Meals at St Thomas’ Hospital, London
May 13th, 2010 by Olivier

Meals at St Thomas’ Hospital, London
Lambeth, Greater London SE1 7, UK

St Thomas’ Hospital

I have been away from this blog for almost two months! Time flies! The reason of this absence is the arrival of my beautiful baby daughter who has kept us very busy since her birth. I am slowly recovering from the lack of sleep and I am ready to post again when I find some free time. I have a huge backlog of reviews to post but I will start by an unusual review: the meals at the maternity section at St Thomas’ Hospital in London.

St Thomas’ Hospital is superbly located across the River Thames from Westminster and from our room we had a great view over the Houses of Parliament. The food, however, was certainly not great as is the case in most hospitals – but at least there was some compensation with the view. As for the hospital itself, things went eventually well but it was a shame many of the staff we met were not competent, including doctors asking my wife questions in the middle of contractions instead of waiting till they ended or just taking a look at the notes where the answers could be found. Overall I will keep a positive opinion but it is just because of two great midwives, Jennifer and Edith.

Now back to the meals: the post natal ward breakfast menu gives you many choices. You just tick what you require from the menu: fruit juice (apple/orange), muesli, cornflakes, all bran, rice krispies, weetabix, baked beans, scrambled eggs, porridge, wholemeal bread, white bread, wholemeal toast, white toast, butter, flora, marmalade, preserves, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, cold milk and hot milk.

Post natal ward breakfast menu

Scrambled eggs

We chose the scrambled eggs with the wholemeal bread and butter. As drinks we had tea and orange juice. The scrambled eggs were terrible. Despite coming covered, they were on the cold side and they tasted of nothing. Cornflakes seemed a safer choice.

Great view

The wholemeal bread and the butter were fine, same for the juice and tea. At least we had a great view over Westminster and a new born baby to keep us distracted from the breakfast.

The lunch gave the choice between the traditional dish (breaded fish – fillet of cod coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried), the chefs dish (cumberland sausages with onion gravy), the world dish (lamb curry – diced lamb and vegetable in a mild curry sauce), the vegetarian dish (mixed bean casserole – butterbeans, kidney beans, haricot beans with vegetables in tomato sauce, topped with potato), the sandwich (roast beef and mustard or cheese and coleslaw), the salad (scotch egg and salad). You can also get garden peas, fresh seasonal vegetable, chipped potatoes, creamed potatoes, rice. As dessert, the choice is between the hot sweet (pineapple sponge) and the cold sweet (fruit yoghurt or orange or chocolate mousse).

Cumberland sausages and pineapple sponge

Actually the cumberland sausages were ok. They were on the too-soft side but at least they had some taste. The vegetables were overcooked but ok as well. We had worse later so things are relative here.

Pineapple sponge

The pineapple sponge was not good at all. It had the look of breaded chicken covered by a mild curry sauce and it tasted very artificial. Once again, the view helps not to focus too much on the food.

Wonderful view

The supper was bad. It was served fairly early, I do not remember the time now but it was about 5 something. We chose the chefs dish which was the ham omelette and the rice pudding. Below are the other choices:

Ham omelette and rice pudding

The ham omelette was seriously bad. It was very dry and it would have been hard to guess it was a ham omelette had we not been told about it. The rice pudding seemed very good by contrast but I cannot tell if it was good in absolute or by comparison to the omelette.

We were still hungry so in the evening we went to the hospital’s canteen to get more meals as take away for dinner. We chose a chicken curry and a pasta with cheese. Huge mistake… They were horrid and by far the worst meals I had for a very long time. The curry was incredibly bland, same for the pasta. We wished for a Burger King. No kidding. If you are hungry, go to the McDonalds near London Eye (near the London Aquarium) as they are open till late.

The awful chicken curry

Disgusting pasta

We stayed two full days. Actually we were supposed to leave on the second day in the morning but because of administrative mess reasons we left at around 11pm… So we had again the same breakfast the next morning and as for lunch we decided to play safe and to choose a sandwich (it was possible to have a beef casserole, a fish pie, a caribbean beef curry, a bean and vegetable stew instead) with some fresh seasonal vegetable and an apple and berry pie.


Ham and tomato sandwich

The sandwich was ok and the apple and berry pie ok as well. Not sure if we got used to the food at this point LOL.

The supper gave the choice between a shepherds pie, a barbeque chicken (my choice), a bijanlo (spicy African vegetarian dish with beans, tomato, aubergines and potato), a sweet and sour bean and vegetables (butter beans with stir fry vegetables in a fruity sweet and sour sauce), a sandwich and a cheese ploughmans and salad. As dessert I had the bread and butter pudding.

Chicken thighs in barbeque sauce and bread and butter pudding

Barbeque chicken with the view

The barbeque chicken was good, and the barbeque sauce was not even oversweet. The dessert was decent too. It was nice to end our journey to the hospital on a positive note.

Cost and conclusion: thanks to NHS, we had nothing to pay in addition to our income tax. We will not keep a good memory about the food there, but we will certainly remember the superb view we had from our bedroom. As for the staff, in our experience there were many incompetent people and just a few who were good. It is sad these people have to work more to compensate the deficiency of the incompetent.

My baby :-)

French restaurant The Opera Terrace Chez Gérard Covent Garden
Mar 23rd, 2010 by Olivier

The Opera Terrace Chez Gérard
The Market Covent Garden Piazza
London WC2E 8RF

Chez Gérard Covent Garden

I had been to The Opera Terrace Chez Gerard in Covent Garden once before – which was not a great experience. Both food and cleanliness on that occasion were poor. So it was with some trepidation that I tried this restaurant again for a business lunch.

Sea bass fillets

On this occasion, things were very much better. The setting and location of this restaurant are very good. I can’t say that the food quite follows, but for a chain restaurant, the food this time was quite decent. I had the Filets de loup (Grilled sea bass fillets served with garlic & basil slow-baked plum tomatoes), which was served with olive oil which was quite a good match. The fish itself was nicely cooked, flesh firm and the skin nicely seasoned and crispy. It wasn’t the best rendition of this dish I’ve ever had, but was quite acceptable and a definite redemption on my last experience here.

Cost & conclusion: I was not the one paying the bill, but at around £16-17 per main seemed perhaps a little overpriced. Taking the covent garden location and surroundings into account, however, this would seem one of the safer and better value options around.

Chez Gerard on Urbanspoon

The French Café in Balham
Feb 26th, 2010 by Olivier

The French Café
16-18 Ritherdon Road, Balham SW17 8QD

The French Café

The French Café

Decent space between the tables

It is easy to miss the French Café despite its location close to the busy Balham High Road. It is somewhat hidden by Locale restaurant located at the corner of the road. I think we would never have found it if Pablo (the owner and chef at Bellevue Rendez-vous) did not tell us about it when we asked for good restaurants recommendation. This fairly new restaurant (apparently they opened in August 2009) was a great discovery. We tried to go during the weekend but it was all booked. On our second try during the week at lunch time it was fine.

As starters we had the potage du jour (homemade vegetable soup of the day served with warm crusty bread – £3.90) and the friture de camembert (£5.75) and as main courses we ordered the filet de loup de mer (pan fried sea bass with butter sauce, crushed new potatoes and spinach – £12.95) and the saucisses de Toulouse avec sauce à l’échalote (Toulouse sausages – £9.95). As drinks, we had a bottle of water (£2.85) and a glass of red wine (Bergerie de la Bastide 2008 – £3.50) which was decent. The desserts were a croissant bread & butter pudding (£3.75) and a chocolate truffle (£3.95). The espresso was only £1.50.

The starters

Potage du jour

The soup was not the best I have had. In its favour, it was very hot and stayed that way to the end of the bowl. But its flavour was a bit bland, giving the impression that it was probably microwaved, and the texture was just a little rough. It could also have benefited from a bit of seasoning. The bread it was served with was not exactly the “crusty” sliced baguette I’d been imagining, and was served without butter (which is typically french, and fine – but then it needs to be bread with a bit more flavour, and seasoned soup to match). So overall, the soup was a bit disappointing, and not really up to restaurant quality, even if it was well priced.

Friture de camembert

The friture de camembert was quite good. The breadcrumb was nicely fried and the camembert was perfectly melting. I chose this starter because it came with plum tomato jam which is something I never had with camembert and I was curious about it. It was a little surprising but not bad at all although I would have prefered it with cranberry sauce.

The main courses

Filet de loup de mer

My criticism of the soup was forgotten with the main course of pan fried sea bass. This dish was superbly executed, perfectly cooked and seasoned, and served with perfectly cooked new potatoes and spinach. It was big, and it was hot – staying so right to the end. I’d return for this dish alone, and feel it was worth every cent of its £12.95 price tag.

Saucisses de Toulouse

The saucisses de Toulouse were good too with a sweet brown sauce. There were 3 of them displayed on a large portion of garlic creamed potatoes with shallot sauce. It was nice I had not only the possibility to have mustard to go with it, but also the choice between English and French mustard. I chose the French one and it was quite a strong one which I wanted. It was seriously a big meal, even for me!  I think it was the first time I had 3 sausages, usually it is 2 when ordering in pubs etc.  That said, it was a very welcome meal in this cold rainy winter time.

The desserts

Truffes au chocolat

The truffes au chocolat was also excellent. Again it was large, but not at all oversweet and very nicely presented with liquid cream and chocolate sauce, offset with fresh strawberry.

Croissant bread & butter pudding

The croissant bread & butter pudding was delicious. Actually I am not into bread pudding at all but since it was based on croissant bread I had to try it. It was buttery of course but not too sweet and it came with cream and strawberry sauce.

Good coffee but slightly burnt

Cost and conclusion: it was just over £48 service charge not included. No “optional” service charge already included in the total bill which is nice and should be the norm. Here at the French Café it is left at the discretion of the customers. We really like that and of course we tipped as the service was fine. Do not forget to bring some change for the service if you pay with a credit card as there was no possibility to add the service charge. With the exception of the soup, the meals were quite good, nicely presented and very well priced. You can have a 2 course set menu for £9.95 too which is an excellent value for money. Highly recommended!

The French Cafe on Urbanspoon

Bistro1 restaurant Covent Garden
Feb 24th, 2010 by Olivier

Bistro1 restaurant
33 Southampton Street
Covent Garden, London, WC2E 7HE

Bistro1 Covent Garden

Bistro 1 covers two floors – with the upper floor being a bit more spacious than the ground floor. The meals are quite cheap for this very touristic area of London with 2 courses for £6.90 or 3 courses for £7.90 so my expectation was not high. In fact I was quite pleasantly surprised by the food, which was quite decent especially at this price.

Deep-fried spicy chicken on skewers

The spicy chicken on skewers came with a fairly plain salad, but it was still quite fresh and had a pleasant enough dressing. The chicken was very nicley done though, being well cooked but not dry as is a common risk with chicken cooked on skewers. The garlic yoghurt dip was not especially garlicky, but it was certainly spicy. Overall, a dish exceeding expectation.

Fillet of sea bream

The main course was sea bream topping garlic mashed potato. The potato itself was perhaps just a little on the mushy side, though it’s flavour was good. The fish was very nicely cooked and seasoned – certainly with a better flavour than presentation suggested.

Apple tarte tartin

Dessert was the weakest dish, being a bit excessively sweet and a little overcooked.

Cost & conclusion: I was not the one paying the bill, but 3 courses for £7.90 is hard to complain about. There were about 14 of us together at lunch, which is a group size that most restaurants have trouble to cope with (it is hard to get the same standard of food in a large group as you get in smaller groups). Bistro 1 did this pretty well, and the service was both speedy and polite. Overall, a positive experience and I’d eat here again.

Bistro 1 on Urbanspoon

Pizza Express Wimbledon Broadway SW19 1RH
Feb 18th, 2010 by Olivier

Pizza Express Wimbledon Broadway
104 The Broadway
London SW19 1RH

Pizza Express Wimbledon

Great Peroni beer

We tried to walk home from Richmond Park but got lost after Wimbledon Common so we decided to stop at Pizza Express for a quick diner. We were quite tired with all the camera gear we had to carry. As starters we had a formaggio bread and a garlic bread with mozzarella, they were followed by the pizza Romana Al Tirolo and the pizza Romana La Reine. We also had two glasses of tap water (free) and a bottle of Peroni beer which was served nicely cold.

Formaggio bread

Garlic bread with mozzarella

The starters were good, not heavy at all as we might have expected. They are like mini pizzas but we were hungry so it wasn’t a problem eating pizzas again but as a main course.

The two pizzas with the Romana bases

Pizza Romana la Reine

Pizza Romana Al Tirolo

Garlic oil and spicy oil

We had the Romana bases for our two pizzas, which means their bases were stretched thinner for a crispier pizza. The pizza Al Tirolo was quite nice with creamy cheese, mushrooms, parsley and some ham. The base was nice and crispy despite the garlic oil on it. The pizza La Reine (prosciutto cotto ham, olives and mushrooms) was OK, but a bit let down by the ham, which was rather tasteless despite being the main topping.

Cost and conclusion: for about £30 service charge not included it was a good value for money. We do appreciate the fact they didn’t include the “optional” 12.5% service charge in the bill and left it to our discretion. Pizza Express is a decent pizzeria chain and so far we have not had bad experiences with them. Actually they are a lot better than some pizzerias we tried!

Pizza Express on Urbanspoon

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