Dear boys and girls here is a little treat for you… I will in the following reviews give you a guided tour to the culinary London from the point of view of dating. Because they say that the right way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, I’ll let you know that the easy way to a girls heart – and knickers – is through some classic and classy wine-ing and dine-ing.
So here follows a guide to the best pre-dinner date cocktail bars, the little gems of London’s restaurants and the best places to swoosh the girl (or man) of your dreams of their feet with exceptional cooking…
And hopefully you’ll have breakfast in bed tomorrow morning!
It’s hard taking that step from friend to lover, even just taking the step to show any kind of romantic interest in a friend can be tricky, and then there is the very likely chance that both of the people involved is not equally interested. Otherwise you would have ended up in the sack together already, right? I mostly find that in this kind of situation there is one person keener then the other to take that step, and any kind of interest shown can very easily ruin a perfectly safe friendship if the feeling is not returned. However, I’ve always been a firm believer in that boys and girls CAN be just friends and that even if there is a strong sexual chemistry, it can be controlled and ignored for the good sake of… well, friendship. I have this thing about me that I always tend to lead guys on- unconsciously- so, I was very wary when asking my friend to join me for dinner this Friday as I didn’t want it to seem as I’m intending something that I’m not. I know some people are arguing that if two adults rendezvous after 7pm, especially on the weekend, it is a date, no matter the nature of the meeting, I just needed great company to check out this very interesting South East Asian restaurant here in Soho, nothing else intended.
Spice Market is one of four restaurants by the restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten, a Altatian-born American chef that made his mark on the London restaurant scene in the early 90’s with his Vong venue in the Berkeley Hotel. Vong has now gone and taken its place in the top notch Asian food places Spice Market London in the W Hotel, the other best known branch is the one in NYC which is placed in the centre of Manhattan.
Me and the friend started off with a quick drink at an Indian basement bar on Dean Street called Zenna. As we know India is great for spiritual healing and yoga… but let’s not forget, these people wrote the Kama Sutra and smoke pot as part of a religious festival, so I was sure we would come across something great in this little Indian underworld, and as my friend is a concierge at number One Hyde Park I was expecting him to know of some good places. Zenna was great but, unfortunately, there was no Karma Sutra or weed smoking going on, just great cocktails, smiley service and very good atmosphere to get the Friday night off on the right foot! Zenna takes both smaller table reservations and large party booking so it’s great for those birthday drinks as well as a first evening drink.
After a quick catch up, and running fashionably late, we headed over to our destination in the W Hotel. And wow did this place blow me away! Set over two floors Spice Market holds around 200 diners and drinkers from all walks of life, and I even did a bit of B celeb spotting. The venue serves food on both floors so, we requested a table on the 1st floor to be able to view the chefs in the open plan kitchen.
This is a perfect place for bringing friends as the venue has great talking points (the 150 handmade wok-shaped lamps covering pretty much the whole ceiling being one of them) and they even have a semi-private area seating up to 40 guests for a more private setting. The food they serve is served “family-styled” and it’s great as you get a chance to sample more of the yummy but limited menu. The reception was great and the bar offered free spicy popcorn while I was sipping my Raspberry and Lychee Bellini (£9), something I thought was a nice touch for such an up market place. It’s the kind of place I would take my mother in law, or clients, to show off a bit.
The menu was almost a bit too limited I would dare to say, we both would have wished for a few more dishes, and a larger selection of sides. We started with the Salmon Tartar (shredded salmon, avocado, radish and a soy and ginger dressing £10.50) it was great, for me a bit on the bland side but my friend almost fought me over the last spoon full! The second dish to arrive was Spicy Salt and Pepper Squid with a Yuzu dip and pickled chilli (£9) which I really enjoyed, the seafood had been cooked fresh and was really tender but I was missing that punch of… something. The Tempura Salt and Pepper Sole (£18) was again lovely but very subtle, but the Thai Basil and Lime Sauce was a weird one to handle.
Spice Market really is a great catch up place for friends and family, and there is great sense of theatre to the whole venue… the show of the flaming woks from the kitchen, the warm hand towel to wipe your hands, the low acoustics that makes it talk-friendly and the way your plates are changed in-between courses. All the dishes have that warmth of spices that gives you that kind of “sneak up on you and kisses you on the neck” feeling, and however subtle the flavours had been so far, this is food to slowly, but surely heat you up for the maint course. Spice Market really found my food g-spot! Then came a big piece of Onion and Chilli Crusted Beef Short Ribs (£18) served with egg noodles and baby spinach in a broth… this was heaven in a bowl. The beef was tender and juicy and the broth could have been served on its own like a light soup.
Our waiter was great, so I didn’t have any problems paying the service and the free white chocolate and sorbet dessert that was given to us was a treat that eased the bill of £114 a little bit, even though I was too full to have more than a few spoons! We didn’t have any wine with our meal, but we did have two beers (Brooklyn Lager’s £7 each) and the bill also included my Bellini and my friends Whiskey Sour from the bar.
We had a great start to the evening and headed into the Soho night lights on full stomachs and with lightly blurry heads. Just the way a friendly catch up should be!
You can book online for all the Spice Markets by visiting the website www.spicemarketlondon.co.uk. Larger parties should call the venues direct. And if visiting the London branch, ask your waiter to show you trough to the W Hotel bar afterwards, for some really posh after dinner drinks.