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.

The Jugged Hare, Barbican, London EC1

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This is a smart looking bar at the front with an attractive bright restaurant at the back. It was very busy at 5.30pm on a Tuesday when we were there, we would not have found a seat in the bar, but luckily we had a table booked in the restaurant. As you might expect from the name, the menu is very meat orientated, indeed, the only vegetarian main course is simply listed as “vegetarian” with no description – just a price.

We had the devilled plaice while we discussed the menu, nicely crisp but hardly any spiciness. We also had the dish of large olives, they were indeed large, they were nice but not particularly flavourful.

There are two types of hamburger on the menu, each made with a different breed of cow, the waiter was quite specific in enquiring which one we wanted, we had one of each but were not able to find much difference between them. They are quite expensive, but very substantial, both people who ordered them left half. I had the pork belly, which was unlike any pork belly I had had before, it was like a huge pork chop. However, it was very good and I forgot to enquire afterwards. The “vegetarian” dish was reportedly “fine”.

The hamburgers and the pork were all served on flat wooden boards, I thought we had moved on from this irritating fad, and they are totally impractical for a dish served with gravy.

The wine list has plenty of choice, the prices are at the high end for the quality. The service was excellent and it is very handy for the Barbican. Overall, it was good, without exactly setting the culinary world alight.

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.

Shake Shack, Victoria Nova, Victoria, London

 

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This is a shiny, brand new, glass fronted burger and hot dog restaurant on the corner in Victoria Nova. The building is beautiful and given the location, there will be a lot of passing trade. It is licensed, so it sells beer and wine, although I did not order any with my burger, and to be honest I did not see any alcohol on any of the tables that were occupied.

The burgers are marketed at the top of the price range, advertised as being 100% Aberdeen Angus beef, source verified and traceable. I don’t doubt that this is true. I had a single smoke shack, which comes with bacon, cheese and cherry peppers.

It was good without being exceptional, the cherry peppers were a nice addition, but the meat  was a little bit greasy for my taste. The chips were an extra £3 and were poor value. There wasn’t enough of them, and they were crinkle cut, semi-crispy and hollow. They were also cold when they arrived, although when I complained they changed them without query. The shake was nice and thick, but very sweet, perhaps they are more aimed at children than adults.

Given all the new high-end burger joints opening in London, the competition must be fierce and this did not strike me as one of the best. Sorry to say, I think “5 Guys” does it better.

The Rookery Café, Streatham Common, London.

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The Rookery is an ornamental garden on Streatham Common. It is on the site of an old guest house, now gone,  where Queen Victoria used to visit, to take the water, from the three springs, on Streatham Spa. It is still a very pretty, well maintained garden with long views over South London and the South Downs.

The Rookery Café is a nice, old style, park café, with indoor and outdoor seating. There are  pleasant views from the outdoor tables. It is child and dog friendly. It has bowls for water and dog treats in a jar on the counter.

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It has a good selection of hot and cold food. It has vegan, vegetarian and gluten free choices. It has a well maintained community noticeboard offering everything from local plays to invitations to join a brass band.

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It is on the Capital Ring, near the end of Section 5, a very pleasant place to stop for refreshment, if you are doing that walk.

Springfield Park Café, Capital Ring, Section 13, London.

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Springfield Park is a pretty park with lovely views over Hackney Marshes. The Café is just inside the main entrance to the park on Springfield Road. It is in North London, not far from Stamford Hill.  Its a lovely old fashioned park café with plenty of seats inside and out. The view from the outside seats is very pretty; over the Lea River and the canal boat marina.

The café has a great choice of both hot and cold food, with the menu hand written in chalk on blackboards behind the counter. I loved the, industrial sized, vintage orange press that freshly squeezes your juice while you wait. It looks like it comes from the early 1970s. There is a big community notice board in the hallway, crammed with flyers for events in the area. It has everything from flats to rent, through mindfulness meetings to trombone tuition!

 

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View from the tables outside.

 

The park itself is on the Capital Ring, a long distance walk around London. Although the café is  a bit nearer the start of section 13 than the end, it is definitely the nicest place to stop for a break, if you need one.

A lovely café in a very pretty park.