Author Archives: Ryan Visser

Below Zero restaurant and bar, by London Appetizer

We’re always on the look out for the best bloggers in the restaurant and hotel industry, and Piers from London Appetizer has to be up there with the very best. Piers was the first restaurant blogger in London, starting out back in 1996, so he’s a true expert in his field.  Below is a restaurant review that he wrote for Below Zero, in Heddon Street in London.  For more restaurant reviews and industry news, have a look a London Appetizer let us know what you think.

Below Zero, Heddon St, London. Written by London Appetizer

A subterranean secret to some, a hidden gem to others, the temperature has been raised at belowzero, London’s favourite restaurant and lounge bar.  Located beneath bustling, vibrant Heddon Street, belowzero has reached new heights with the appointment of Head Chef, Sean Marshall, and the opulent transformation of the interior.

Marshall brings a wealth of experience to the role having worked at Prism, Oxo Tower, Bank and Mint Leaf. His new modern European menu showcases his excellent and varied cooking skills whilst being driven by quality, seasonal ingredients. This, shared with Marshall’s passion for innovative combinations of flavours and textures, positions belowzero as a destination restaurant.

Typical starters include pan-fried red mullet, warm blood orange and red onion salad with saffron orange oil; seared Scottish scallops with Arbroath smoky and parsnip purée; as well as lavender smoked wood pigeon with caramelised black figs, wild mushrooms and blackberry jus.
Main courses feature must-try pistachio and sage crusted lamb rack with spiced sweet potato, spring greens, morels and port and bacon marinated kidneys; line caught seabass with stuffed steamed baby cabbage, girolle and cockle butter; or pan fried fillet of venison with seared foie gras, walnut braised red cabbage, beetroot and cranberry compote and a rioja jus. Whole lemon sole, swordfish, rib-eye steak and maize-fed chicken are also available from the grill, each served with capanota and sauce vierge.

Inventive and decadent desserts include cardamom and star anise mousse with spinach genoise and lime leaf anglaise; white chocolate fondant with szechuan ice cream and crystallised fruits; or banoffee cheesecake with rich butterscotch sauce and home-made banana sorbet.
The menu is complemented with a strong and extensive international wine list, with many bins under £30. Alternatively blow the budget with stars of the show such as Shiraz, Penfolds Grange Hermitage, South Australia, 1995 or Mouton Rothschild, Aile D’Argent, Pauillac First Growth, Bordeaux 1996.
The lounge bar at belowzero takes cocktails to another level with its talented bar team, contemporary concoctions
and its comprehensive premium and super premium spirits list, which includes Absolut 100, only available at 100 bars in the world. Unique creations include ‘Ultimat Mochatini’ – Ultimat Chocolate Vanilla vodka, white cacoa liquer and coffee jelly or ‘Sagini’ -Whitley Neill gin, Pimm’s No. 1, fresh sage leaves and pomegranate juice.

For the rest of the article, please visit London Appetizer

Thanks to Piers for the review.  Visit the superb London Appetizer
and see what else he has to offer.  You can thank us later.

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Pearl Restaurant, London

This guest post was written by A Girl Has to Eat. For more great restaurant reviews for London and Sydney, head on over and check her out.

Meal: Dinner at the Pearl Restaurant, London.

Gekko Spotter: A Girl Has to Eat

I like pearls. But there was a time when I thought, given a choice, I would have chosen diamonds over pearls any day, diamonds being that much shinier. Like how Marilyn Monroe use to wax lyrical about Harry Winston in “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”, I would nod in silent agreement and say bring them on.

Hand-strung pearls along the bar

Hand-strung pearls along the bar

But as I’ve gotten older, (for arguments sake, let’s say past my early 20s) my take on pearls has mellowed. Pearls are classy, and I must confess I wouldn’t mind some of those now in my jewellery box. Not that I have either diamonds or pearls mind, it’s just that they would both be nice to have. Sigh. A girl has to dream…

Anyway, my pre-ramble was brought on in part by the occasion of my dinner at Pearl Restaurant the other night. I adore Pearl Restaurant. I’ve been there on a couple of occasions, even managing to high-tail it once to the private dining room. My experiences at Pearl in the past have always been thoroughly enjoyable: great food, accomplished service, good company. And befitting a gem of a restaurant, it’s all shiny and sparkling.

Over a million hand-strung pearls dangle along the length of the bar which you must strut past in order to arrive at your table. They shimmer and emit soft flashes of shine in an all too seductive, ‘come hither’ kind of way. The bar is elegance personified: classically beautiful, classy and chic with warm walnut panelling, comfortable leather armchair seating and touches of marble throughout. Walking along this bejewelled path, one can’t help but feel that it would have been rather appropriate to be slinking down in a sexy little black Armani number with killer Manolo Blahniks and some gorgeous little pearls to boot.

Except on this particular occasion of my dinner at Pearl, a restaurant with a modern take on classic French cuisine, I was wearing anything but. More like jeans and a nice sweater. And rather than partaking from the standard à la carte menu (1 course, £32; 2 courses, £46; 3 courses, £54) or the tasting menu (£64), we were merely sampling the 3-course ‘special offer’ that I had secured through Toptable. My experiences of the special offers on Toptable have run the gamut of hits and misses. Actually probably more misses than hits, so it is always with extreme care that I deign to click that cursor on any Toptable special offer. But Pearl Restaurant is altogether in a different league, and chef Jun Tanaka is a wondrous chef with an exquisite touch, having started his career at Le Gavroche and worked at some of London’s other great Michelin restaurants such as The Capital and The Square. Therefore in times of such credit crunch blues, the special offer of three courses with wine for £30 seemed unbeatable value for this calibre of cooking, even if the options were limited to only three choices per course.

Salad of crisp pig’s trotter and marinated veal rump

Salad of crisp pig’s trotter and marinated veal rump

Elegance personified, the dining room is an impressive extension of the bar. The hand-strung pearls again adorn this ample space and stunning chandeliers illuminate the ceiling. We started with a sample of delectable amuse-bouches, and moved onto a glorious starter of warm salad of crisp pig’s trotter and marinated veal rump with celeriac and apple. The pig’s trotter was deliciously soft and moist, with the added bite of crunchiness from its crispy crumbed outer coating. Add the multitude of flavours from the velvety smooth veal rump; the gooey, slightly runny centre of the quail’s egg; the fresh, delicate greens and slight sweetness of the apple, and it tasted of textural heaven.

Roasted smoked salmon with scotch egg and risotto

Roasted smoked salmon with scotch egg and risotto

A main of braised beef with celeriac puree and roast roscoff onion was moist, succulent and deeply flavourful, a perfect execution of a braised beef dish. A roasted smoked salmon was prepared perfectly, although the smokiness of the fish was perhaps a little overpowering for the dish. It was accompanied by a scotch egg and a spring onion risotto which was creamy and decadent.

Pistachio and plum streusel with plum sorbet

Pistachio and plum streusel with plum sorbet

A dessert of pistachio and plum streusel and plum sorbet was simply sensational. A cake of pistachio and plum was both a little nutty and a little sweet from the soft baked fruit. Add the crunchy, sugary, crumbly topping, and it melded perfectly with the moist, buttery cake. Another dessert of poached pear williams in sauternes jelly, milk chocolate mousse and vanilla ice cream was rich and creamy and a definite must for chocolate mousse lovers.

Poached pear and chocolate mousse

Poached pear and chocolate mousse

Our 3-courses were then followed by complementary petit fours and fairy floss. It was all rather impressive to see this volume of food, given such a well-priced menu, but more impressive perhaps for wine lovers is Pearl’s comprehensive array of wine choices. Pearl’s award winning wine list houses over 1,400 bottles of wine and also purports to offer the most extensive choices of premium wines by the glass. Pearl utilises a Cruvinet system, which employs nitrogen to expel oxygen from the opened bottles that allow for the over 40 different types of wines by the glass at Pearl to maintain their freshness when opened.

Service was slick, refined and unpretentious. And my friend, she was good company too. So once again, my time at Pearl was thoroughly enjoyable: great food, accomplished service, good company.

Yeah, Pearl’s shiny. What a little gem.

Cassie Young (A Girl Has To Eat)

Summary information

Food rating: 8/10
Service rating: 8/10
Overall rating: 8/10

Pearl Restaurant and Bar at:
252 High Holborn,
London, WC1V 7EN

For more London restaurant reviews, head on over to A Girl Has to Eat and say hi!

Find out more about Pearl here

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Restaurant review: EN Japanese Brasserie, New York

Meal: Lunch on 16 April

Venue: 435 Hudson St, New York, NYC – If you’re looking to expand your Japanese culinary world outside of Sushi, then EN Japanese Brasserie is the place for you.

Gekko Spotters: Ryan and Helen

Japanese cuisine is as diverse and varied as they come, ranging from the simple to the exquisite, with sushi only making up a small speciality in this wide range of culinary delights. However, many of us will solely visit sushi bars and will therefore miss out on the classic Japanese cooking that is, in many respects, even more enjoyable. If you’re looking to expand your horizons or sample real Japanese food, then you need to visit EN Japanese Brasserie in New York.

En Japanese Brasserie

Located in New York’s West Village, EN Japanese Brasserie is an elegant and stylish restaurant, with warm woods, elegantly styled decor with a brooding but relaxed feel to it, interspersed with touches of Japanese flair to draw the eye. EN aims to emulate classic Japanese home cooking in a venue that closely replicates a classic Japanese home. Having spent some time in Japan, I have been lucky enough to stay with a number of Japanese families, and it is this experience that has led me to conclude that EN has the Japanese home dining experience perfectly replicated. A superb venue to enjoy some fantastic Japanese cuisine.

As in all Japanese restaurants, the staff need to have a firm knowledge of the food with a strong motivation to advise and direct the guests towards the meals that they would most enjoy. However, so often I have eaten in a Japanese restaurant having to guess which meals I’d like, and which dishes to avoid. Happily, the staff at EN relish this task and provided exemplary service. We were seated quickly and were talked through the diverse menu by a fantastic waiter who, quite simply, cared for our experience. As a relatively inexperienced Japanese diner, Helen settled on a fixed seven course menu for $45 which I decided to join her on. This menu included:

1. Edamame- soaked in dashi
2. Tofu Salad- mizuna greens, cherry tomatoes & Japanese turnips with yuzu dressing
3. Crispy fried chicken & vegetables- with aromatic rock salt
4. Saikyo Miso Black Cod- black cod marinated in saikyo miso, grilled
5. Kakuni braised Berkshire pork belly- in sansho miso, with a boiled egg, spinach & daikon radish
6. Jako Gohan- steamed Japanese rice mixed with tiny dried fish
7. Green Tea Ice Cream

For both of us, the highlights were the Berkshire pork belly and the crispy fried chicken. I’m a huge fan of Japanese crispy fried chicken, and this was no exception. It was cooked to perfection, beautifully moist with a nice crispy coating to add extra flavour and texture, with a hint of lemon. The pork belly was out of this world, tender and flavoursome, melting in the mouth. The only dish on the menu that I disliked was the rice dish at the end, which I felt was cliched and unnecessarily fishy (the tiny dried fish were not needed) and a bit too strong to enjoy so close to dessert. The image below is of the Miso Glazed black cod, which looked spectacular and tasted great:

Miso glazed black cod

Verdict: If you’re looking to expand your horizons and to eat real Japanese food, then EN Japanese Brasserie is perfect for you. I thoroughly enjoyed eating there, the staff were fantastic, the food was extremely tasty and diverse, and it was a joy to relax in the stylish interior. I can’t recommend this restaurant enough.

Ryan Visser

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Best of the blogs: Europe a la Carte

Here at Gekko, we’re always looking out for the best tips on places to stay and places to eat across the world. That’s why we’ve lined up a crack team of Gekko Spotters, people with amazing travel and food blogs who always know the best Gekko Spots.

One of our favourites is Karen at Europe a la Carte.

Europe a la Carte

Europe a la Carte is the perfect read if you’re travelling in Europe, and recommends a wealth of hidden gems you’d never find on other travel sites. If you’re heading off to your Europe on holiday, you should stop by Europe a la Carte before you leave.

If you’re looking for some high quality hotels in London for under £100, or a complete guide to Paris, Europe a la Carte has the advice and experience to steer you in the right direction.

Europe a la Carte

Europe a la Carte

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Wimbledon 2009: The Places to Stay

As Wimbledon fever hits the UK, you may well want to be a part of the action. Watching Wimbledon from courtside is the thing to do this summer, yet it can be a huge hassle for people. Tourists flood into London, filling up the buses and trains and making it a tricky to journey for anyone not living in London. So to treat yourself, why don’t you find a hotel to stay in for the tournament this year?

Did you know that you can be living in the heart of central London and be no more than 30 minutes away from Wimbledon Station? Hotels close to Wimbledon sell out early, and those that don’t will be sure to raise their prices in anticipation. Therefore, it’s a smart move to stay slightly further away from the courts this year. We’ve selected a handful of the top hotels to stay in London whilst still being in easy reach of Wimbledon. From these hotels you can be sitting in the sunshine, sipping on a glass of Pimms and watching the tennis within 30 minutes of stepping out of your hotel door (Wimbledon queues excluded…).

The Baglioni Hotel

If you’re a fan of the top Italian player Andreas Seppi, then the Baglioni is sure to attract with its beautiful Italian décor. The hotel is in the perfect location for a spot of the best shopping, cultural highlights, the Royal Park Gardens and of course, Wimbledon.

The Baglioni Hotel

The Metropolitan Hotel

The Metropolitan London: Impressive with its modern design interiors and fantastic location of being situated in the heart of London on the exclusive Park Lane. Its adopted Asian-inspired themes offer holistic treatments, therapies and massages which will be much sought after when you return from a long and hot day sitting in the stands.

The Metropolitan Hotel

Knightsbridge Hotel

The only hotel that offers great value for money in one of the most expensive areas in London. The Knightsbridge is ideal if you want more than just tennis, as it is closely located to some of the best shopping to be found in London. Its convenient and upmarket location makes it a great get-away for the Wimbledon adventure, yet still close enough to get to the courts in the morning.

The Knightsbridge Hotel

So there you have it, three great places to stay during Wimbledon this year. For more ideal places to stay, find your London hotel matches on Gekko for the right hotel at the right budget for you.

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London 2012: 5 top hotels for the Olympics

The big news in the hotel world this week is that Holiday Inn has signed a deal to become the official hotel sponsor for the 2012 London Olympics. As everyone knows, the Olympics is a huge marketing tool so there’s no doubt that the partnership will benefit both sides.

Holiday Inn will hopefully be able to provide an affordable option for the spectators travelling to London to watch the games. We’ve also selected five other top hotels that will be perfect for witnessing the world’s biggest sporting spectacle.

1: Athenaeum Hotel and apartments

Athenaeum Hotel and Apartments

If you’re truly into the spirit of the Olympics (yet want to be able to escape the bustle occasionally), there’s no more appropriately named venue to stay then the Atheneum. If you want to spend your time during the Olympics in a luxurious and stylish hotel, look no further. Sure, you’re in the city for the Olympics, but at some point you’ll want to get away, and the Atheneum does not disappoint in this department. The historic, privately owned hotel is located opposite Green Park on bustling Piccadilly. Hyde Park is 500 metres away and Piccadilly Circus is half-a-mile away. Buckingham Palace, Harrods and Oxford Street, the country’s biggest shopping street, are within a mile, as is Westminster Abbey.

2: Knightsbridge hotel

Knightsbridge Hotel

Do you want to see the games, but stay in a quiet neighbourhood? Have a look at the Knightsbridge Hotel.  Situated in a quiet cul-de-sac with incredibly stylish and modern decor, the Knightsbridge Hotel is the perfect modestly-priced entree into one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the world. In fact the Knightsbridge is the ideal shopper’s hotel, a sort of junior version of its sisters, Covent Garden and Charlotte Street, with a correspondingly lower nightly rate, leaving plenty of room on the credit cards for expeditions to Harrods and Harvey Nichols, as well as the shops of Sloane Street and Brompton Cross.

3: Sanderson Hotel
Sanderson Hotel

If you’re looking for a lively atmosphere in the evenings, look no further than the chic Sanderson Hotel in Soho. With a happening bar in the evening, a great Malaysian-European restaurant and a Dali inspired lobby, the hotel certainly is different. For those of you wanting to escape the norm, this is a definite must-see.

4:  K West Spa and Hotel
K West Spa and Hotel

Looking for an ultra-modern hotel close to some top london attractions? Then the K West Spa is for you.  With great transport links to get you too and from the Olympic venues, yet far enough removed to get you away from the crowds, the K West is a superb (and affordable) place to stay for the Games. The glass-fronted  hotel was opened in 2001 and features tiny televisions in the walls of the lobby and corridors. The minimalist lobby is flooded with natural light. The Kanteen restaurant on the mezzanine floor serves modern international dishes like seared fillet of tuna Nicoise and buffalo mozzarella with figs. Glass bricks enhance the feeling of light and space. Guests can sip cocktails while relaxing on brown leather sofas by the open fireplace in the K Lounge. Light meals including Thai curries are also served here throughout the day.The K West hotel has a business centre and wireless Internet access in public areas.The K Spa offers holistic treatments like Reiki, reflexology and hot stone treatment. It also has a dry floatation tank and double therapy room. Finally, there are three large exercise rooms offering weight machines and free weights, cardiovascular machines and daily classes, including yoga. Perfect to unwind after a long hot day in the stadium.

5:  Hempel Hotel
Hempel Hotel

Watching the Olympics over a number of days is one of the most exciting things to do, but with long days in a hot stadium, swarming crowds and busy transport systems, it can be tiring ans stressful. Therefore, why not stay at the Hempel Hotel near Kensington Gardens? The Hempel Hotel is home to its well-known Zen Garden, a large ornamental garden in front of the hotel. This beautifully sculpted garden is for the exclusive use of guests and has played host to various celebrity weddings and photo shoots. The Hempel Hotel’s interior boasts an original conceptual design. The sparse, dreamlike lobby features a Portland stone floor, sunken seating areas with Indonesian ox-cart tables and two wide fireplaces. Simple, natural colors and a lack of signs and door handles adds to the sense of tranquility. An atrium provides natural light to the interior, and suspended walls increase the feeling of space. Finally, you can enjoy Italian-influenced Thai cuisine in the polished, monochrome I-Thai restaurant, and can also relax amid the Zen Garden’s herb-filled borders.

Ryan Visser

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Weekend escapes: Oxford

In the current financial climate, it’s not always possible to jet off to America or Australia to discover new cities, bars, restaurants, night life and cultures. However, this last weekend I realised that you don’t always have to travel thousands of miles, put up with grumpy passport control, security checks, stand in the 3 mile Stansted queue or learn a new language to discover a fantastic new city. There’s nothing wrong with exploring your own country, or even your own city, a little more. It was this thought on Saturday that sent me out into Oxford, determined to re-discover (or in many cases, simply discover) the city I have lived in for most of my life.

Why is it that I’ve spent 20 years in Oxford and never taken a tour around the university? Why is it that, although I’ve walked past it many, many times, I have never climbed to the top of Carfax tower to look out at the ‘dreaming spires’ of Oxford? Sure, I’ve stopped for coffee on a long day’s shopping trip, but why is it I’ve always picked a certain and very generic coffee brand over the hundreds of little cafes nestled in amongst the ancient buildings? After reading Tony’s New York blog post, I realised how lucky I was to live in a famous old city, so I decided to head off and check it out.

I headed into Oxford on Saturday and parked in a little back alley after navigating the one way system through the colleges. I headed out to my starting point for the day, Carfax Tower. I’m not going to bore you with the history of all the old buildings (tour guides do that for you,) but I have to say that the view from the top of Carfax Tower was great. Pictures don’t do it justive, so if you get the chance you should make that climb. The ticket is £2 and I think it’s worth it.

Dreaming Spires from Carfax tower
Once we climbed down, I hopped on to the Oxford tour bus (I even began covering for myself by explaining to the driver that I do indeed live in Oxford. I’ve never enjoyed looking like a tourist…) and headed off towards Magdalen Bridge and the Botanical Gardens. Now, if you ever want the contempt of the locals, be sure to ask very noisily how to find the Magdalen bridge (pronouncing the G) when in a crowd. It’s pronounced with a silent ‘G’, and it is the one way to spot a newbie in Oxford.

Magdalen Bridge
After a walk around the Botanical Gardens (OK, it’s not anywhere near as good as the other botanical gardens dotted around the country, but you can go punting on the river that runs through the gardens), we headed out to find a place to grab a coffee and perhaps some food. However, the best coffee places are in Cornmarket Street (right next to Carfax Tower) so we decided to continue on with the tour and have a break at the end. As we wound our way around the colleges, (seeing the college where the Harry Potter films were shot was the highlight for a certain member of the group), we suddenly realised that we were driving past the Malmaison, an old prison made into a swanky hotel and restaurant. If you ever stay in Oxford, the Malmaison is perfect, a funky and quirky Gekko Spot. The food in the restaurant is also fantastic. They have a wide range of drinks and a very busy bar in the evening, and superb hotel rooms to crash after a long night. Definitely a worthy stay.


Gekko’s favourite Oxford hotels

The hip hotel: Malmaison Oxford
An old prison you wouldn’t mind being locked up in. The hottest hotel in Oxford.

The luxury hotel: Le Manoir
Home to Raymond Blanc’s two Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Manoir is the country retreat of your dreams just a couple of miles outside Oxford.

The no frills city centre hotel: Old Bank Hotel
The first new hotel in Oxford city centre for 135 years. Unfussy but classy.

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