Royal Dragon Restaurant, Gerrard Street, London, W1

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Royal Dragon is in the heart of Chinatown on Gerrard Street. Decorated in browns and creams; when you step in, it is calm, away from the bustle just outside the door.

We had dim sum to start, Prawn dumplings and pork dumplings served in stacked bamboo servers. These were very flavorful and they were accompanied by a small dish of sweet chilli sauce and a dish of hot chilli sauce.

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This was followed by crispy duck with pancakes and a plum sauce. The duck was deliciously crispy, the pancakes were hot and fresh. We finally had lobster with ginger and spring onion. I am a bit of a lobster novice, but this was amazing. It was a huge portion of lobster served on a platter of noodles in a succulent ginger sauce. It even came with its own implement, a lobster fork, the first time I have seen one.

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To be honest, I forgot to check the wine list, I don’t often drink wine with Chinese food. There were three brands of beer on offer, Asahi and Carlsberg were the names I recognised. The service was excellent.

It is a relatively small restaurant, for Chinatown, we were there in the early evening and the place was busy without being packed. It is open late and it does Karaoke between 11pm and 3am. The waiter said that this happens in private rooms, so it should not disturb your meal. While we ate, there was background music; it was quiet and unobtrusive.

If you are looking for somewhere quiet and smart, and you want to stay in the centre of Chinatown, the Royal Dragon fits the bill.

Skylark Café, Wandsworth Common, London

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The Skylark Café is in a lovely old fashioned building in the middle of Wandsworth Common. It has been decorated in a more up to date fashion once you are inside, with a built in banquette into the bay window and child friendly furnishings in the back room. There is floor space for the children to run around here too. If you prefer a less boisterous area, there is a room at the front which had a more adult clientele on the day we were there. There are also seats outside. The views are pretty, Wandsworth Common is well maintained, and there is a pond nearby where you can bring your kids to feed the ducks.

It has a good community notice board although you have to go into the toilet area to read it. It also has a blackboard listing different events that it hosts during the month. In April, for example, it has music days and popup shops. If you would like to see what to expect before you go, it has a particularly well designed website.

The food offering is good. It does soup, sandwiches, and a wide variety of cakes and muffins. There was even healthy snacking food for the ducks! It was busy with parents and children on the weekday early afternoon that we were there, so it is obviously popular with local people. The service was attentive, helpful, and friendly.

It is about halfway along section 5 of the Capital Ring, so it is the perfect point at which to stop for refreshment, if you are doing that walk around London. A very pleasant place, and just what a park café should be.

 

 

Hawksmoor, Deansgate, Manchester

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I like the Hawksmoor ethos. They eschew ostentation. They keep it simple. They do it well. Hawksmoor Manchester stick to this blueprint. The décor is wood panelling, wooden floors, leather banquettes, and solid tables nicely spaced. The have proper napkins, good plain crockery, and the cutlery is steel and sturdy.

The menu is relatively short but you can be sure that everything on there is  prepared to a high standard. On the night we went, the potted beef with Yorkshire pudding was an excellent starter. The Caesar salad had romaine lettuce, anchovies, parmesan, croutons, and plain but perfect Caesar dressing. The fillet was high quality, soft and tender; even though it was rare, and the rib-eye had just the right amount of fat to bring out the flavour of the meat. This is all as you would expect from the Hawksmoor brand. The chips were full cut and well cooked. The mac and cheese, which we ordered as a side, was indulgent.

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The wine by the glass was excellent, the Malbec robust and rich, and the Pinot Grigio Rose was dry and pale, possibly the nicest I have had. The service was impeccable, just as it always is at a Hawksmoor restaurant, never too close but always at hand when you want something.

If I  have a misgiving about Hawksmoor Manchester, it is the bar. The area here veers toward the austere. It feels a bit more like a church vestibule than a comfortable place to chat and wait for friends. They have good wines and all sorts of premium spirits, but their beer list is short, and it has little recognisable on it.

The restaurant is not cheap, but you get what you pay for. Everything is of the highest quality, and if you want somewhere that you can rely on to deliver a fine dinner, in pleasant surroundings, with polished service; then Hawksmoor Manchester should be one of the first places that you consider.

Brasserie Blanc, Trinity Square, London

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The view from this member of Raymond Blanc’s brasseries is spectacular, from your table you overlook the crenellations of the Tower of London, with Tower Bridge in the background.

We ate from the Fixe Price menu and found the fare a little more average. The beetroot salad was nice and the soup good, but only lukewarm, we considered asking for it to be reheated, but in the end did not.

The mains were ok. My steak was good but small, the Beef Lyonnais were a little less tender than amazing and the cod was reportedly delicious after we had sent it back to be reheated.

The apple crumble was the highlight of the meal. the apple retained its consistency beautifully and the crumble was perfectly crisp and short. The chocolate pudding was also nice but once again had to be sent for reheating, as it was cold in the centre.

The waitress was excellent; very helpful and quite attentive, she brought us small glasses of the rose wines to try when we enquired about their flavours. The wine list looked very good, by the way, and not outrageously priced for central London.

Overall, this restaurant is decent, but go primarily for the view and you will not be disappointed.

 

Blue & Orange, Thornton Heath, London

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Every area should have its local great restaurant, and for Thornton Heath, this is Blue & Orange. I live in Thornton Heath, so I have visited this restaurant many times. For me, it is the best and most reliably good restaurant in South London.

The food is always excellent, we have eaten from all parts of the menu and it is consistently very good. The menu is varied with an Eastern Mediterranean inclination. The Borek is excellent as a starter and the Kulbasti is a fantastic main course. They also do pasta (the chicken liver tagliatelle is delicious), pizza and various hamburgers.

The chilli sauce is made on the premises and is really good – it is worth the trip for the chilli  sauce alone!

Blue and Orange is fully licensed, the house beer is Efes. I have noticed recently that they are serving lots of cocktails with dinner, although to be fair, I haven’t tried one yet. It is open all afternoon as well as at night, so it is handy if you are looking to eat early or to have a late lunch.

It is probably worth ringing ahead to book if you are intending to go at peak times as it is usually pretty busy at night.

Heartily recommended!

Try the homemade chilli sauce!