London: crudo and pasta at Veneta

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SaltYard Group, the company behind favourites like Ember Yard and Opera Tavern recently opened a restaurant in the newly redeveloped area of St James’s, just next to Swedish Aquavit actually. Called Veneta it has a distinct Italian, and Ventian, cuisine, compared to the other restaurants with a more Spanish menu.

I assume it’s because of my frequent visits to Opera Tavern (I wonder how many times I’ve eaten their mini pork and foie gras burger) that I was on the mailing list for Veneta’s soft launch.Either way, I was quick to book a table and went there one night after work with my friend Ro.

As it was a soft launch they offered 50 % off food in exchange for trying things out on us, and requesting feedback.

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Just like the other restaurants in the group, Veneta’s menu consists of small dishes perfect for sharing. I was super excited to see a whole section of the menu devoted to crudo, i.e. raw fish and seafood, which I love and we quickly ordered the raw red prawns with rosemary (top photo). They were plump and sweet and very fragrant from the rosemary. Lovely! Next time I want to try the raw red prawns with lardo.

Next we had the tortelloni, filled with red prawns and served in a seafood broth. It was nice but didn’t blow us away.

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The goat kid ragu with pappardelle however, did. It was just amazing and I predict it will become one of their signature dishes (if it isn’t already!).

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The salt baked carrots and beets with sheep ricotta, date purée and oregano was lovely and the plate was as pretty as a picture. It’s fun to see the vegetable dishes getting as much care and attention as the meat and fish dishes.

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The lamb with chard, lamb fat crisps and caprini fresco cheese was another amazing dish I’ll come back for.

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For pudding both Ro and I were set on having one of the amazing sounding sundaes but they were all sold out (sob) so we had a rethink and settled on fritelle doughnuts for Ro and tiramisu for me.

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The doughnuts were rather compact and chewy but that could have been intentional, as neither of us have had Italian doughnuts before. The taste was lovely though and chocolate sauce, whipped cream and jam works every time. The tiramisu was really nice but lacked a little in presentation I thought.

I could definitely see some teething problems here, like the tables being too close together (it felt like we had dinner with, not next to, our neighbours) and the waiting staff didn’t seem to have worked out a routine yet, but that’s also the whole point of this trial run soft launch.

Food wise I think the savoury dishes were very good and thought out, whereas the puddings could have done with a little more work, however I’m still intrigued by those sundaes and hope they haven’t sold out on my next visit.

I have already planned my meal. Definitely lots of crudo, the kid goat ragu and the lamb. And that ice cream.

Veneta, 3 Norris St, St. James’s Market, London SW1Y 4RJ

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Meat feast at Chop Shop

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It was thanks to Taste of London that I heard of Chop Shop in the first place. At the festival in June Caroline and I tried two dishes from Chop Shop and they were both really nice, so when a colleague suggested a meaty lunch (his favourite) it was the first place I suggested.

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I eat plenty of vegetarian meals when I cook for myself, so when I choose meat I want to make sure it’s of good quality. And it certainly was here at Chop Shop. Don’t let the type of food served here fool you; it’s all properly done from scratch.

To start our meal we had two starters to share, both typical fast food dishes but done very well. The sausage roll, with nothing in common with the ones sold in Greggs, was utterly delicious. The meat inside was very nicely seasoned and nice and soft, and the pastry was lovely too.

The chicken wings were some of the best I’ve had. The waitress told us the chilli sauce was very hot, so on her suggestion we had the barbecue sauce on them instead. Although delicious, I missed the heat that I associate with buffalo chicken wings. I guess I just have to come back and have the chilli sauce next time.

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For his main course Max had the burger (which I can’t wait to try next time), and he made purring sounds all the way through it, it was that good. Just look at it, it’s burger perfection.

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I had the hanger steak (so tender!), with rosemary fries and the most wonderful bearnaise sauce. Probably the best one I’ve ever had in a restaurant.

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I was so full after my steak I could barely muster the slow walk back to the office but Max still had room for pudding, and decided on this beast or a butterscotch pudding. It was also really nice, so top marks all round.

Chop Shop, 66 Haymarket, St. James’s, London SW1Y 4RF

Dinner at Avenue, St James’s

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In my company we don’t have the tradition to go to the pub every Friday, so I tend to grab my after work drinks with friends rather than colleagues. A few weeks ago Sinead and I met up for a glass of vino at one of the pubs near her job. Although lots of the popular pubs are far from cosy it’s still really nice to grab a drink there with lots of other people celebrating the weekend. I love that atmosphere. But we soon left to have dinner at a restaurant nearby, Avenue in St James’s.

This place has been around for a while but for some reason we hadn’t been until now and we liked what we saw. The interior was very swanky and actually nicer than we had imagined. We were seated straight away and after having ordered a glass of bubbly we had a look at the menu. We ended up with the a’la carte put the very reasonably prised prix fixe menu looked good too.

I had a warming clam chowder to start. It was very thick and smooth with bits of potato and whole clams. Very satisfying!

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Sinead had the crispy chicken tacos that were delicious too!

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Our maincourses arrived the second our starter plates were cleared away. A bit too soon if you ask me; we were really struggling with our main courses because we didn’t get a breather. Sinead’s cod with chorizo crumbs and cannellini beans was delicious and a substantial portion.

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As were my barbecued lamb racks with cucumber and herb yoghurt. Delicious though, great charred flavour and cooked perfectly as I wanted them (rare).

Avenue is part of D&D London, Sir Terence Conran’s restaurant empire, and although we were two very satisfied customers, there was room for improvement on some areas. The service was friendly and nice, but the fact that we didn’t even get five minutes to digest our first course means bad communication between the kitchen and service. And when we were served our main courses we thought they had forgotten one of our sides and were not told it was delayed until we waved down a waiter and asked. It may sound petty but I worked as a waitress when I was at university and it is not that difficult to get it right!

And then the loos. With such a nice and fancy interior in the restaurant you expect the same vibe in the ladies room. But no. It was just a corridor with white walls, cubicles on one side and basins on the other. With bad lighting and no hand cream. Even a regular pub has hand creams nowadays.

Avenue, 7-9 St James’s Street, London SW1A 1EE