Celebrating flavors at local restaurants this fall
It takes a brave man to open a restaurant these days…and a brilliant man to do it right. And the brave and brilliant Mitch Tillman of The Summerhouse and The Waterway has it all right with his latest business, Oak & Poppy in Hampstead, which opened its doors last month. It’s a stunning haven of dusty pink and gold beauty with a stunning center tree climbing up to a stunning retractable glass roof (like you’re on center court!) so it’s like being outside even when you’re inside… like at The Summerhouse! The food is fabulous and inexpensive. We started with fish tacos, duck bao rolls, quesadillas and mac and cheese bites – well done everyone. Next, a nice seared lemon sole, nice and thick – not the lean fish you often get slapped with. A roast half-chicken so fragrant and so tender, and a burger that came in two! We finished with a superb pecan pie – amazingly good buttery batter, crunchy caramelized pecans and salted caramel ice cream. An easy to read wine list and some interesting options that I haven’t seen before. The service is great, the atmosphere is great and finally…there is a decent place to eat in Hampstead. L.W.
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He worked in hotels and restaurants, went to catering school, worked for a catering company, started his own catering business and now has his own restaurant – is there any avenue that Kushan Marthelis will not explore to bring its unique and exceptional cuisine to the table? Cacao Bean Café opened in Leeming Road, Borehamwood, earlier this year with a bi-monthly carousel of tapas menus. The first two were general tapas with standout signature dishes such as blackened cod and miso eggplant, then Kushan started to specialize. In July, he opened the folding doors to welcome in the sun by launching a Sri Lankan menu focusing on dishes from his home country. This month, as the parties start to roll in, he takes us to Japan with a longer-than-usual list of exotic dishes and twists on the usual favourites.
Kushan has a unique gift for combining flavors and textures, so the humble cauliflower comes to life with a five-spice coating, before being roasted to a succulent finish and crunched with roasted peanuts. An upscale rack of lamb is elevated to meaty stardom with miso glaze and shiso pesto. A beautifully refreshing and exceptionally pretty glass poke bowl is the perfect way to start a feast like this, while a rich Japanese-style fish soup with chunks of salmon and creamy candied garlic combine sunny flavors with autumnal heat.
Blackened cod is here, with grilled bok choi and sweet and sour tofu with mixed vegetables and grilled sesame seeds My husband was all over the yakitori beef short ribs with yuzu buttered beans but I got held back to make room for a fudge-like miso crème brûlée with lime sorbet. When Kushan isn’t doing foodie magic in Borehamwood, he’s hosting functions large and small, from private dinners and barmitzvahs to weddings and launch parties for Amazon — yes, really. Last month, he hosted an Enchanted Forest-themed dinner party to celebrate the new series of The Lord of the Rings – The Rings of Power. Rather fitting, as Kushan is definitely the lord of the kitchen. L.W.
THE SPICE OF LIFE
Indian food is my favorite food and I did extensive “research” to find the best restaurants. Following my visit, Bhageecha at Elstree is one of them. What used to be The Fishery pub and restaurant has been totally refurbished and appears to have had the same interior designer as The Ivy Brasserie. It is modern and spacious with a floral theme running through its Passi Flora Bar, Bloom and Palm Room. My companion for the evening was a friend who doesn’t spice up and eats slowly – her losses, my gains. Our lovely waitress highlighted the sweeter dishes and I tried the Kurkure Bhindi – crispy fried okra (India’s answer to zucchini fritti), while I opted for the Pani Puri – puffed wheat bubbles filled potatoes and served with a teapot of sour water. We take the puri and fill it with the liquid, we eat it all at once. They were extremely spicy and I had to take all six for the team.
A vegetarian dum biriyani was smarter and tastier than it looks, but I didn’t pay much attention to my friend’s chicken dish as it wasn’t on my meatless radar. I also didn’t spend time looking at the signature dishes, fish main courses or appetizer platters. They will all have to wait for the next time. The desserts looked amazing. We were full, but I heard myself asking for a kulfi with two spoons. Go to Bhageecha. Take a friend who is not spicy. Better yet, get one that will get you there too as the cocktails looked amazing. I can’t wait to go back…and again…and again. A J
Melissa in Canons Park is a great place for a good Turkish meal. A spacious restaurant with beautiful chandeliers, colorful Byzantine wall paintings and attentive staff make for an extremely enjoyable and relaxed dining experience. Two plasma screens on the walls showed reels of exotic vacation destinations and on more than one occasion my husband’s attention wandered from my scintillating conversation to them. Although Melissa’s main attraction is the meat (massive portions of delicious charcoal-grilled lamb and chicken skewers), we managed to find plenty to eat. We started with mixed starters of hummus, felafel, cacik (tsatsiki), tarama and patlican sosu (delicious peppers and eggplant in a tomato sauce) with endless offerings of more pitta bread. For main courses we had sea bream and sea bass. Mine was with rice, my husband with fries (which he gobbled down before I could take a look). The fish was extremely fresh and tasty. If I had closed my eyes, I could have imagined that I was eating it in a small family restaurant by the Mediterranean. There were also vegetarian choices – everyone is catered for at Melissa. We were drunk but tempted by the extensive dessert menu, Tony choosing a baklava with liquid cream and chocolate sauce and I a Tartufo Scuro – coffee and egg custard ice cream. Owner Cetin said he would soon open a second branch in Harrow. If it’s anything like Melissa at Canons Park, it’ll be well worth a visit. A J
London-based teenagers in the 80s basically grew up in Soho and that may have changed almost beyond recognition, but I still love the cacophony of the back streets and the vibe there. Soho, to me, is the beating heart of the West End and home to some of the best and most innovative restaurants in our city. This is where Marc Summers and Helen Graham opened their second branch of Middle Eastern vegetarian restaurant Bubala, which I visited in Spitalfields last year while covid restrictions were still in place which meant we had to eat and go out before 10 p.m. It’s a sacrilege to rush a meal with this level of innovation, this complexity of flavors, this cooking requirement. The Soho branch is larger than its sister and has an open kitchen in the back. There is also a large seating area with high stools around the bar, rough hewn walls, industrial lights and plants hanging from the ceiling and it is very lively! So far so fun. The cocktail menu is short but cute (a lemon and lavender spritz for my daughter); the wine list is quite extensive with interesting wines like Uovo and Sketta (which is orange and delicious!).
Ordering was a process of what we had to leave out because in truth we wanted it all. We had a tahini-based grapefruit ‘ezme’ which we dipped a beautifully soft and chewy laffa into (other options are challah and pita) and then a skewer of leeks and amba (mango sauce ) and a skewer of charred oyster mushrooms, which were just superb – one deliciously sweet, the other deeply flavorful. Then there was a plate of fabulous falafel with sumac onions and halloumi cooked in fennel honey, which was by far the best dish. There is, of course, cauliflower – a large quarter with leaves and all, cooked to perfection and served with tomato and yogurt for dipping. The candied potato latkes are unlike any latkes you’ve ever had and the Vesuvius Tomatoes with Mango and Cumin are sunny and full of flavor – simply divine. Naturally, there’s malabi for dessert and naturally it has a twist, in the form of sour cherry puree and crushed peanut butter brittle on top. We also had small coconut tahini fudge squares. It was an amazing meal. Did I mention this is a totally vegetarian restaurant? There is absolutely no meat. Or fish. None. No. Nothing. Did I miss them? Absolutely not! L.W.