Sunday, 30 August 2015

VICO - ITALIAN STREETFOOD ON CAMBRIDGE CIRCUS

As a fan of Bocca Di Lupo and Gelupo, I was looking forward to checking out their latest venture, Vico, that recently opened smack bang in the middle of Cambridge Circus, opposite The Palace Theatre. The menu is meant to focus on affordable Italian dishes inspired by streetfood.
The place is pretty immense and did seem a bit bare with minimal seating, which I think is meant to give the feel of 'eating in an Italian piazza'. There are some high tables and stools, and some concrete steps along the walls - everything seems pretty casual here. There is a tall pillar in the centre of the vast space, forming a centre-point where the multiple strings of light-bulbs converged. 





Unsure as to how the ordering system worked, we approached the counter where we were informed that the food is charged according to weight (£3.00/100g) - they were having a soft launch (50% off) at that time so our total bill was even cheaper which was an absolute bargain.
The array of dishes were not particularly very clearly displayed as we hunched down and peered through the glass to try and read the labels - probably just an early trial run presentation which hopefully will be tweaked accordingly in future.
We decided to order a sharing platter and tried most of the dishes except for the pizza - a nice selection of arancini balls, mixed meat skewers, some fried fish and courgette fries. There were also some salad dishes - we had a small portion of the rabbit with roast red onion, farro and tarragon salad.
The drinks menu is basic and straightforward - house wine which is charged by the carafe/glass (£3.00/glass), alongside spritz, beers and soft drinks. Glasses are freely available to grab from multiple baskets around the room.












There were also tasty trays of sweet treats being circulated around the room for customers to sample - we tried the chocolate and almond cake, and the almond biscotti.




On the far side of the room near the front is a large Gelupo counter serving up gelato and other iced desserts, as well as their speciality coffees. A much wider and airier space compared to their original location on Archer Street. I ordered a medium sized cone with the melon and peach sorbet which was sweet and refreshing. I am also quite a fan of their affogatos, and I'm sure this will be the first of many future visits.





I had quite a late breakfast prior to this visit, so this was ideal for me as a quick bite instead of a full-on lunch. I must admit that I have not had as much Italian streetfood so I can't really comment on the authenticity, but all I can say is that I was satisfied with what I had. It's a great central location and less jam-packed than the other two sites, and knowing how much I love Gelupo, this will be yet another temptation that will be hard to resist...

The Cheekster, signing out x

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Saturday, 29 August 2015

CHAMPAGNE AFTERNOON TEA AT AMARANTO, FOUR SEASONS

Amaranto is a modern Italian restaurant in the Four Seasons London at Park Lane, and coincidentally just opposite the Intercontinental where I had the pleasure of enjoying another afternoon tea a couple of weeks back.
The afternoon tea was served in the Amaranto Lounge which had more of an oriental feel to it rather than Italian, with its marbled black surfaces and scarlet red interiors. It was a shame about the weather as I was hoping to be able to enjoy the outdoor garden which would have been lovely on a sunny day - the lounge clearly proved to be a warmer and drier option on yet another wet British summers day.
 
They have four different menu options and I was actually interested to try the Picnic Afternoon Tea (despite the non-picnic weather outside), but I was then informed by the waiter that the Free-flowing Bookatable Deal was only valid for the Traditional Afternoon Tea Menu. Slightly odd as all four menus were displayed on the website, but I didn't ask further...

Anyway, any sort of afternoon tea makes me happy, especially when it involves free-flowing bubbles. Our champagne flutes were promptly topped up with Bollinger champagne - an excellent way to brighten up a rainy day and wash away the Monday blues.
Well, I didn't exactly have the usual Monday blues since it was my day off work, but champagne still makes any day seem perkier...




Our three tiered stand was placed on a small side table next to us, carrying a plate of sandwiches and the sweets. The scones were to be brought out later when we were done with the sandwiches so that they would not go cold sitting on the table - a much preferred method as opposed to some places that bring out everything simultaneously.
The selection of sandwiches consisted of the following:

Organic egg, Montgomery cheddar with mustard cress on malted bread
Cucumber, cream cheese and wasabi on walnut bread
East End smoked salmon and prawn cocktail on brown bread
Honey roast ham with cloves and English mustard on white bread
Roast organic chicken with sage and onion stuffing, mustard mayonnaise on white bread

A nice variety of tasty traditional fillings and bread - we particularly liked the white bread with cranberries.



When we were done with the sandwiches, we requested for the scones to be brought out. The traditional and raisin scones were warm and buttery, and the fact that they were smaller made them taste better to me - I have this thing with miniature food and desserts... 
They were served with a trio of condiments - strawberry jam, lemon curd and thick clotted cream. 

After downing a few glasses of champagne (I kind of lost count halfway through...), we moved on to the teas - Zeena ordered the fragrant Jasmine Silver Needle, whilst I went for my favourite Darjeeling Second Flush which had a rich and full-bodied aroma.
And of course we did also inform the waiter that we were happy for the champagne to keep flowing...





The chocolate and raspberry macaron was really rich and indulgent - macarons are one of my favourite desserts and this did not disappoint. The Pimm's choux was cute and interesting, and undoubtedly a delicious mouthful of creaminess.  The trifle was quite light and fruity, and the rhubarb and custard was encased within a sweet white chocolate shell and presented in the shape of a mini lolly. I had been eyeing that pistachio and strawberry tartlet for a while, so I was quite excited to finally devour it - it tasted as good as it looked, and it was my favourite one amongst the rest.






Time passed by so quickly as usual and we were absolutely stuffed at the end that we walked to a further tube station to help our tummies to settle - another one of those over-indulgent afternoons...not that I'm complaining.

The Afternoon Tea with free-flowing champagne is priced at £49 per person and is one of the many Bookatable Star Deals which you can book for yourself via this link. Or you may also click here to browse the other free-flowing deals that may tickle your fancy.

The Cheekster, signing out x

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Monday, 24 August 2015

GAUCHO ARGENTINE WINE FAIR

In my ongoing pursuit of improving my knowledge of wine (slowly but surely...), I recently attended the Argentine Wine Fair held at Gaucho, located within the state-of-the-art O2 arena in Greenwich. It has been a while since my last visit to Gaucho, an Argentine restaurant which specializes in beef, exclusively sourced from Argentina. They only use grass-fed free-to-roam Aberdeen Angus-bred beef which comes from 45 hand-picked farms (estancias), all of which use traditional rearing methods. 

I've always known Gaucho for their speciality and focus on quality beef, but was never quite aware of the wine aspect, where the Gaucho passion for the best of Argentina seems to have embraced the country's wine production, particularly over the last 15 years.
 
This one-off afternoon wine-tasing event was hosted by Gaucho's Director of Wines, Phil Crozier, otherwise nicknamed 'Mr Argentina'.
Well-known as a true pioneer of Argentine wines in the UK, Phil was the first ever buyer to produce an all Argentine wine list outside of Argentina - forging extremely close relationships with many of the famous wine-makers in Argentina in this time, and has worked closely with young wine makers, embarking on a journey to produce wines with them in 2002. He has built a wine list with over 200 top quality Argentine wines over the years, working with top vineyards from Salta in the north to Patagonia in the south.

The afternoon involved a showcase of what has been his labour of love over the past five years, where we were presented with a selection of Gaucho's new and diverse wines that are not available anywhere else in the world. 
There were about 8 different stations featuring wines from the regions across Argentina, and we also got to sample some of Gaucho's famous empanadas and ceviche.
The Torront├ęs was probably the one that I most favoured amongst the ones that I tried, a typically Argentine grape that is mostly found in the provinces of La Rioja, San Juan, and Salta. 













Their wholly-exclusive, fully-Argentinian wine list that is set to launch in October - do check out their website for information on more of their exciting up-coming events.

The Cheekster, signing out x