Virtual Gourmet

August 13, 2006                                                       NEWSLETTER


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In This Issue

What's New in London by John Mariani



What's New in London Part One
by John Mariani

            444445Whatever it is that floats the boats of  London's restaurant scene, it is doing so with a buoyancy I find nowhere else.  Londoners seem to be scurrying to their favorite restaurants, paying a high price (though not as high as we Yanks pay vis-à-vis the pound Sterling) for an exciting array of food that takes in everything from very good Italian to Asian cuisines. Old places have been revamped, new places sparkle, and getting a table at the hottest of hot spots is not easy. London's better restaurants are usually open for lunch, which is a splendid time to dine in this great city.  Here are some impressions from two recent trips across the pond.

            London’s Borough Market (above) near London Bridge, has long been a resource for the city’s cooks, dating back to the Middle Ages and as a formal institution on the present site since 1756. It has had many ups and downs,  but in recent years it has become a vibrant, teeming area for people searching for the best British cheeses, freshly baked bread, the finest seafood, and first-rate meat—all of which can be found on the second-story, 120-seat, glassed-in restaurant Roast (right;
0207-940-1300) set above the Floral Hall at Stanley Street.  gggCasual, full of light in the day, and overlooking the bustle of the Market, Roast is a delightful place to find a solid menu of honest cookery. It also has changing art exhibitions and some fine glasswork by artist Bob Crooks.
      Chef Lawrence Keogh, previously at The Avenue, offers a wide-ranging menu of seafood and the obvious roasts--suckling pigs, birds and ribs of beef--turned on a large spit. 
    Start off with a
Jammy Jim, one of those silly Brit names for a cocktail, composed of  Gosling’s gold rum with rhubarb and ginger jam with apple and rhubarb juice, then nosh on appetizers like Dublin Bay prawns with salad cream, peppered venison with beets and sour cream, or an excellent black pudding with potato pancake, fried eggs, and Ayrshire bacon--not for the faint of heart, this.  A rather weak cockaleekie soup and house potted shrimp that reminded me of Spam were the least interesting items I tasted.
     dd2Of the main course I loved the well-rendered beer-battered whiting with chips and England's beloved "mushy peas," and there was everything to like about a ruddy-colored fish stew of shellfish and fish in a rich garlic-broth.  Fresh from that roasting spit a juicy chicken had, strangely enough, a flaccid skin, but its accompanying bacon and bread sauce was delicious indeed. A 35-day aged short horn steak--rather like a hanger steak--was unusual for British cookery, for they usually don't age their beef very much.  This had good flavor, not as good as US Prime, but it came with more perfect chips and a fried egg.  If you like Brussels sprout tops, you'll like those at Roast. Baked smoked haddock (left) comes with spinach and Berkswell cheese.
      The desserts included a very fine rhubarb, hazelnut crumble with vanilla custard and lemon curd with shortbread fingers. 
Roast also has a range of special British beers including Jacobite Ale from Traquair House, Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter and Weston’s cider and perry.
It is all quite reasonably priced, and  Master of Wines Peter McCombie advises on the winelist, with some decently priced international selections. Roast is brimming with youthfulness, and is the place to be right now.
       Roast is open for breakfast Monday through Saturday, for lunch daily, and for dinner Monday through Saturday.
  Appetizers run $10-$25, main courses are quite fairly tariffed $15.75-$26, which includes VAT tax; a 12.5% service charge is added to the bill.

Umu (14-16 Bruton Place; 207-499-8881), which means "born of nature," is a sexy new Japanese restaurant in Mayfair hhhkythat to my mind is far and away more interesting—and certainly more unusual--than the now ubiquitous Nobu restaurants (which has three outlets in London alone). It is a dining room of shadowy lighting (right), very attractive waitresses, a glass wall of scores of sakes, highly polished teak tables, and presentations of food as visually stunning as they are imaginative (it won a Michelin star within months of opening last year).
     Chef Ichiro Kubota hails from Kyoto, where culinary expertise is always balanced by restraint and pristine quality, so his sushi is lustrous and served at the impeccably right temperature, from toro to amberjack and shrimp.  His "modern sushi," priced by the piece,  includes lovely dishes like toro tataki with quail egg, chives, ichimi, fish, and onion, and
blue crab with zucchini, pine nuts, and garlic.
s tempura of sea bass with pinenuts is handled exquisitely to be crisp and not at all oily, while grilled toro teriyaki with yuzu-flavored daikon and fresh wasabi was a simple masterpiece of textures and countervailing flavors. There is also rich wagyu beef served with wasabi and Japanese mustard.
      The best way to appreciate the kitchen's diversity and mastery is to order one of several  extensive kaiseki dinners of chef’s choices each night, at $105 and $149 that will show the prodigious range of  Kubota’s artisanship. Each comes with its own matched sake, of which there are 70 varieties offered here.
       Umu is open for lunch and dinner.  At dinner appetizers range from $8.75-$28, with sashimi from $17.50-$38, with main courses $21-$78. Lunches are priced from $40-$77.

      Maze  (10-13 Grosvenor Square; 207-107-0000), overlooking Grosvenor Square in Mayfair, is yet another Gordon Ramsay restaurant.  The brow-furrowing Ramsay, seen in high melodramatic dudgeon on the odious Fox Network TV show "Hell's Kitchen," tends to his continuingly expanding empire, so don't expect to see him much at Maze.  But Chef Jason Atherton, who did a stint at Spain’s El Bulli, is doing a similar small-plates concept.
     fThe place is  futuristic-looking, with lots of 1950s-style bent wood and taupe colors, bare tables, and lighted soffits that put me in mind of Googie California coffee shops designs, only much more refined by David Rockwell.  It's loud, but not unbearably so, and there's a private room for up to ten, a Chef's Table for 6, and a 50-seat rosewood bar where you may eat.
     It's fun at Maze to come with three or four people and eat up a storm, which can, of course, add up to a high bill. Nevertheless, with 
dishes ranging from  $5.25-$34 (with tasting menus at ($62 and $79), you can avoid the high-priced items and order many of the low-end dishes and be out for a decent amount, and there are some reasonably priced wines under $50 here, too.  But some of the dishes are really small (the waiter recommends five or six per person) and not easy to share. My party of three ate all around the menu, from foie gras and smoked duck with spiced pineapple and onions ($12.25) to pumpkin risotto with wild mushrooms ($11.35) and roast loin of Scottish venison with creamed cabbage, chocolate, and red wine sauce ($10.25), all of which were wonderful.  I also liked a superb carpaccio of tuna and swordfish with lime and cucumber marinade and soya dressing ($10.50), and luscious Cornish crab dressed with mayonnaise with avocado, sweet corn sorbet, and osietra caviar $12.25).  Daurade Royale with lobster risotto scented with lemongrass, Thai basil, and a lobster glaze was one of the heartier dishes, at $13.25, but roast brill that night had a fishy taste, perhaps from the cockles vinaigrette, along with a smoked raisin reduction.
       The best desserts we tried were a fine vanilla rice pudding with a quince and star anise purée, butternut squash and maple syrup ice cream, and a chocolate fondant with green cardomon caramel, a crunchy dash of sea salt, and almond ice cream.  Cheeses are also offered.
      It's a good thing that Atherton has taken the best ideas of mixing things up from El Bulli without resorting to the excesses some chefs regard as their diploma from that experimental school of cooking.  Maze offers a lot of new ideas in little tastes, and if you go with friends, you'll have a ball.
      A 12.5% discretionary service charge is added to your bill. VAT is included in the menu prices.

Part Two of Dining Out in London will appear in a few weeks.

by John Mariani

210 Elizabeth Street


There's no good reason why I missed dining at Public when it opened three years ago.
     Maybe it was because I thought a restaurant built on the concept of serving Australian and New Zealand food wouldn't be around for very long, but here it was--jammed and bustling on a recent Saturday night when I visited.  I think it's here to stay.
       Located somewhere between NoLiTa ("North of Little Italy") and the Lower East Side (shall we dub it NoLitaLes?), Public is an extremely handsome restaurant, whose designers, AvroKO, won  James Beard Foundation Awards for Outstanding Design and Restaurant Graphics. There are basically two rooms, and you enter up a flight of steps and are greeted cordially, to be shown either to the lounge bar dining room (below) or to the much quieter main dining room (above ), both done with a marvelous use of dramatic chiaroscuro, light, gauzy fabrics, industrial surfaces, and the lovely glow of table candles. Public's winelist is unique for the number of South Pacific artisanal selections, and they run a Wine Mailbox Program that brings you one wine per month in your own private, locked bronze mailbox with keys displayed as form of wall art (right).wwwwwrrrrrrrrrr

      Chef Brad Farmerie (below) is a Pittsburger who originally studied mechanical engineering but soon turned to cooking and to seven years of training in London and elsewhere on planet Earth, including the South Pacific where he acquired his love of the cooking Down Under.  He is also largely responsible for the selections on the winelist.
      The dinner menu lists 10 starters and seven main courses, every one of them of interest, none a cliché of current food faddism.  We began with satiny marinated white anchovies on terrific quinoa croquettes with a spicy aïoli and saffron sauce. Grilled sea scallops, perfectly cooked, came with a sweet chili sauce that admirably did not overpower the seafood, ameliorated perhaps by the cool crème fraîche and given textural contrast with green plantain chips.
      gtWe had to try kangaroo, which was grilled and set on coriander-spiked falafel with a tangy lemon tahini sauce and green pepper relish.  A pleasing and refreshing salad of watermelon, feta, and pumpkin seed was a delight.  Is some of this reads as if it's a tad complicated, Farmerie manages to keep it all in wonderful balance.
      Our main courses included perfectly grilled tandoori prawns on ginger-braised Napa cabbage with Asian pear and Punjabi cashew sauce.  Excellent and very juicy grilled guinea hen came with sweet-sour pickled peaches, broccoli cooked with ginger in a hot wok, and a salad of warm sweet potato and Thai basil.  I am not much of a fan of New Zealand venison (when better American examples may be found), but Farmerie
chooses his ingredients with care, and he roasts a loin of venison to a medium-rare turn and sides it with luscious Cabrales cheese dumplings. oyster mushrooms and a salsa verde.fffh
   With our choice of desserts like sticky toffee pudding with Armagnac ice cream and caramel sauce, a "gazpacho" of strawberry and tomato with summer berries and blueberry basil sorbet, and a rich, rich, rich chocolate fudge cake with salted pea nut brittle and Guinness ice cream, we enjoyed a De Bortoli "Noble Blend" 2002 from Australia.
      What a treasure it is to have Public right where it is, and it's one of my regrets I hadn't gotten there sooner. But I know I'll get back much sooner than later for tastes I simply won't find anywhere else in New York, and, perhaps, the USA.
                                      The Lounge at Public

      Dinner is served nightly, brunch on Sundays.  Starters run $10-$18, and main courses, a very reasonable $19.50-$26.50.


Police in
Festerville, PA, stopped 24-year-old William Bethel Jr., a pizza deliveryman, after being alerted he was delivering pizzas in the same station wagon he used to carry  bodies for a mortuary transport service.  Bethel contended  it was the first time he used the vehicle for both purposes, and only because his regular car was being repaired.  Nevertheless, county and state health officials said there is no law against delivering a body and food in the same vehicle.


"So, two guys open a restaurant in a Jewish Community Center--stop me if you've heard this one before.  The guys, John Hurley and Justin Hafen, are machers in the industry whose prior successes (Garlibaldis, Home) should be a source of naches for their parents, whether their parents speak Yiddish or not. "--Josh Sens, in a review of (415) Asian Restaurant & Lounge, San Francisco Magazine (May 2006).


* From Aug. 16-Sept. 15 Great Performances  holds its First Annual Katchkie Farm Tomato Festival at six of its cafes to celebrate the first crop from their  new organic farming operation upstate. The chefs at Café Opaline, Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Garden Court Café, Mae Mae Café, Sotheby’s, and Wave Hill will offer a tomato-centric 3-course prix fixe menus for $20 and salads for $5.    Visit or call 212-727-2424.

* On Aug. 19 Share Our Strength’s premiere “Taste of the Nation for Kids” will be held in Atlanta at the 1420 Room, featuring  food from Atlanta’s best family-friendly restaurants,  entertainment, and interactive nutritional education.  All proceeds support Share Our Strength's fight to end childhood hunger. Tix $10 for adults; $5 for children 12 and under; children under 2 – free.  Call 770-436-5151 or visit

* From Aug. 24-26 Washington DC’s Taberna del Alabardero will hold its  summer Flamenco extravaganza, with Gypsy Flamenco singer Jesus Montoya, guitarist Richard Marlow, and dancers, Suaya Montoya and Richard Chavez. During the performances, guests will be served a dinner of 12 classic Spanish tapa favorites, prepared by Executive Chef Santi Zabaleta.    $60 pp. Call 202-429-2200.  Visit

* On Aug. 24 the Hotel Bel-Air in Bel-Air, CA, will hold a 5-course Bouillabaise Dinner, preceded by hors douevres, with Fred Brander of The Brander Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley showing his wines.  $125 pp.  Call 310-472-1211; visit

* A national dine-out to help ongoing recovery efforts on the Gulf Coast will be held on  Aug. 29 by Share Our Strength’s “Restaurants for Relief 2,” presented by American Express. Diners across the country can enjoy food and drink at thousands of participating restaurants in their neighborhoods that are contributing a portion of their proceeds to S.O.S.’s efforts to help rebuild school cafeterias, open summer meal programs, provide assistance to affected restaurant workers and more. To find a restaurant near you, visit


MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani,  Naomi  Kooker, Kirsten Skogerson,  Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

 John Mariani is a columnist for Esquire, Wine Spectator, Bloomberg News and Radio, and Diversion.  He is author of The Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink (Lebhar-Friedman), The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink (Broadway), and, with his wife Galina, the award-winning new Italian-American Cookbook (Harvard Common Press).

 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from by clicking on the cover image.

6y6My newest book, written with my brother Robert Mariani, is a memoir of our years growing up in the North Bronx. It's called Almost Golden because it re-visits an idyllic place and time in our lives when so many wonderful things seemed possible.
    For those of you who don't think of the Bronx as “idyllic,” this book will be a revelation. It’s about a place called the Country Club area, on the shores of Pelham Bay. A beautiful neighborhood filled with great friends and wonderful adventures that helped shape our lives. It's about a culture, still vibrant, and a place that is still almost the same as when we grew up there.
    Robert and I think you'll enjoy this very personal look at our Bronx childhood. It is not yet available in bookstores, so to purchase a copy, go to or click on  Almost Golden.
                                                                                                                    --John Mariani

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copyright John Mariani 2006