

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11. Heat oven to 200°C (fan). Just before baking the buns, brush them with slightly beaten egg. Bake for 15 minutes. Depending on your oven, keep on eye on them whether you need to turn your tray half way.

Restaurant review: Launceston Place

There are few restaurants in London my husband and I tend to gravitate towards again and again, more than others. Michelin star restaurants (and fine dining in general) is our hobby, and we’ve been to about 40 starred restaurants around London and abroad.

One of our more regular restaurants used to be Launceston Place in Kensington (London). However, during a visit that turned out to be the last one for a long time, we anticipated loss of a star for this restaurant, which subsequently happened.

Since then the restaurant has undergone major changes, including renovation, and more importantly, change of the head chef. Since taking over, Ben Murphy of course has a difficult task of bringing back customers that were lost in the highly competitive high end food industry. He for sure can boast impressive experience in top restaurants. It’s now time for him to fly solo, and we will be keeping on eye on his development and journey.

I do have to say that the restaurant is absolutely magnificent value for money. For three-course-lunch on a Sunday, which with all surprises turns out to be much more than three courses, you only pay £35 per person. We booked our table through Open Table, which for the same price, also included a glass of bubbly each.

First thing to mention straight away is that we arrived 10 minutes late to the last seating, and were still greeted in a very friendly manner. The ambience is wonderful and luxurious.

First arrived appetizers of smoked haddock ravioli and polenta cake with herbs. I’m not a great fan of polenta in general, so I have no strong opinion on them. The herb flavour however made them taste nice. I wasn’t too keen on the actual ravioli texture as it was hard / crispy rather than normal soft pasta ravioli, but I thoroughly enjoyed the filling of smoked haddock.

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After this we got candy floss sprinkled with crushed aniseed. To be honest, I think this would’ve been better suited as pre-dessert than an appetizer before food. I’ve not had candy floss in ages so the thought of it was bringing back childhood memories. The floss itself was well made, fluffy texture and not overly icky-sweet.

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Next up was the Amuse Bouche, served together with bread. It was all about potato in different forms: potato consommé jelly, potato mousse, and topped up with crispy potato crumble. This was an absolute star of the whole meal for me, I absolutely loved it. For wine we had decided to go for something we don’t often have; white Rioja Sierra Cantabria 2015. It had interesting complexity you wouldn’t always get with white wine. We both enjoyed the wine and would have it again.

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For starters I had chosen crab, and my husband went for the beetroot with goats cheese mousse. It turned out my starter was actually a risotto. Had I known this when choosing, I’m not sure whether I would’ve gone for this option. The flavours were nice, however the risotto was a little bit too al dente for my liking (and yes, I do know risotto should be firm).  For those who are not used to having crunch to their beetroot might not want to go for that option. This was no issue to my husband however, who thoroughly enjoyed his starter.

For the main I had sirloin beef with rosco onions (scooped to the plate from inside an onion), beef jus, beef bonbon, pear and stilton. The beef was cooked exactly to my requirements (medium rare), although it wasn’t as succulent as I would like my beef. The bonbon was lovely. My husband’s cod was cooked perfectly. Menu only said cod / coconut / broccoli. Don’t let this scare you from choosing this dish, as the flavours were not overpowering the delicate fish, and everything worked really well together. Smoked eel was also included. We both had potato pave, and both thought it was amazing. My husband’s description is ‘it’s like a huge chip’, even though it’s very finely sliced, layered potatoes.

Next we had a cheese course (this is additional, with an extra payment attached). We are always very pleased with the Launceston Places’ cheese trolley, some cheeses introduced to us in this place have then become as some of our favourite cheeses (for example Stinking Bishop). To accompany the cheese we had Graham’s Tawny port, which was very good. The staff had very good knowledge of the cheese, and a big plus was seedless grapes.

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We both had a rice pudding soufflé with passion fruit and yoghurt ice-cream for dessert. We all know that soufflés are difficult to make. To top that, it had rice pudding running all the way through. A great show of skill there. Overall a pleasant dessert.

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To end it all, we were served with petit fours of lemon swiss roll, plum and rum cornetto and dark chocolate square, which was decadent and rich.

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During the week, you can lunch at the Launceston Place for £23 for 2 courses, or £28 for 3 courses. You can also get Pre-theatre dinner for £30. On Saturday evenings only menu option is the Tasting Menu.

For overall rating I would give 3 out of 5 for now, with a great promise for things to come. I would like to point out that is a good marking, as 5 is reserved for the few best ones, and 4 is the one most really good places would get. I can see we will now start going to Launceston Place more regularly again.

Rating: ★★★☆☆