GT Approved: ROK Espresso Maker

My coffee drinking has recently been escalated to a finer level thanks to a new purchase.

The ROK Espresso Maker is a non-electric method of making amazing espresso; choose your coffee blend, play with the grind, apply the pressure.

It doesn’t quite produce the espresso that a professional machine with a steam boiler could however it comes mightily close. As a general rule it requires 8 – 10 bar of pressure to extract all the flavour when making coffee to produce a ‘full fat’ espresso. The ROK can achieve this through manual and variable pressure and this where others, mechanical or otherwise, fail.

The ROK is easy to use and clean and once you have experimented with grinds and pressure you can create lovely crema.  No more wasteful pods and coffee blends that are average at best. I don’t have a horrid plastic and faux chrome utensil cluttering the kitchen, instead, I have a piece of design that looks brilliant on my AGA.

After trying various pre-ground as well as full-bean blends I have recently found some amazing coffee from The Main Street Trading Company, St Boswells (pictured below). This discovery is just fantastic but unfortunately it’s a limited edition blend I am forced to constrain myself to a fresh grind when I welcome visitors.

After trying various pre-ground as well as full-bean blends I have recently found some amazing coffee from The Main Street Trading Company in St Boswells (pictured below) which is just fantastic but as it’s a limited edition blend I have constrained myself to a fresh grind only when I have visitors.

Espresso

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6 Places To Eat in San Francisco

Lazy Bear

What: Underground fine dining, secret location, no dish ever repeated.
Dish: Albacore with Bonito Gribiche, Fried Shallot, Horseradish and Kombu Relish.
Reservations: Reservations can be made online via their request form or check @lazybearsf for last minute cancellations.

Dish

The Albacore dish at Lazy Bear. Photo taken by David Barzelay

Bar Jules

What: Lunch, organic and market-fresh, neighbourhood cafe in Hayes Valley.
Dish: Red Perella Lettuces, with Radishes, Cucumbers and Creamy Herb Vinaigrette.
Reservations: Half the restaurant is retained for walk-ins or you can email reservations. See their website for details.

Exterior

Night service at the neighbourhood café, Bar Jules

NOPA

What: Buzzing restaurant with open kitchen, late night serving until 1am.
Dish: Pork Chop, Fresh Shelling Beans, Grilled Mutsu Apples, Broccoli di Ciccio and Mustard.
Reservations: Recommended, can be made from a month in advance on their website.

Interior

The interior of NOPA restaurant

Outerlands

What: Strong vegetarian and vegan options, ex-surfer owners means arty, rustic and lots of driftwood.
Dish: Turkey Sandwich with Shaved Carrots, Pickled Red Onions, Coriander & Serrano Aioli, served with a side of greens.
Reservations: Non for lunch or brunch. Dinner reservations can be made from a month in advance on their website.

Sandwich

Outerland’s turkey sandwich

Hog Island Oyster Co

What: Local sea fayre of oysters from their own farm, Dungeness Crab, Chowder and Steamers.
Dish: Hog Island Sweetwater (Pacific) and Hog Island Atlantics (Atlantic) raised in Tomales Bay, CA.
Reservations: Non, go early and queue. See their website for details.

Shucking

Shucking at Hog Island

The Slanted Door

What: Modern Vietnamese, unusual wine list, perfect view of Golden Gate Bridge even better at night.
Dish: Wood Oven Roasted Boneless Niman Ranch Short Ribs, Madras Curry, Thumbelina Carrots, Summer Squash, Eggplant.
Reservations: For 6 or fewer can be made online via their website, otherwise call them directly.

Interior

The dining room at The Slanted Door

6 Places To Eat in San Francisco as recommended by George Healey of The Gentleman Traveller

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GT Approved: Le Chameau Boots

Style in the field is essential. You might have picked up some dashing tweed from Holland and Holland but it means nothing without the right footwear, you will only show yourself up as an absolute amateur of country style, think Black Tie event and clip on bow tie. Your countryside attire must not only look fantastic but it is essential that it is fit for purpose.

Le Chameau have been producing tiptop quality natural rubber boots for over eighty years and what a handsome set of boots they make. Like your finest pair of tweed breeks, master craftsmen use the best available materials to produce a product that is unmatched. Based in Pont-d’Ouilly in Normandy, Le Chameau use a 12 stage process using natural rubber to produce their wellingtons. You can choose from either neoprene or leather lined, a snap top buckle or a fully-zipped leg and all of these options in a variety of shoe and calf sizes.

Boots

My two pairs of Le Chameau boots 30 years apart and still in use!

My first pair were given to me by a family friend, they are now over thirty years old and only leak on one calf. I also have the Vierzonord (neoprene lined snap top buckle) and for the smartest of country occasions I take my Chasseur boots (Leather lined fully-zipped leg).

Whether enjoying field sports in the Scottish Highlands, boot hopping at the point to point or just a rainy day in Central London, Le Chameau will make the correct impression and are worth every penny.

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The Palm London, SW1

Back in London last week we headed west to The Palm in Belgravia for a low-key evening meal.

With restaurants in more than 25 cities in the States, The Palm is a top-end neighbourhood joint and a big deal over the pond. In fact, The Palm is a genuine (or more accurately, genu-wine) all-American institution; think USDA Prime steaks, shrimp cocktail, creamed spinach, white tablecloths and waiting staff who actually remember your name. Established in New York in 1926 by Italian immigrants, the menu is also studded with some Italian classics such as Veal Parmigiana and Chicken Piccata.

We started at the bar and, bourbon and soda in hand, were soon fully in character, y’all. Appetizers on our side of the table were jumbo crab cakes with chipotle tartar sauce, and sesame seared tuna with seaweed salad and pickled ginger. We followed with a monstrous surf ‘n turf that matched a 9oz filet mignon (fill-ay min-yone) with half a Nova Scotia lobster, plus parmesan fries and a trio of steak sauces.

The quality of the ingredients was generally pretty good, the portions huge, and nothing went to waste. So retro, so good. The wine list tells you something about The Palm: a carefully balanced marriage of the best of Italy and the US. Much like those intrepid restaurateurs back in the twenties, we opted for the new world and our choice – a west coast Zinfandel – was just the ticket.

Afterwards, sitting at the bar, we got chatting to a couple of the staff. Hours later we embraced like old friends and promised to come back very soon. We meant it.

Lobster

Palm London’s 4lb Nova Scotia Lobster

Cost of meal (with 2 bottles of wine):
£100 per person

Food:
7 out of 10 – Simple US fare, perfectly executed

Atmosphere:
7 out of 10 – Cosy and relaxed. A place you could loosen your belt

Service:
8 out of 10 – The kind of service that you only get in the States (until now)

Overall:
7 out of 10

Summary in seven:
One for old friends, not first dates

Details:
The Palm London
1 Pont St, London, Greater London SW1X 9EJ
Tel: 020 7201 0710

UPDATE:
The Palm London has since closed. GT recommends visiting their flagship restaurant on 837 Second Avenue, New York to experience the Palm’s renowned hospitality.

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Mondrian South Beach, Miami

On a recent last-minute dash to Miami, we booked a flight and hotel deal with BA, staying at the Mondrian on South Beach. However, it was only after completing the reservation that we really got our heads around the geography and realised that the hotel stood on the Biscayne Bay side of the ‘island’.

We wondered whether we had made a terrible mistake not opting for one the beach-fronted hotels, but needn’t have worried. It turned out to be ideally placed for nipping over the bridge into the business district (sadly, the trip was justified by a few meetings), has a glorious view over the Miami skyline, and is only a short walk to the mayhem of Ocean Drive and the boutiques around Lincoln Road.

In fact, the Mondrian offers the perfect combination of all the best bits about Miami – minimalist white décor, great tunes in the lobby and around the pool at all times, world-class spa. The BA booking meant that we got upgraded to a suite and, even better, it turned out to be a super-stylish apartment with kitchen, dining table and lounge area. Apparently there are those who check in and never check out – the hotel has a number of permanent residents.

Our spacious balcony looked out over the pool – which sounds heavenly but actually wasn’t ideal: we were on the third floor and the partying around the pool put paid to any hopes of an afternoon siesta. Unable to beat them, we joined them –  sauntering down to the poolside bar for vodka tonics and people watching. Miami is all about the posing, so remember to pack your best white shirts and tailored shorts.

Room

Our room at Mondrian

Cost of hotel and flights:
£913.50 (3 nights and one economy flight from London)

Room:
7 out of 10 – Great value. Huge, stylish, just wish had been on a higher floor

Atmosphere:
9 out of 10 – Cool, relaxed, friendly

Service:
10 out of 10 – Tops marks for the concierge

Overall:
8 out of 10

Summary in seven:
Discover your inner-poser. See and be seen.

Details:
Mondrian South Beach
1100 West Ave, Miami Beach
Tel: 305 514 1500

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The Alvear Palace Hotel, Buenos Aires

Located in the affluent Recoleta neighbourhood of Buenos Aires, The Alvear Palace Hotel is a grand hotel in the European tradition. Dating back to 1932, it offers timeless luxury and superlative service –  perhaps not the trendiest spot in town, but this kind of class never really goes out of fashion.

Just walking into the marbled lobby makes you stand a bit straighter. Our room was large and luxurious with fresh flowers and fruit delivered each day. On our day of arrival I popped my head into the gym for five minutes, but soon came to my senses and wandered down for cocktails in the cigar bar, which is the perfect little hideout for an old-school sharpener before heading out for the evening.

In the morning we slinked down to the beautiful Orangerie for breakfast, not a little worse for wear after a night on the tiles in Palermo Hollywood, but the light, airy room had us feeling better almost instantly. It’s often true that even the best hotels can come up a bit short at breakfast, perhaps punishing those who prefer not to eat in their room. Not so here – the spread was superb and the service exemplary. We over-indulged but walked it off in the historic Recoleta Cemetery, just up the road, before heading back to the room for more snoozing.

Clearly this kind of luxe doesn’t come cheap, but when the experience is so much more than just getting your head down for the night, it’s got to be done.

Hotel Room

Cost of room:
£320 per night (non-refundable)

Room:
9 out of 10 – spacious, spotless, beautiful bathroom

Atmosphere:
8 out of 10 – classic charm

Service:
10 out of 10 – perfect

Overall:
9 out of 10

Summary in seven:
Think the South American cousin of Claridge’s

Details:
The Alvear Palace Hotel
Avda. Alvear 1891, Buenos Aires
Tel: 54 11 4808 2100

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The China Club, Hong Kong

Hong Kong on business is never a chore, and especially not when old friends are waiting for you on arrival to whisk you off to The China Club for restorative drinks and dinner after a long flight.

I would refrain from calling David Tang’s wonderful China Club camp, but the décor is a most distinctive mix of pseudo-1930s chic and tongue-in-cheek colonial. The atmosphere will be vaguely familiar to fans of Tang’s outrageous basement restaurant at The Dorchester, but this is the real deal.

Set over several floors, the labyrinthine layout allows guests to get gloriously lost whilst soaking up the superb private art collection that seems to grace every wall. By the time you are sipping your first of many G&Ts at the Long Bar, you know you have arrived. It’s time to sit back and enjoy the ride.

The highlights of our dinner were a braised conpoy (dried-scallop) soup with shredded duck, some wonderfully crisp deep-fried chicken and their famous Peking Duck. We did drink some (French) wine but it wasn’t really anything to write home about.

Like everywhere in Hong Kong, the service flits from the sublime to the ridiculous, both attentive and chaotic, and only periodically downright rude. It’s all part of the fun. We ended the night on the glorious rooftop terrace smoking cigars and drinking whisky while plotting world domination and daring adventures – this place really gets under your skin.

View

View From The China Club Terrace

Cost of meal:
Approximately £50 per person (but didn’t see a bill)

Food:
9 out of 10 – like the takeaway you’ve always dreamed of but never found

Atmosphere:
9 out of 10 – great dining room, Blade Runner view from terrace

Service:
4 out of 10 – polite, rude, helpful, hilarious

Overall:
8 out of 10

Summary in seven:
Not faultless but still marvellous. So HK.

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Rocka Beach Lounge and Restaurant, Buzios

Buzios is Brazil’s answer to Ibiza and is seemingly reserved solely for Rio’s most beautiful holidaymakers. Littered with beaches for every taste (surfing, sailing, walking, and hiding) and a vibrant nightlife, it is truly something to behold.

The highlight of our trip came courtesy of Rocka, a gem of a restaurant and beach lounge located on Praia Brava beach, a short buggy ride from the centre of town. As you approach down the sandy steps, it’s the beautiful bay that strikes you first, then the yellow of the Veuve Clicquot sunshades, and then the beautiful people lounging under each and every one of them. We did our best to fit in.

The restaurant is run by two young guys who have clearly trained and invested well, and as a result live an enviable beachside life. So far, so Buzios. However, the real surprise was to come: the food is from the very top drawer.

Having decided that this was one of those times when you just hang the expense, we started with bubbles on the loungers while we waited for a table to come free. Once seated, we kicked off with an octopus carpaccio with green apple and a white fish ceviche with mango – presented with the precision of Marcus Wareing, but served on a wooden terrace by a guy in board shorts! We shared generous mains of squid and piglet with salads and sides – nothing was anything less than faultless. These boys could go far, but if I were them, I’d stay firmly put!

Food

Cost of meal:
£100 per person (with champagne)

Food:
10 out of 10 – food may never be the same again

Atmosphere:
9 out of 10 – have knocked a mark off as a cloud came over at one point

Service:
10 out of 10 – friendly, funny, charming

Overall:
10 out of 10

Summary in seven:
Would still be there if we could

Details:
Rocka Beach Lounge and Restaurant
Praia Brava, Buzios, Brazil

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Grain Store, London

Last week, on the hottest day of the year, we headed to Bruno Loubet’s new place in King’s Cross: Grain Store.

Whilst entry does require running the gauntlet of the new Granary Square development (fountains, buggies, deck chairs et al), once inside the management have done a great job of creating a light and airy warehouse space that screams MEATPACKING DISTRICT.

At those temperatures lunch was always going to be dominated by drinks and just a quick glance at the cocktail menu confirmed that we had made the perfect choice for a lazy afternoon. We started with the Cedar Wood Lemonade (Cedar Wood Fino Sherry, Lemon Juice and Soda) and it didn’t disappoint, walking that tricky line between refreshment and masculinity perfectly.

The next choice, a black truffle-infused martini, wasn’t quite the same ringing success and frankly seemed like a waste of good fungi. Luckily, we had hedged our bets and its arrival coincided with the appearance of a cracking bottle of Muscadet, so all was well with the world once more.

Our initial concerns that the menu might be designed for ‘hippies who lunch’ were allayed when starters of crudités with cashew and yeast dip and olive soil, and falafels made with courgette, broad bean and prawn arrived beautifully presented. Cardigan-wearing festival food this isn’t: just a timely reminder that we all need more vegetables in our lives.

The main courses were similarly veg-focused but with perfectly-cooked lamb belly, pork belly, quail and the like added as garnish. This is guilt-free food and, when combined with one of the best drinks lists we have seen in ages, proved to be the perfect anecdote to the stuffy day outside.

Interior

Cost of meal with 1 bottle of wine (and cocktails):
£40 per person

Food:
8 out of 10 – genuinely innovative and refreshingly different

Atmosphere:
7 out of 10 – the large room started to feel a little empty by the end of lunch

Service:
9 out of 10 – polite, friendly and helpful

Overall:
8 out of 10

Summary in seven:
Another exciting new option in King’s Cross

Details:
Grain Store
Granary Square, 1-3 Stable Street, King’s Cross, London, N1C 4AB
Tel: 020 7324 4466

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elBulli: Ferran Adrià and The Art of Food, Somerset House, London

We found ourselves on the Strand last week and, in want of a bit of culture, decided to pop in to Somerset House to check out elBulli: Ferran Adrià and The Art of Food. It was an intriguing proposition – an exhibition about an extinct restaurant. What secrets would they expose about the (once) best restaurant in the world, and what else was there to know about Adrià himself? He’s a bit better than Heston but not quite as good as René Redzepi, right?

The exhibition is split into two sections: a history of the restaurant and its staff (dating back 50 years or so), followed by an in-depth focus on the evolution of the food itself, from rustic to ‘molecular’. Adrià has said of the show that “For some, I hope it will revive good memories, and for others it will give a flavour of a fine dining experience like no other.” And no doubt it will bring fabulous flashbacks for those lucky sods who got their acts together in time to visit during the heyday, and will certainly inform those keen to see backstage (plasticine models used for quality control anyone?).

However, we left feeling a little flat and, most tellingly, not even hungry. There was just no sense of what it might be like to go there with friends, and surely that is at the heart of what makes a truly great restaurant.

Display

One of the displays at The Art Of Food

Cost of exhibition:
£10 (£8 concessions), £5 on Mondays (excluding Bank Holidays)

Interest:
6 out of 10 – Thrilling for Adria fans, mildly interesting for the rest of us

Value:
5 out of 10 – A bit steep for the experience

Overall:
5 out of 10

Summary in seven:
Spend your cash on food with friends

Details:
Somerset House
Embankment Galleries West, South Wing
5 July–29 September 2013
Daily 10.00-18.00 (last entry 17.15)
*Until 21.00 Thursdays & Friday 27 Sept (last entry 20.15) except 26 Sept

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