Browns, Cardinal Walk, London Victoria

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Victoria Station and its surroundings have changed dramatically in the last couple of years. It is now full of pedestrian areas and buildings made of glass and steel. Cardinal walk is probably one of the oldest of these but still fits nicely into this environment. The décor and the ambience of Browns matches this well too, it is set over two floors, all glass. The restaurant is on the first floor so if you get a table by the window you can watch the world go by as you eat.

Their Pinot Grigio is good, although at over £8 for a large glass, it needs to be. They have a reasonable selection of beers and the cocktail list looks impressive although we did not try any. The service was good, our waiter was friendly and helpful, but he wasn’t really that busy, so maybe he should have picked up on our indifferent response when he enquired how the food was.

The thing that let them down was the food. The fish pie was ok, but I expect better than that when I pay over £15 for it. The only way to tell the difference between the different fish was texture, the overall effect was bland and the potato topping was runny. The steak sandwich was also all right, no butter on the bread – just mayo, but the chips were only slightly hotter than luke warm and they didn’t have any English mustard. The side order of onion rings contained four rings!

I wanted to like this place because I have enjoyed other restaurants in this chain in the past. With such a large choice of places to eat around Victoria now, average food will not get repeat business.

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The Albert Square Chophouse, Manchester.

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This restaurant is very centrally located – in a beautiful solid brick building, on the corner of Albert Square. The entrance is up a few steps to a nice bar space with a mixture of sofas and chairs. The restaurant is downstairs, it looks impressive as you descend, an industrial sized room filled with fully set dining tables, booths and banquettes. The windows are set high and the kitchen is open and visible from the dining room. The walls of both floors are lined with photos of Manchester luminaries, some recognisable others less so.

The menu is traditional British. The corned beef hash cake is a great starter, meaty and comforting. I had a rib eye steak and it was flavourful and tender, one of the best steaks that I have had. The steak and kidney pie was reportedly great too, done in the old fashioned way with suet in the pastry.

The wine list looked good, the house rose was excellent. They have a full bar, so the selection of beers is good too. The service was friendly and helpful. It is not a cheap restaurant, but everything they do is high quality, so definitely a meal to sit and savour. This is a venue for a night out, to enjoy the evening and chat after.

We ate early, 6pm, so we managed to get in without booking, but it was quite full by the time we left, so I would imagine it would need to be booked if you wanted to eat at a more popular time.

We thoroughly enjoyed it and will be back next time we are in Manchester.

The Pen and Pencil, 57 Hilton St, Manchester

pen-and-pencil-3The Pen and pencil is a great venue for breakfast/brunch. It has very social tables with benches that can easily accommodate 8 people. The menu is a little different to the usual breakfast/brunch fare, although there are some breakfast type things on there, the eggs benedict are very good, I was told. We were there on a Saturday and Sunday morning around 11ish, it was busy without being rammed.

The music is just the right level, low enough for you to discuss the night before, but loud enough that you don’t notice the ringing in your ears! The service is good, the waiter was able to describe every dish very well and seemed genuinely interested when he enquired whether we were enjoying our food.

The smoothies are interesting, I loved the “Welcome to Americana” – peanut butter, banana and a little chilli! I am told the “Salted Caramel” is good too.  I also recommend the ‘Nduja baked eggs, warm enough to clear your head after the night before. The “Eggs Pen and Pencil” is good too, really good hollandaise. They do a “Bottomless Brunch” for £40 where you can eat and drink as much as you like between 10am and 1pm. That sound like it could get messy!

Hilton Street is a trendy side road about 5 minutes away from Piccadilly Gardens and even less from the rail stations, you will know you are getting close when you start seeing street art dotted around the walls. If there is a group of you and you are staying in separate hotels, it is the perfect place to meet your mates the following morning! Recommended!

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Campania Gastronomia, Ezra Street, London E2.

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The setting is idyllic. Even for hip and trendy Hoxton, this place has style. Ezra street is a small cobbled lane off Columbia Road. The restaurant itself is set in a Victorian terrace, it appears to have been converted from a shop or a terraced house. You will need to have your wits about you when looking for it, as the shop says S. Jones over the door and the name, Campania, is just written on the window.

The interior is decorated in washed plain wood, the crockery is old fashioned but pretty. It is mismatched, like the tables and chairs. It has a 1940s or 50s feel inside. The yard of the house has been covered over and holds a large benched table that seats about ten, this would be a good place to bring a big group. There are also seats outside on the street.

We found the service to be very good, our waitress explained the menu beautifully. The menu is short, but everything does feel home made. Our shared platter to start was lovely, it contained something for everyone. The pasta was made on the premises and it was nice, the risotto was good too. This being in the more fashionable part of town, the prices are at the top end of the price spectrum, without being excessive. The house rose wine, was not cheap, but it was delicious.

It was very busy, Luckily we had booked, as it is quite small, maybe 36 covers, and they appeared to be turning people away all evening. If you are planning to go for lunch or brunch, after visiting the flower market, on a Sunday, you will certainly need to reserve your table. The passageway down the side of the restaurant is pretty, with an old fashioned wooden sash window and a Victorian looking street lamp in a narrow, brick lined, cobbled street. It is very photogenic. If you are going out with visitors to London, this would be a charming, quirky place to take them.

We enjoyed our evening and would definitely return.

The Devonshire, Balham High Road, Balham, London

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There are very many pubs in Balham and the competition is fierce. The Devonshire has many things going for it. It is huge, so it is very good if there is a big group of you who wish to meet up. It has a large back garden with cabanas which are nice in summer when it does barbeques. It is an old Victorian looking pub that hasn’t been messed around with much, so it still has a quaint old English pub type vibe going on, despite its size, this makes it a good place to bring visitors to the UK, for a typically British, Pub Sunday Roast.

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We have eaten here a number of times, both for Sunday lunch and in the evening when it also does food,  and it has always been pretty good, not cheap but reliable. We met with a group of friends, 10 of us, for Sunday lunch. The food was okay but the service was dreadful. Our waitress told us that we should use her for table service rather than go to the bar for our drinks. We promptly ordered and then watched them sit on the bar for 15 minutes until we went and got them ourselves. The place was busy but it wasn’t packed. I saw others complaining about the service too. The problem with ours was that it was slow and very offhand.

The food was slow to arrive, and there was another 15 minutes between the first person being served and the last. This did not ruin our meal as we did not stand on ceremony and everybody ate when their food arrived. The root vegetable pie was very nice, if very cheesy. The sausage and mash was pretty good, but the roast beef was not as good as we would have expected. The wine list is ok and both the house white and the house rose were enjoyed by the group.

As we waited to order our last round of drinks and get the bill, our waitress was nowhere to be found. I asked the manager to find her, but she was unable to and eventually brought the bill herself. As I paid, our waitress appeared. the manager just looked at me and rolled her eyes.

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This is a worrying state of affairs for a large pub in an area where there is a surfeit of good eating opportunities.  Although the Devonshire is a pub which has a number of good points, I suspect we shall be trying a different one next time.

Park Room and Library, Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane, London

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We were looking for somewhere to celebrate our wedding anniversary and the Park Room and Library sounded like a good deal, so four of us came for the bottomless champagne afternoon tea. The room is beautiful. It is light and airy; full of windows which look across Park Lane into Hyde Park. The traffic is muted by the flower displays between you and the pavement. The room is decorated in pale summery colours with a pretty butterfly motif throughout. It will appeal to overseas visitors; the formal dress of the staff and the height of the ceilings gives the room a light, old colonial feel.

The afternoon tea itself was very good, limitless finger sandwiches, as many scones as we liked and a wide array of pastries served on pretty cake stands. We were even given a selection box of these to take when we left! There was a big choice of both savoury and sweet options and the waiter enquired about any dietary requirements before he took our orders. The service was fantastic, out waiter was generous with the champagne and our glasses were topped up constantly during our two hour meal. There was a big variety of teas from which to choose, all served on a bone china tea service.

Its position at the top of Park Lane near to Marble Arch is very central. If you are visiting London and looking for a venue to have a British Afternoon Tea, especially if you are partial to a glass of Champagne, this would be a very nice place to enjoy it. We booked about a week in advance and it was busy, so I think you would need to be very lucky to just walk in without booking. I guess at £40 it is not the cheapest afternoon tea in London, but with unlimited food and Champagne, I think it represents pretty good value.

 

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.