If you take a walk through affluent London in January, you can practically hear the Maître Ds of Pall Mall gasp with the panic that is catering for wealthy people who diet.
On the other side of things, how difficult a month this must be for the Kensington socialite, the Esquire model, the trophy wife or husband who must continue to be seen dining in the finest five star restaurants whilst absolutely maintaining a diet of negative value calorie consumption – one must repair the damage of the Christmas canapés at all costs, but without fainting from hunger, or worse – showing oneself up in polite company.
Thank heavens then, for the “wellness experts” at Sofitel hoteliers. Their brand new 500 calorie set menu has been carefully constructed in French kitchens by top French nutritionists, allowing health conscious diners to “indulge without the bulge”, promising to be low in fat yet full in flavour. The dishes were tested out in the Sofitel Quiberon Thalassa, France, before their success brought them to London tables. This all sounds very promising, but the real question is: will it fill me up?
Within the Sofitel St James hotel sits The Balcon, a stunning restaurant with classic 1920s style decor reminiscent of a French Brasserie. As we take our seats, an equally stunning French waiter welcomes me and my dining companion, Fi, by telling us: “This is a meal originally for obese people who are perhaps unhappy, you know?” This leads me to entertain the idea of fried chicken in bucket followed by cake in a frantic puddle of Bailey’s, although I’m not sure how that could feasibly pass as a French or even English delicacy.
The Balcon is known for its eclectic mix of French and British cuisine: Herefordshire snails, Scottish pheasant with foie gras and English breakfast tea crème brûlée. All hearty, indulgent dishes. If it is possible to substitute some of the guilt that comes with such indulgence, the chefs behind Sofitel have created a masterpiece. But it’s hard to imagine such a thing can exist without compromise.
10 London restaurants to visit in 2015
10 London restaurants to visit in 2015
Celebrity chef Judy Joo will open her much-anticipated Korean small-plates restaurant, JinJuu in Kingly Court this weekend. Joo made a name for herself when she worked under Gordon Ramsay and has appeared on major TV shows including the Iron Chef and Korean Food Made Easy. JinJuu will serve traditional Korean street food including kimchi fries, jeon pancakes and Korean fried chicken and is predicted to be a big hit in 2015.
All the hype is still very much about Spanish tapas these days and so restaurateurs Sam and Eddie Hart were excited to open their second Barrafina bar in Covent Garden in July last year. The original site, located on Soho’s Frith Street opened in 2007 and won its first Michelin star last September. Neither restaurant takes bookings and they both operate on an egalitarian queuing system so head over early to avoid disappointment. Once you’re in, you’ll be so glad you waited.
3/10 Chicken Shop
Now with four restaurants across London (Tooting, Kentish Town, Whitechapel and Holborn) since 2012, Chicken Shop has taken the world of fast food by storm. This isn’t your typical greasy chicken shop that you only dare venture into after a night out; far from it. Chicken Shop serves free-range chicken straight from the spit, in different portion sizes and with a range of flavours and sides. Don’t fancy sitting in? They also do take-out, so you can enjoy the delights of good quality fast food in the comfort of your own home.
4/10 Hixter Bankside
The former metal box factory in Guildford Street now plays home to Hixter Bankside which follows the success of Hixter City which opened its doors in November 2013. Neons and artwork by artists Tracey Emin, Tim Noble and more adorn the walls and the area is divided into different rooms including The Parlour and the award-winning Mark’s bar as well as space for a private party for up to 70 guests. The food features more British seasonal starters and ‘large hunks of meat’ designed for sharing. Don’t leave until you’ve tried a seasonal cocktail in the basement.
5/10 Chiltern Firehouse
Of course the latest offering from hotel magnate André Balazs – who owns the luxurious Chateau Marmont in Hollywood and the Mercer in New York – deserves a spot on our list. The old fire station-turned-hotel rose to prominence in 2014 after it opened the previous year as regular customers included Cara Delevingne, Lindsay Lohan, and even Mr David Cameron himself paid a visit last summer. The Grade II listed gothic Victorian building has been utterly transformed with high ceilings, large mirrors and a busy open kitchen. The best time to book for us civilians and would probably be a Monday lunch time…six months in advance.
6/10 Bunga Bunga
Bunga Bunga, or ‘An Englishman’s Italian’ is definitely up there as one of the quirkiest restaurants in London. You will find yourself faced with a gondola shaped bar, a bicycle hanging from the ceiling, and a tribute wall dedicated to former three-time Prime Minster of Italy and media tycoon, Silvio Berlusconi. This is a strictly over 21s establishment and groups of more than six must include a combination of men and women. It makes our list for its wild karaoke nights; an must-try experience like no other.
Skye Gyngell made her name in London at Petersham Nurseries and won a Michelin Star for her ‘unfussy seasonal dishes made with the freshest of ingredients’. The Australian chef now has her own restaurant, Spring, based within the luxurious surroundings of Somerset House. Expect to spend a fair amount, with the fillet of beef with gratin potatoes as the priciest main at £36, but the food is first-rate, eloquent and completely worth it.
8/10 Gallery Mess
9/10 Top Dog
Sure to please kids and grown-ups alike is Top Dog, the new US hotdog joint to open in Soho in April this year. The new restaurant is a joint venture between bar, club and restaurant owner, Matt Hermer and his wife Marissa, with Ewan Venters as a non-executive chairman. The menu will showcase a new breed of ‘cleaner fast food’ and will offer a choice of meat and buns and premium organic dogs including the Chicago, a pulled pork and apple slaw speciality and kimchi dogs. Be sure to try the rapeseed-cooked fries and hand-made relish, too!
10/10 Cereal Killer Cafe
The UK’s first speciality cereal café, owned by identical twins Alan and Gary Keery opened in Brick Lane just last month and sent everyone into a nostalgia frenzy. The café offers over 120 different cereals from around the world along with 30 different varieties of milk, all against a backdrop of 80s and 90s memorabilia. Definitely a must for those wanting to relive their childhood morning sugar rush – only here, you can pop in for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Cereal Killer Cafe
The De-Light menu offers one of two seasonal choices for each course. First to our table is a basket of fresh, crusty soda bread with the Lamb lettuce and endive salad armed with beetroot, pear and quail egg (£7). It is unnerving if not a little fascinating to see the calorie breakdown under each course, and the 45 calories contained in my salad build me up to expect something so pathetic that I’d need a magnifying glass to help me eat it. But the beetroot is generous, quail eggs perfectly soft in the middle and a combination of the tricky lettuce leaves and sleepy ambiance of the room force us to eat slowly, savouring the unexpectedly pleasant flavours.
The dimly-lit room is relaxed, if a little quiet. Fellow diners are primarily well-suited men with their expensively blow-dried dates, and, reassuringly, a few French accents lilt over the never-ending jazzy lift music. As our generously portioned Salmon fillet arrives with vierge sauce and seaweed greenery (£17, 320 calories), a superbly French man pops in for a coffee, cigar tucked behind his ear, to complete the Parisian cliché.
My only niggle was with dessert. The set menu’s honey fried apple with orange cream (£6, 125 calories) sounded promising as a light yet wholesome pudding, but in reality it was a disappointing, cold and pricey mush, albeit presented in a charmingly hipster jam pot. It seemed a waste to not serve the apple hot, which could have made it tasty in an apple-pie without the pastry kind of way. However advertised, it is still just a dollop of unhappy fruit.
Fi had better luck with the green apple sorbet (£5) which was off the regular menu, but offered as an equally low-calorie alternative by our waiter. When clever French nutritionists can create a low-calorie chocolate dessert, west London will truly rejoice.
Were our stomachs full and taste buds excited? Surprisingly, yes. Even the prices were reasonable for the setting.
For those of us who don’t count calories day to day, city socialising can feel saturated after the Christmas glut, and so it is heartening to know that a tasty yet healthy meal out is still possible with friends. The salmon was a highlight and paired nicely with the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (£29.50), which admittedly ruined our chances of taking any glory for a strictly “healthy evening”. Dry February, anyone?
The Balcon Sofitel St James, 8 Pall Mall, London SW1Y, tel: 020 7968 2900. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. De-Light set menu £90 for two, including wine.