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Heading the list of restaurants I really should have been to but haven’t is Barrafina, but a no booking policy and tales of epic queues reduce its appeal for those of us with a babysitter to get back to. Our compromise was Fino, Barrafina’s Charlotte Street sister restaurant which takes reservations, albeit with a two hour time limit. I was intrigued to visit, having read contrasting reviews from some time ago from An American in London and Tamarind and Thyme.

Charlotte Street was abuzz with the post-work crowd making the most of a balmy summer evening. Leaving the bustle behind, we descended into the  restaurant where we found a lively atmosphere fitting for a group meal out or a first date alike. Our waitress was helpful with recommendations, though we were disappointed to find that at 8pm they had already run out of the monkfish special. There was also no red mullet; perhaps there had been an issue with the fish order that day.

Dishes came in twos, allowing us time to enjoy each one whilst it was still warm. We started with bread which was served with fantastically fruity olive oil (£2.00) and a mixed platter of cold meats (£12).

Ham croquettas (£3.60) arrived next, which were beautifully light and fluffy, and crisp on the outside.

Squid wrapped with pancetta in ink sauce (£12.80) delivered a mouthful of flavour, and the squid was perfectly cooked.

A black pudding tortilla was deliciously soft and oozy, the centre spilling out as we cut into it. Being of Scottish descent, I was excited at the prospect of black pudding, but disappointingly I couldn’t detect any trace of it.

The presa iberica with confit potatoes (£12.00) was tender and juicy, with a sumptuous and flavourful layer of fat, but the potatoes were oversalted.

We finished with the donuts (£6.50), which I had been looking forward to all day. What a disappointment! A  plate of three tempting donuts arrived, which I bit into with great expectations, only to find them dry and stodgy. We really needed the vanilla ice cream to add some moisture. The santiago tart (£6.50) was by contrast light and nutty with Christmassy spices. Absolutely delicious.

Fino offers something a cut above the generic, oily dishes found in so many of London’s tapas restaurants. The dishes we had were creative and well executed, with only a few inconsistencies. There is a lively vibe, making Fino a great option for a special night out, albeit it at a price. Our meal came to £111 which included two glasses of champagne and three glasses wine.


Fino, 33 Charlotte Street, London W1T 1RR

Overall: 8/10

Mummy friendly score: babysitter required, but marks for taking reservations!

Gastrodad score: 8/10


David’s Deli

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I’ve walked past David’s Deli many times and never been tempted in, but with our original lunch plans having gone awry, we thought we would have a peek in. The welcome was warm and enthusiastic, and a glance at the food displayed in the counter convinced us to stay. This is a down to earth, unassuming café selling authentic Lebanese/Israeli food with friendly, confident service.

In the mood for a light lunch, we ordered hummus, which was sprinkled with sumac. The accompanying pitta was warm, soft and plentiful. Falafel was beautifully crisp and freshly cooked, drizzled with tahini sauce. A spinach salad with onion, tomato, mushrooms, peppers and olives was a nice balance to all the chickpeas, though we were unconvinced by the presence of tinned sweetcorn.

For the best falafel I’ve had in some time, characterful service and the added advantage of being just down the road from home, I’ll be back. Though not the smartest or cosiest of West Hampstead’s cafés, David’s Deli certainly holds its own on the food front and is a must-visit for locals.


David’s Deli, 341 West End Lane, West Hampstead, NW6 1RS

Food: 7/10

Rafa (7 months old)contentment: 9/10 (he slept for most of the time!)

Ladudu, Part 2: The Lunch

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Rafa and I had enjoyed a few coffee outings to Ladudu, West Hampstead’s most recent addition to the local food scene, and I was keen to progress to lunch. Our first attempt ended in disappointment when we arrived at the door on a Tuesday lunchtime, only to find they are closed on Tuesdays. A return trip the next day was worth the effort. This place puts West End Lane’s other Asian eateries into the shadows, delivering fresh, authentic and tasty food at noodle bar prices.

I was there with Gastrogranny, who is not a big eater, so we chose just one appetiser and two main dishes between us. The green papaya salad/Roi Du Du (£5.50) was perfectly crunchy, enhanced by the addition of chopped roasted almonds in place of the more typical peanuts. The sharpness of the lime was well balanced with a hint of fish sauce, leaving a refreshing tingly taste. I’m already planning further visits to work my way through the remaining appetisers, beginning with Vietnamese pancake (£5.50). We boringly drank tap water, which was iced and available in abundance.

We were keen to try the Spicy Beef Noodles/Bun Bo Hue (£7.50) but at 1pm it was still being cooked and was therefore disappointingly not available. Instead we had the now ubiquitous Pho, which proved a worthy substitute. The mellow flavour of the star anise came through beautifully, present but not overpoweringly so. I would have liked noodles with a little more bite, but the stock was spot on.

The day’s lunch special was Crispy Skin Chicken/Co’m Ga Da Gion (£7.00), which lived up to its name with sumptuously juicy, crispy skin, full of flavour. The mound of rice accompanying the chicken was a bit dry and only warm not hot, so defeated us in the end, but the pickled vegetables were a welcome complement.

The comfy leather seating with plenty of cushioning provided a perfect little playden for a full of beans seven month old, but by the end of two courses, Rafa’s patience was wearing thin, and we beat a hasty retreat with no time for pudding. I have however already earmarked the Pandan pancake with coconut filling/Banh Trang Ngot (£3.50) for next time.

As an Asian food loving NW6-er, I arrived at Ladudu eager not to be disappointed, and disappointed I was not. This is a welcome addition to the West Hampstead restaurant line up and is set to become my local lunch of choice.


Ladudu, 152 West End Lane, West Hampstead NW6 1SD

Overall: 8/10

Rafa contentment score: 8/10 (soft seating ideal for rolling)

The Walnut, West Hampstead

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While house hunting in West Hampstead last summer, we asked the estate agent for a restaurant recommendation, to which he replied, ‘you don’t come to West Hampstead for fine dining’. Assuming we would be able to find some hidden gems, we took the plunge anyway and moved into the area. West Hampstead has so much going for it, but unfortunately our estate agent was right, culinary genius is scarce. Where to go then, on a weeknight, when time would not allow us to venture too far? Having heard some good things about The Walnut, a sustainable restaurant with an emphasis on seasonal produce, we decided to give it a try.

We had a reservation for 7.20pm (our thrifty leanings made us determined to take advantage of the ‘order before 7.30pm and receive 20% off your bill’ offer), but a lengthy conversation with the T-Mobile support line meant we rushed in at 7.28pm. A smiley waitress kindly rushed through our order meaning we would still get the all important discount! We were then able to catch our breath and take in our surroundings. Side lighting lent a cosy, intimate atmosphere, and the kitchen was on a mezzanine above us, allowing diners a peak into the engine of the restaurant, a nice touch.

To start I ordered the scallops with a toasted hazelnut and coriander dressing (£7.85). The scallops were perfectly cooked but a little tepid, not helped by being served on a cold plate. Gastrodad’s Cornish crab cakes (£5.35) had been made with one dollop of mustard too many. Both dishes were unimaginatively presented, each having a rather large ‘garnish’ of salad leaves, which could have been straight out of a Florette Crispy Salad bag.

Next up was slow roasted pork belly, accompanied by more of the crispy salad! A rather incongruous side. I also ordered potatoes dauphinoise (£4.85). The pork belly was tender but wasn’t quite as ‘melt in the mouth’ as I would have liked. The dauphiniose was tasty but a little heavy and overly cheesy. Maybe this is what happens when a British restaurant makes a French classic. Gastrodad had the ribeye steak (£16.35), accompanied by chips and, you guessed it, more crispy salad! The steak was cooked as requested and aside from the salad, a well executed dish.

After all that salad we were too full for a pudding each, so shared the warm dark chocolate tart (£5.25). This had a lovely oozy centre which wasn’t too sweet. The pastry could have been crispier, but altogether this was probably the highlight of the meal. We also had a cafetiere of Tikki coffee, which was good coffee, but it’s a shame they haven’t invested in an espresso machine.

In an area barren of stand out restaurants, The Walnut is head and shoulders above most of its competitors, it just isn’t the oasis I had hoped for. The produce is local (as local as Kidderpore Avenue in Hampstead) and carefully selected. Service is eager to please, and the sustainable approach bound to win fans. However the dishes seem a little flung together and I’m not sure the kitchen has an eye on the finer details. Altogether the Walnut is a good neighbourhood restaurant, but not a great one.


The Walnut, 280 West End Lane, West Hampstead NW6 1LJ

Overall rating: 6/10

Mummy friendly score: babysitter required

Gastrodad score: 6/10

Improvised Oyster Chicken (gweilo style)

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Before marrying my Indian father-in-law, my Chinese mother-in-law was given a week long intensive course in Indian cookery, all under the watchful eye of her future mother-in-law. A week long course in Chinese cookery was (sadly) not my fate in the run up to our wedding, but I have been encouraged by Gastrodad to learn a few of his childhood favourites, with the promise that I would never hear the dreaded phrase, ‘it’s not as good as my mother’s’. Char kwei teow is the all time favourite (I have never managed to cook a decent version of this, so if anyone has a recipe they would recommend, I’d love to see it!), followed closely by Oyster Chicken (Penang style). A simple dish, for which a good many recipes are thrown up by a quick google search, but none of them seemed to match the dish my mother-in-law cooks, and since she doesn’t have it written down, I have created my own version.

1kg chicken thighs and legs

2 medium carrots

8-10 dried shiitake mushrooms

a chunk of fresh ginger

2 cloves garlic

1 tbsp groundnut oil or vegetable oil

100 ml chicken stock/water

2 tbsp oyster sauce

1 tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tbsp rice wine

1 tsp brown sugar

Serves 4

Soak the mushrooms in warm water until soft. Cut off the woody stem.

Pat the chicken dry and season it. Heat the oil in a large pan and brown the chicken on both sides. In the meantime, slice the carrots, chop the garlic, and julienne the ginger. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.

Add the garlic and ginger to the pan, stir frying briefly until fragrant. Mix the stock, oyster sauce, wine, soy sauce and sugar together in a bowl and add to the pan along with the carrots and mushroom. Put the chicken back in the pan, bring to a simmer and put the lid on. Cook for about 15 mins until the chicken is cooked through.

Serve with rice.


Ladudu Part 1: Coffee

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My excitement over the opening of a Vietnamese restaurant on West End Lane, just minutes from our house, has been bubbling away since the Ladudu sign first made its appearance. Vietnamese food easily makes it into my top three world cuisines, and NW6 suffers from a drought of quality, authentic Asian food. My heart went out to owner, Teresa Le (follow her on Twitter @ladudufood), when I spotted a sign in the window on the restaurant’s inaugural day, announcing that due to a delay in the gas installation, no mains could be served. A restaurant with no gas?! Hardly the all singing all dancing opening every restaurateur would hope for! This problem has not been speedily resolved, and it is only today that Ladudu is finally closed for the said gas installation to take place. Yet they seemed to have rumbled along, still attracting custom with offerings of Vietnamese coffee, cakes and deserts, and with the help of an electric ring, even rustled up a few select mains each lunchtime. I popped in yesterday to try out West End Lane’s newest coffee venue and will be returning post-gas installation for the full works.

On entering Ladudu, there is an immediate sense of space and calm. The decor is contemporary Eastern style, with an abundance of dark wood and walls adorned with photographs of Vietnam. The Vietnamese phrase books and pots of herbs on the table add a quirky touch, and leather bucket seats were perfect for wedging Rafa in. Whilst he happily rolled around and desperately vied for attention from other customers, I enjoyed a latte and a pain au chocolat. Not a classic Vietnamese snack I have to concede; I drew more on the traditions of Vietnam’s former colonisers this time. The coffee easily beats that of the big chains just across the road (did you know Vietnam is the second largest coffee exporter in the world?), and my pain au choc came freshly warmed with the delectable crispiness that comes from an oven not a microwave.

Service was chirpy and enthusiastic and demonstrated knowledge of the way to win the loyalty of any new mum: comment on what a gorgeous baby they have 😉

I will miss the food trials next week as I gorge myself in the Loire Valley, but my mouth is already watering at the prospect of savouring fresh Vietnamese food on my return.

York and Albany

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With a visit from the grandparents (read ‘willing babysitters’) approaching, I found myself searching for a conveniently located ‘date night’ venue. Gordon Ramsay’s York and Albany caught my eye. Conveniently located a short drive from home, on the Northern line for GastroDad’s dash from the City and with a Mediterranean menu, it seemed perfect for a summery evening. York and Albany was originally an Angela Hartnett venture with Colin Buchan now at the reins.

The initial impression at York and Albany is of a smart, rather chichi pub. Hiding behind the bar is a beautifully light and airy dining room, with one wall made entirely of glass. The atmosphere was buzzy, the décor modern and tasteful, and the clientele made up of North London’s young professionals.

To start I ordered the salmon, avocado, chilli, lime and coriander, whilst GastroDad opted for the orzo, green bean, pomegranate, mint and pumpkins seed salad. The latter was fresh and perfectly pleasant, but was met with a frown from GastroDad, who described it as ‘basically a pasta salad’ (GD hadn’t realised that orzo was pasta when he ordered it!) . My salmon was somewhat marred by the unlikely addition of grapefruit on top of the salmon, which contributed an unwelcome mushy texture and overwhelmed the more delicate flavours of salmon and avocado.

My evening picked up considerably when the tagliatelle of crab, chilli and lemon grass arrived. The chilli offered just the right amount of heat, not overpowering the crab, whilst the lemongrass lent a lovely tang. The pasta was beautifully cooked with a strong texture offering plenty of bite.

GastroDad had the lamb shoulder with soft polenta and ginger carrots. The lamb was perfectly cooked, tender and gently falling apart, and the polenta smooth and creamy. Accompanying spring greens were oversalted.

We ended the evening by sharing the lemon tart, which was not quite as soft and creamy as I would personally have liked. The ‘zing’ levels were perfect, and the brulée  topping lovely and crisp. The pastry was disappointingly lacking in crunch.

York and Albany offers above average food at reasonable prices in a lovely setting. Service was variable, ranging from an exceptionally warm and enthusiastic greeting from the maitre d’, to less enthusiastic, rather supercilious and at times slow service during the meal. A definite recommendation for Camden locals, but probably not worth a trek across town.

York and Albany, 127-129 Parkway, Camden, NW1 7PS

Overall: 7/10

Mummy friendly score: babysitter required

Gastrodad’s score: 6/10