Tip Top Tapas

Saturday, November 11th , 2017

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Rambla is the latest opening from chef/patron Victor Garvey, who also owns Encant and Sibarita in central London. All serve Spanish food, with Rambla being the largest of the three restaurants, situated in Dean Street. The tapas dishes are unusually good, but also unusually cheap – nothing on the menu is more than £9 except the high-grade pata negra ham. Some of the dishes are particularly impressive, such as sea bass with a Jerusalem artichoke sauce, while familiar dishes like croquettas are given a twist by being filled with spinach rather than ham and cheese, and succeeding admirably. The place was already buzzing just days after opening and seems sure to do well.

Darjeeling Express is the creation of constitutional lawyer turned chef and restaurateur Asma Khan. In a busy courtyard off Carnaby Street, Darjeeling Express showcases the cuisine of Kolkata, the dishes very much in the style of Indian home cooking. The latter is not just a marketing gimmick – all the people in the kitchen are Indian housewives rather than career chefs. The consequence of this is a lack of emphasis on presentation but a focus on flavours. My second meal here was just as good as the first, with many excellent and in some cases unusual dishes. The chatty Ms Khan is a lively host, and the food is very good value.

Darbaar is a more traditional Indian restaurant, set in a large, smarty decorated setting near Broadgate Circle. This is a tricky location, with little passing trade and hard to find, but the restaurant just notched up two years in operation. That it has done so well is a testament to the considerable skills of its head chef, who produces some of the best Indian food in London from this kitchen. Unusual dishes such as “nanza” (an Indian take on pizza) sit alongside traditional menu choices like butter chicken, and both new and old dishes work equally well. The naan bread here is spectacularly good, and the restaurant is well worth seeking out if you are in the Liverpool Street area.

In other news, the Michelin guide to Seoul came out, part of its paid contract with the Korean tourist authority. Unlike traditional Michelin guides, the Seoul Guide is paid for by the government, along with the guides to Hong Kong, Macau, Shanghai, Singapore and the forthcoming guides to Bangkok and Taipei. This was confirmed in a Washington Post article. Michelin is a commercial organisation, but, as the old saying goes, he who pays the piper calls the tune. There is therefore a debatable conflict of interest in such cases - will Michelin take millions of dollars for a guide and then say "haha, sorry about that, but our inspectors couldn't find any starred restaruants in your city". I don't think so. Worse still would be a situation where the head of a local tourist board sponsoring Michelin actually has ownership of restaurants that feature in the guide. Anyway, no change at the top in Seoul, with Gaon and La Yeon still with their surreal three star rating that shame the reputation of Michelin. There were promotions for Jungsik and Kojima, while the very good Pierre Gagnaire outlet seems to have been deleted. Seoul now has a pair of 3 stars, four 2 stars and 17 one stars.

The guide to Kyoto and Osaka also came out, with a new three star in the form of promoted Iida in Kyoto, a ten seat kaiseki restaurant. Hajime regained its third star. Kyoto now has eight 3 star places, 23 two stars and 64 one stars, while Osaka has four 3 stars, 17 two stars and 75 one star establishments.