Monday, 28 August 2017

London, Lille, Lovely!

After a fun weekend in Lille in 2016 we decided another trip was in order. This time though, rather than sampling the city's brasseries we booked something a bit more special. More of that later though. To make a full weekend of it we had a day in London en route. But what to do in the evening? What's that you say? A three course meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant for £38? With a cocktail? On a Friday evening in Mayfair? Where do we sign up?

Where do we get in more like?

We were so busy reading the plaque denoting the place where the Queen had been born that we walked straight past the entrance of Hakkasan Mayfair and had to double-back. The well-hidden doorway took us through to the plush interior before we were ushered to our seats in the downstairs dining area.

As we were dining before 18:30 we each chose the "Taste of Hakkasan" menu: three courses and a cocktail for the incredibly reasonable sum of £38.00 per person. Though this menu doesn't include the full choice of what Hakkasan has to offer it still has a wide variety of dishes. From the menu we both went for the dim sum starters; for our mains I had the Sanpei chicken claypot whilst Clare chose the stir-fried beef in Merlot.

The starters were tremendous. Three dumplings each, including plump, juicy prawn and a caviar-covered scallop, a wonderful chilli sauce with brown shrimp and the same venison puff that Hakkasan's sister restaurant Yautcha also serves. Light, flaky pastry with a shiny-sweet sheen encasing rich chunks of venison.

Dim sum starter

Our mains were equally impressive. The beef was full of deep and smoky flavour while the chicken packed a pleasingly spicy punch. The meat was accompanied by a generous helping of jasmine rice and a bowlful of crunchy asparagus.

To finish the evening we opted for a cherry delice and a Jivara bomb. The former was a slab of cherry mousse on a crunchy base, accompanied by a deep cherry sorbet and pistachios. The Jivara bomb turned out to be an impressive ball of rice crispies coating some delicious hazelnut praline ice-cream. Our waiter poured hot, gloopy chocolate sauce over the spherical sensation whilst a nutty crumb and freeze-dried raspberries completed the plate. A pinch of popping candy provided the explosion!

Jevari bomb

A notable mention must also be given to the cocktails. Clare's "Hakka" was a tropical mix of vodka, Sake, lychee and coconut; and my "Green Destiny" was, no, not a sword with ornate markings, but a refreshing blend of vodka, cucumber, kiwi and apple.

Service was good. It took a little while for our starter to appear but our waiter duly apologised and, to be fair, we had turned up earlier than our booking time and been seated immediately. The whole experience was excellent and represented brilliant value for money and they certainly didn't skimp on the portions. For anyone wanting to try some top-quality Oriental food in London, Hakkasan is definitely worth the visit.

And so, on to Lille.....

La Table is based at the rather charming Clarence Hotel in Lille, which itself is barely five minutes walk from the city's Grand Place. As usual we arrived early, but this wasn't a problem and we were swiftly escorted to our seats in the beautiful, wood-panelled dining room. Rather than enjoying an aperitif on the terrace we dived straight into our meal and wine choices for the evening.

We opted for the "Pur" menu of four courses and a dessert. Rather unusually this didn't contain any meat. Our first starter was purely vegetable based while the other dishes all contained fish. Apart from the dessert of course. That would've been weird. Before any of these arrived however we were treated to the amuse bouche which included a nicely grilled and crunchily-coated oyster and a seafood bisque with, unusually, some slivers of rich cheese. This being France we were brought a wide range of breads accompanied by a trio of butters of which the fish one was particularly tasty - almost like a really light mackerel pate.

Starter one was a runny egg yolk with some crunchy courgette, nicely-salted courgette crisps, a piquant pepper puree and some caramalised almonds to add a touch of sweetness. This was a very pleasant mix and beautifully presented with a blaze of colours and a real vibrancy to the plate.

Chapter one of the subsequent seafood trilogy consisted of slivers of perfectly cooked squid covered in an intensely nutty pistachio-based vinaigrette. Creamy avocado and crunchy balls of lightly-pickled cucumber rounded out another excellent dish.

Squid

Next up was lobster, and boy was it good. A couple of respectable chunks of sweet meat were complemented by a small, fried, pea pierogi, peas and sweetcorn, buttery strings of grilled leak and wonderfully salty bacon slices which were nothing so much like Frazzles. That's a good thing. Oh, and it was all drizzled in a lobster sauce so good it had us both wanting to lick the plates clean (but retaining our dignity and not doing so).

Our final main was an impressive slab of flaky hake, perfectly seasoned and nicely salty. It sat upon a saffron sauce and shared the plate with tomatoes of varying sweetness and texture, earthy chanterelle mushrooms and a crispy cuboid of polenta. All very lovely.

Hake

Dessert was a baked fig which resembled an upturned mushroom. With this was served some zingy lemon yoghurt ice-cream, a blizzard of blueberries and an odd, chewy slice of what seemed to be a blueberry jelly encrusted with crunchy nuts. Together it resulted in a light and not-too-sweet end to a very impressive meal. After-dinner coffees were served with some excellent petit-fours including Amaretto-soaked plums and a small, rich chunk of salt-covered chocolate.

Our whole evening at La Table was an absolute delight. The dining room was opulent without being stuffy, the meal was delicious yet not overly heavy and the service was really, really good. I'm not sure a non-English speaker in London would get their menu and wine choices read out to them so clearly in their native language but that's exactly what happened here. Special mention must go to the sommelier Romain who was utterly charming.

For a special meal in a fantastic setting in a wonderful little city, La Table at the Clarence Hotel in Lille will take some beating.










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