Tuesday, 24 March 2015


Checking into a hotel in London is always a bit strange for me, considering that I live here. 
I do enjoy staying in hotels every now and again, and once again luck has been on my side to allow me to enjoy a bit of luxury for my birthday weekend. My cousin had also made a special visit from Edinburgh, so that was a nice little getaway for the both of us to catch up. I had the day off so I had time to pack for our stay - my overnight bag seemed a bit bulkier than I was expecting...I blame it on the heels.

The first time I visited the hotel was for Sunday afternoon tea with my mum, and it was a rather pleasant and memorable experience. 
We arrived at reception, and despite the slight confusion over booking details, we were soon shown up to our room by the friendly manager, Mr Sasanke. It was a Deluxe Double bedroom with a pretty view of the River Thames and London Eye. There was a little balcony but it was inaccessible due to health and safety reasons. 
The size of the room was pretty decent, with all the basic facilities provided. The bathroom was a bit smaller than average, but good enough for its purpose. There was also a TV on the wall by the shower should you not want to miss a TV show that was on at any time...

And on the table was laid a sweet tray of treats wishing me Happy Birthday, which was really sweet of them.

We had a reservation at Alyn Williams at The Westbury that evening, but we popped downstairs a bit earlier to have a drink at the Equus Bar. Mr Sasanke was kind enough to give us a 2-for-1 drinks voucher. Viv ordered The Cavalry Cocktail, which was created by TV Mixologist Andy Pearson for the Royal Horseguards Hotel Help for Heroes campaign. Made with ruby port, Cognac, Grand Marnier and red Burgundy, it was maybe a bit of a strong choice for her...probably best as a post-dinner drink. My Chocolate & Hazelnut Martini was surprisingly quite strong as well, and not quite as chocolatey as I was expecting. I think we were both felt a bit tipsy as we got up to leave, but then again, it was the weekend after all.

When we returned to our room after dinner, a foot mat with bedroom slippers were laid by our bedsides, with a piece of chocolate each on our pillows.

The next morning, we had an early breakfast downstairs at the restaurant. They had a good selection of breakfast options to choose from - hot food, bread and pastries, cheese and cold meats/fish, and a cereal and fruit bar. We made sure not to have anything too heavy as I had a birthday lunch booked at the Chef's Table at Parlour (post to follow soon), and Chef Jesse did warn us not to eat anything beforehand...

Overall, we both had a pleasant stay. Thank you to the Royal Horseguards Hotel for having us, and I look forward to visiting again soon.

The Cheekster, signing out x


Celebrating my belated birthday with my cousin, Vivienne, I'm glad that I made a good dinner venue choice this time after a very much disappointing dinner the previous weekend.
I first had a taste of Chef Alyn Williams cooking at the Dinner in the Sky event last year in Canary Wharf, which I really enjoyed. Hence, I was confident that I had made the right choice for this special occasion. 
We were staying at The Royal Horseguards Hotel that night, so it wasn't too long a journey in the taxi, despite the slight traffic on the roads...

We were sat at a nice, quiet corner at the far end of the room. I love cocktails as much as I love champagne, so it seemed logical to order a champagne cocktail - I ordered the Imperial Lavender whilst Viv had The Prestige. Both really nice apéritifs.
I also had a glass white wine, which was the recommended Slovakian wine, Château Belá Riesling. 

We were shown both tasting menus and were informed that we could replace/swap any of the dishes from the other menu should we wish to do so. It is nice to know that there are restaurants like these who are flexible and make an effort to accommodate different customer preferences.
We both however stuck to the regular tasting menu as all the dishes appealed to us.

We were served a nice selection of bread and butter to start with. This was followed by some mouthwatering amuse-bouches. 
I particularly really liked the cheese gougères. I had some really good ones just about a week ago at Medlar in Chelsea, but these were much lighter and moist and a delicious mouthful of cheese-y goodness. Another favourite was the foie gras - Viv who normally isn't a fan of foie gras surprisingly enjoyed it as well.

The first dish was the marinated sea bream, served in a cute transparent bowl. The flavours were really fresh, combined with the subtle sweetness of the cubes of fresh apple and jelly and saltiness of the caviar. 
Next was the John Dory that I don't often see in many restaurants. Lovely flaky flesh with quite a firm, meaty texture, which was quite flavoursome.

Marinated sea bream/apple/chervil/mallossol caviar/whey

John Dory/wild garlic/morels/broad beans

Another challenging dish for Viv was the aerated foie gras. As I had previously mentioned, Viv was initially quite dubious about it, as she hasn't had the most pleasant experiences with it in the past. This once again appealed to our tastes, and it was indeed an interesting combination with the nori and pickled vegetables. I have had foie gras in quite a few places, but never aerated, which was much lighter then usual. Definitely one of our favourites of the evening.
The barbequed Holstein tartare was another highlight for me. The meat was marinated just enough so that I could still taste the meat. I must say that having oyster and beef tartare was a first for me, not quite sure if it would work in most cases, but it certainly was different.

Aerated foie gras/nori/pickled vegetables

Barbequed Holstein tartare/Mersea oyster/Calcot onion

There were two options for the next course - Viv went for the Cornish hogget, whilst I chose the other option of roasted pigeon, as I do love game. Both really well-executed dishes, and we both got to try each others dishes, so we didn't miss out on either.

Cornish hogget/celeriac/soured milk/bianchetti truffle

Roasted pigeon/alexanders/sand carrots/star anise

There was the option for the cheese selection for a supplemental £12, but unfortunately we were quite full at that stage and wanted to save space for dessert. However, if you are one who prefers cheese over sweet desserts, I would definitely recommend going for it, as the tray that they brought over really did look very tempting!

The first dessert was a  Meyer lemon sorbet served in its skin and topped with grounded bits of caramel popcorn - refreshing and a great palate cleanser. The next dessert was just as satisfying - simple yet classy.
And to finish, some petit fours which were some petite brioche buns, and salted caramel and Turkish delight chocolate truffles.

Meyer lemon/caramel popcorn/vanilla

Manjari chocolate/candied orange/yoghurt

The whole evening passed by really smoothly, without feeling rushed like the previous weekend. Service was calm and attentive, without being overbearing, and the friendly restaurant manager made an effort to come by our table to check on us during and after our meal.
This was my first time dining at the restaurant, and it certainly won't be my last.

The Cheekster, signing out x

Alyn Williams at The Westbury on Urbanspoon


I had heard good things about the Galvin restaurants, so I had especially made a booking at Michelin-starred Galvin at Windows for my joint birthday dinner with my best friend, WK. I had also been to Galvin Bistro de Luxe a while back, and I remembered that I did enjoy my meal there.
This was however was not quite the experience that I was expecting, so here is just a short recollection of my much disappointing birthday meal...

After a slight confusion with the elevator system (my brain was clearly not thinking straight after rushing from the station in heels...), we made it up to the 28th floor. It was  shame that our table was not by the windows, but I didn't mind too much, I have seen better views and I was mainly looking forward to the food.

I ordered The Dolphin 'Delphinus' cocktail, made with Passoa liqueur, Campari, strawberries, guava juice, and top up with Champagne, whilst WK had a glass of champagne.
We also had a look at the wine list, and after asking for some advice, the waitress told us that the young sommelier who was attending to another table would come by shortly. Instead another waiter came by after a while (we were not sure if he was another sommelier...), and without discussing any options, seemed a bit overbearing and insisted that the £85 bottle of Reisling would go perfectly with our meal. I don't know much about wine, but I thought that maybe he would know better than I, so I naively nodded in agreement...
I found it a bit strange when the first waitress removed out wine glasses from the table. We then informed another waitress passing by that we had ordered wine, and they were then replaced on our table. And then the same thing happened again when another waitress hurriedly took away our glasses...
The young sommelier eventually arrived with the wine, clearly very apologetic as he replaced our glasses, and let us taste the wine, before filling up our glasses.

We were served the usual complimentary bread and butter, followed by a couple of amuse-bouches - a creamy soup with a piece of brioche on the side, and some foie gras sandwiched between chocolate biscuits. Not quite the the most creative amuse-bouches compared to others that I have had, just pretty decent.

We both went for the Menu Dégustation which consisted of a 7 course tasting menu of dishes chosen by Head Chef Joo Won.
 Our first dish was the seared Scottish scallops, that I quite enjoyed with the white onion puree and the creamy shellfish bisque. Next was the ballotine of foie gras which was quite rich and buttery, but quite plain looking.

Seared Scottish scallops, white onion puree, sea vegetables & shellfish bisque

Ballotine of foie gras, marinated prune, orange puree & pain d'epice

 The sea bass had a nice flaky texture, but I did not like the potato crust that much - it wasn't crispy and had a bit of an unpleasant grainy texture.
WK had specifically requested for his dish of Iberico pork to be cooked well done - don't judge him, he does have his personal reasons...
Both our dishes come our medium rare, and we then informed the waitress. She then hurried off to check with someone else, but when she came back, instead of apologizing and offering to bring it back to the kitchen, she asked if he was 'Okay' with it. Now I'm pretty sure that WK had made his intentions clear, so after insisting that it was 'Not Okay', they took his dish back, and offered to keep mine warm in the oven whilst we waited.
The meat was quite nice and I liked the crispy pig's head, but I must say that the portion was rather small, even for a meat dish on a tasting menu.

Pan-fried fillet of line caught sea bass, potato crust

Roasted Iberico pork, carrot & cumin puree, crispy pig's head & jus diablo

Everything seemed to pass by way to quickly, without much satisfaction, and soon it was time for dessert. Our first dessert was a rhubarb compote with chocolate mousse and orange foam. As many of you know, desserts are usually the main thing that excites me, but this unfortunately did not. 
I was further disappointed by the second dessert, which was basically a parfait with meringue bits stuck to it, topped with ice cream with some caramelized bananas around it.
It can't just be me that finds this a bit boring, does it? Strangely, the first thing that crossed my mind was...stegosaurus.
I mean, where's the creativity and excitement?
There were no petit fours, but instead a jar of...marshmallows. Enough said.

Rhubarb compote, chocolate mousse & orange foam

Nougat parfait, caramelised banana, Muscovado meringues & black pepper ice cream

Tasting menus generally tend to cost quite a bit, but at £99 for 7 courses where the majority of it was pretty average, I can think of many more places where I could have gotten better value for my money. And a better experience overall.
Some other aspects that I found quite unprofessional was that our dishes were served whilst one of us were away from the table e.g. when we excused ourselves to the washroom. This happened on two occasions, as we obviously did not go at once. I would have thought that they could have waited for both parties to be seated before serving...
The neighbouring table which was quite a big group were clearly big spenders considering the bottles of wine they had ordered, so I'm sure that the staff wanted to keep them happy. But one of these inconsiderate diners had pushed his chair all the way back, blocking the already narrow path. Instead of politely asking him to move aside a little, the waiters and waitresses that tried to scoot around him instead knocked into the back of my chair about four times without even apologizing...
I was too disappointed to request for a birthday candle, so instead I went to my favourite, Picture, to get my dessert and birthday candle fix. Thank you so much Soria.

Despite this incident, I am still interested to try out Galvin La Chapelle, which is supposed to be beautiful...with hopefully better food and service.
Well, I guess that pretty much sums out my experience at Galvin at Windows. Personally I'm not sure if I would go back again, as I feel that it caters more for hotel guests, tourists...and maybe more for business lunches/dinners. 
Maybe the lunch or three course menu may have been better? I wouldn't know...
Maybe I should have stuck to a place that we were familiar with, like Ametsa, a tasting menu that we both really enjoyed previously.
The good news however, was that I had an excellent belated birthday meal the next weekend at Alyn Williams at The Westbury! French cuisine as well, coincidentally, but so much better. Click here for the link.

The Cheekster, signing out x

Galvin at Windows on Urbanspoon