No results found

oxford cwmodd
Food and Drink

Destination London: Eat the World in Marylebone

divider
tbs3S DQ a0s3dt

Seymour Place in London’s Marylebone is tucked behind Oxford Street where it provides a much-needed antidote to the big brands and chains on the main drag. Nestling beside the tempting independent eateries and shops, you’ll find a launderette here, an old school newsagents there, all of which speak to the sense of community you’ll find in these streets. I was lucky enough to be invited down with a friend to experience a ‘food safari’ and was only too happy to accept the offer, with gusto.

In much the same way that Brighton has earned the moniker London by the sea, I like to think of Marylebone as a sort of outpost of Oxford. It is ‘nip-able’ – around an hour’s train journey or a little longer if you’re driving or taking one of the frequent coaches from Oxford and its surrounds into the heart of the capital. Rather than take on the whole city, I can get my London fix from a few hours spent in Marylebone, with its grand, red-bricked Georgian terraces, independent shops, cultural hotspots and, of course, an incredible restaurant scene which is rightly making it a destination for gallivanting gastronomes and the emerging epicurious. Moreover, despite its grandeur it has a real sense of community and serves to remind us that, however vast and sprawling, London is more rightly seen as a collection of villages.

An Italian Lunch

First stop, The Italian Greyhound where we found a good-looking lunch crowd and attentive staff. The interior is all wood, glass and sage green tones making it feel serene, despite the buzz. On a grey day clever lighting makes it cosy, and on a sunny day the sun streams in. It’s one of those places which makes you feel a little bit clever, perhaps even smug, if you know it’s there; two minutes’ walk from the Marble Arch end of Oxford Street, the perfect place to duck into if you’re fed up of the hordes of shoppers strewing the pavements.

The food is Sicilian-inspired and there are plenty of options but take heed and leave (plenty of) room for the pillowy focaccia which is the best I’ve eaten outside of Italy. Served with a sweet balsamic reduction and grassy olive oil, I would have been more than content with a plateful of bread, accompanied by a mandarin margarita to tick off my one of my five a day. Perhaps you might just have to find space for some fresh pasta in a sinfully delicious buttery sauce. I tried an Insta-pretty crab ravioli topped with a sliver of crisped garlic and laced with agretto.

If Italian cookery makes you crave pizza, you could head to Florencio for their wood-fired pizza which combines the thin base of traditional Neapolitan pizzerias with the crispness of those you’ll find in the best of NYC and still manages to have a chewy centre. Toppings are Argentine-inspired, and if you look closely you’ll see an original photo of Maradona and his infamous hand ball reminding the customer that everything at this place is done by hand. Our pizza was cooked from scratch and on the table within around ten minutes.

French Fancies

From Italy to France, and So French. How best to describe this little jewel sited next to a traditional hardware store. Entente cordiale in shop form; authentic French épicerie next door to Open All Hours. Stepping inside, the first feast is for your eyes. An array of exquisitely packaged French delights, each box of bon bons, tin of tea, jar of syrup and flagon of oil seducing you with its good looks and exceptional taste. Then your eye will alight on the patisserie: sweet, creamy lemon tarts, piles of viennoiseries (each a feat of towering lamination), and a Paris Brest groaning with praline cream. Of course, the flour, butter and cream are all sourced from France and, of course, you simply must pair it with a glass of champagne lovingly sourced from one of a number of specially selected small suppliers.

Supper in San Sebastian by way of East Asia

I think you could actually eat your way through every continent within the few streets around Seymour Place. We started the night in Uli for dim sum. Each bite yielded a fat chunk of sweet seafood and we had to try the salad with unctuous slabs of aubergine marinaded in a sweet, soy miso dressing topped with sesame seeds. The large interior felt smart with its abundance of pale wooden tables and chairs and comfortable upholstered banquettes. It’s clearly a local family favourite and judging by the sign on the door, it has been judged ‘Best Chinese’ by Deliveroo. I could well imagine a life in which ordering in an Uli was the highlight of my working week.

From Pan Asian to San Sebastian. Zig-zagging our way back up the street we headed to Donostia to meet Maitre d’, Bartek who introduced us to Head Chef Charlie Bourn. Yes, Charlie and no, that’s not a Spanish name because in fact, Charlie comes from near Peterborough. He trained at some of the UK’s finest restaurants and now recreates the very best of Basque country cuisine from his open kitchen in an intimate bar in Marylebone. God, it’s good. Charlie is utterly dedicated to showcasing the culinary spirit of Northern Spain and comes to his cookery with the passion of a lover. Take the brandade of salt cod served on toasted brioche; robust, sweet, creamy, salty and perfectly balanced. Or any number of dishes made with txutela beef from 15-year-old retired dairy cows who have spent later life happily grazing and fattening themselves up. Forget wagyu, whether served as a rare slice with scorched edges or slow cooked and pulled in a bao bun, this is beef to beat the band. At one point I realised I was actually sucking my teeth between mouthfuls to eke out every morsel of flavour. At Donostia even the familiar is somehow elevated. A giant tortilla oozes with eggy richness and is topped by salted deep fried camarones (tiny prawns) which taste of holidays by the sea. Tomatoes are sourced from Spain and are served simply with olive oil, salt and a scant sprinkling of thyme, sweet enough to remind you that tomato is a fruit rather than a vegetable. All was accompanied by Bartek’s recommendations from a wine list which read like a little black book of Spain’s lesser-known grape varieties and regions as well as its big hitters.

For pud, we were sent across the road to Donostia’s sister restaurant, Lurra which is altogether more ‘occasion dining’ and definitely the place to see and be seen. We found it filled with good looking couples and large groups of friends. Apparently David Cameron is a fan and rumour has it that Txiki Begiristain, Director of Football at Manchester City, is a regular. For all that, it’s still welcoming and friendly with jolly staff who seem as excited by the food as the diners and no wonder. The Lurra’s Basque cheesecake is rightly renowned; in fact, at every other restaurant we visited in the local area we were told we had to go and try it. Only too eager to oblige, we ordered and were delivered of a wodge of dense, delicious sour-sweet cheese heaven, with a fondant-like melting middle and contrasting bitter from the traditional burnished top. A triumph, after which we rolled back to the hotel.

Middle Eastern Brunch

As soon as you walk into the bright room at Seymour Kitchen you are hit by the mouth-watering smell of Persian spices. Try and nab a window seat in this calm space so you can spy on the locals greeting each other and be filled with a sense that actually, all is right in the world as this international neighbourhood reveals itself as a close and mutually supportive community of all races and nationalities. Sip some mint tea and watch the world go by, but if you’re hungry, the granola is out of this world; clean, creamy-rich yoghurt, biscuity oats, plump berries and delicate shards of acid green pistachio with a drizzle of honey and shaved coconut for extra chew. If you’re seeking something more substantial try the nargesi which, like it’s tomato-y cousin shakshuka, is a dish into which eggs have been soft-baked so yolks are still runny. It substitutes peppers and tomato with spinach, topped with piquant spices and labneh, served with more-ish sesame-topped flatbreads. As we left, the counter was being filled with bowls of tempting-looking chopped salads but we were headed to T by Tamara, which boasts the claim of being the first (and only?) fatteh bar in London.

All the best food comes in bowls and fatteh is no exception. Pita pieces baked to a crisp form the base on which spiced Musakhan chicken had been piled and topped with chickpeas, slices of green chili, garlic yoghurt, toasted whole almonds and sumac. They also offer up breakfast options including a mezze platter, pistachio nut cookies and an unforgettable zaatar-filled croissant.

If you’re planning a London food safari of your own, I recommend doing your research by following @portmanmarylebone on Instagram for the latest news and events or visit portmanmarylebone.com

We stayed at the Hyatt Regency - The Churchill overlooking Portman Square. This five-star hotel in its central location makes a great base from which to explore and is also less than five minutes’ walk from Oxford Street and Selfridges. Guests get exclusive access into the Square’s lush gardens that can also be admired from the Churchill Bar and Terrace which also houses a collection of love letters from Sir Winston to his beloved Clementine. Most importantly, the bedrooms are scrupulously clean and well-appointed with comfortable beds and in the morning the breakfast buffet is generous and impressively extensive. hyatt.com

RECOMMENDED

Fathers Day Gift Box gabsx5
Fri 31 May 2024

I’m always wary of being reductive when it comes to Father’s Day (or Mother’s Day, for that matter) but surely a backyard barbie is peak summer ‘dad’ and the Tracklements Father’s Day Gift Box will be received with great pleasure by any foodie father or epicurean uncle.

CMW MarketCellarDoor Darker  Ed Nix0053 tiftcm
Fri 31 May 2024

In its 250-year history, Oxford’s Covered Market has had a rich and varied heritage. Now, in 2024, it has morphed into something of a foodie hot spot and social centre.

tbs3S DQ a0s3dt
Fri 31 May 2024

I was lucky enough to be invited down with a friend to experience a ‘food safari’ and was only too happy to accept the offer, with gusto.

Screenshot 2024 05 28 at 09.48.35 ggfypt
Fri 31 May 2024

Chef Nico Simeone has brought his concept for affordable tasting menus to Oxford.