Restaurant Review: La Cucina Angelina, Courchevel

Restaurant Review: La Cucina Angelina, Courchevel

Five star ski-in ski-out luxury and fabulous cuisine at Le Portetta, Courchevel Moriond, French Alps

Le Portetta, Courchevel Moriond is home to Angela Hartnett MBE’s new restaurant La Cucina Angelina. Gina Baksa samples Italian-influenced cuisine with a nod to the Savoie

A hop skip and a jump down the valley from Courchevel 1850, you’ll find Courchevel Moriond (formerly 1650). The slopes are wider here – perfect for beginners and intermediates – you’re in sunshine for longer and your credit card won’t melt. Connection to the vaste Trois Vallees ski region – around 600km of trails – is easy and queue times are significantly shorter than at many Alpine resorts.

Courchevel Moriond is also home to the rather fabulous Le Portetta hotel. Proudly part of the UK-based Lime Wood Group (The Pig hotel chain, Lime Wood Hotel) Le Portetta is ideally situated at the base of the main slope near the lifts, and boasts 38 rooms, 6 gorgeous lofts within the main hotel and four separate luxury lodges. All are available to rent during summer and winter months.

Le Portetta now boasts a fabulous new restaurant, La Cucina Angelina, opened only last December and helmed by one of the world’s favourite and most respected chefs, Angela Hartnett, MBE. As any foodie will know, her Mayfair restaurant Murano has a one-Michelin star, where seasonal British produce is artfully used in the creation of sublime Italian dishes. An influence Angela readily acknowledges comes from her childhood spent at the home of her Italian grandmother, who taught her to appreciate Italian food – and how to prepare and cook it.

At La Cucina, Angela is collaborating with Portetta’s long-term chef, Henri Dereani and – since she is mostly engaged at Murano, still finds the time to visit Courchevel for a few days every month. Indeed, this is her second collaboration with the Lime Wood Group, having already worked alongside chef Luke Holder in its flagship New Forest hotel, Lime Wood.

Alas, Angela wasn’t in Courchevel the weekend of our visit, but we met briefly with Chef Henri Dereani. Admiring his stock of Génépi in glass-fronted cabinets at Portetta’s reception, he tells us that he makes this fabulous liqueur himself. A local lad, he thinks nothing of lofty walks at 3000m to collect the wormwood that is the base of this exquisite concoction. His Génépi is available for sale, as are his homemade confitures.

Indeed the lounge area leading to the restaurant has a cosy yet sophisticated vibe: think rustic mountain chic, reclaimed wood and stone – the flooring came from an old manor house – tactile textures, warm rich fabrics, oversized sofas and chairs. Taxidermy of any kind leaves me cold, but the animals on display here somehow feel completely at home in this environment. And so the relaxed décor continues into the restaurant area, where we are greeted by attentive French and English staff. All young and all very warm and professional.

We had a complete refurbishment of the restaurant, lounge and reception area at the end of last year,” Portetta’s director, the charming Nicholas Dumont tells me, as we tuck into slices of succulent cheese and tomato pizza to share. “And we only just finished in time for Christmas.”

‘It was hectic,” he adds, with classic French understatement. “But we made it!”

This pizza amuse bouche is honestly the most flavour-full wood-fired pizza I have ever tasted, and as wine uncorked – in our case a delightful Puligny Montrachet (Etienne Sauzet) we segued into the menu proper. Beguiling antipasti included a salad of pear, pecorino, fennel, radish and parsley (my choice). Other treats: mozzarella, lentils, olive oil and marjoram. Friends chose the Vitello tonnato: succulent veal, tuna, capers, rocket and parmesan. To say I had choice envy was an understatement, though my pear and pecorino salad was divine.

If we’d had enough room for a primi, I would have chosen the Tagliettele alla Bolognose (ragout, parmesan and parsley) or maybe the Agnolotti: guinea fowl and sage – one of Angela’s favourites. Instead, I opted for the Zuppa di pesce: a heavenly combination of fruits de mer, mullet, bream, chilli and garlic. Quite the best fish soup I have ever tasted, the sensation of flavours was intoxicating – as were the vibrant colours thanks to the generosity of the tomatoes. We ordered a side of polenta fries – the perfect accompaniment – as was the fresh, almost orgasmic bread and butter.

Grilled meat cuts (from a huge grill in the centre of the restaurant) provide the nod to traditional Savoyard favourites, as did the ubiquitous tartiflette, while the minestrone soup has a French flavour it is graced with Beaufort on toast, rather than Parmesan.

I skipped dessert, but friends enjoyed creamy chocolate and almond torta, which they heartily devoured over coffee.

If weather permits, then I recommend eating on Portetta’s Fire and Ice terrace. Warm yourself by the log-burning fires, order a quick wood-fired pizza, omelette or even spag bol, or settle in for a long lazy lunch before you head back to the slopes. Happy hour is between 4.30-7 and if you buy any ice-shot or drink, you’ll be rewarded with a slice of delicious wood-fired pizza – on the house.

La Cucina has an all-day menu – the owners hoping to attract skiers from other Three Valley resorts such as Meribel and Val Thorens.

A most welcome addition to Courchevel Moriond, La Cucina Angelina is the perfect destination for a lunchtime break from the slopes, or a more relaxed evening meal. Expect a charming lack of pretension, succulent flavour-bursting quality Italian food, with a nod to the Savoie, all beautifully presented and served by La Cucina’s efficient – and very cute – waiting staff. Highly recommended.

Where and How
Where: Le Portetta, Courchevel Moriond (1650), 73120 Saint Bon, France
How: Please phone +33 (0) 4 79 08 01 47, visit or email to make a booking.
Getting there: 2.5 hours from Lyon or Geneva. 7 hours from Paris via the A6. 4 hours (via TGV) from Paris Gare de Lyon to Moutiers-Salins Brides Les Bains, followed by transfers to Le Portetta by taxi or limousine. The ride is 30 minutes. Courchevel is 2 hours from the airports of Lyon and Geneva. Transfers to Le Portetta can be arranged by cab, limousine or helicopter. The Altiport at Courchevel is 10 minutes from Hôtel Le Portetta. British Airways operates a 1.5-hour flight from London’s City Airport to Chambéry throughout the ski season.

Dining At Les Terrasses de Lyon, France

Dining At Les Terrasses de Lyon, France

I experience fabulous hospitality and gourmet cuisine at Lyon’s 1-Michelin-starred Les Terrasses de Lyon restaurant

La Villa Florentine, deservedly five stars and a member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux group is a sumptuous, sophisticated hotel destination. Sitting proudly atop Lyon’s Fourvière hillside, she provides guests with superlative views across France’s second largest city and UNESCO heritage site. The city of light is an acknowledged centre of gastronomic excellence, spearheaded in part by its favourite son, the renowned chef Paul Bocuse, the acknowledged master of nouvelle cuisine.

A 17th-century former convent, the 28-room luxury hotel combines Italian Renaissance aesthetics with luxurious modern comforts. Antique furniture, rich fabrics, marble bathrooms and modern art all create a haven of peace for guests who can choose suites that feature private saunas and exposed beams.  

Spring and summer is the best time to enjoy the garden area, with its panoramic views across Lyon. Enjoy breakfasts alfresco on the lush terraces, or take a dip in the hotel’s heated pool and Jacuzzi. 

La Villa Florentine is also home to the celebrated 1-Michelin-starred restaurant, Les Terrasses de Lyon. My first visit here, I’m impressed by the floor-to-ceiling windows affording star-filled views across night-time Lyon and equally by the charming and attentive staff. 

Chef David Delsart (who took over from Chef Davy Tissot in August 2015) is already making his mark and has prepared a select menu for our group, with provenance from the best local suppliers. All of which are available at the renowned Les Halles de Paul Bocuses market in the centre of the city. 

Delsart is keen to maintain long-term relationships with suppliers, and also works closely with nearby schools, introducing children to the art of tasting, of flavours textures and of cooking. 

We begin our meal with a wonderful Cuvée Solera champagne from Roger Pouillon. His vineyard practices culture raisonnée – a form of organic viticulture that avoids use of fungicides, chemical fertilisers and defoliants. Delicate, fresh; it’s the perfect apero before our amuse bouche – followed by a succulent pressed skate wing (from Brittany) and chestnuts flavoured with citrus. This kind of gourmet presentation and preparation is all about flavours, which Delsart has made into an art form.

Roasted veal loin – from the Dordogne – is melt-in-your-mouth excellent, especially with our wine from Nuit St Georges/Clos de L’Arlot. Honey and vanilla on the nose, followed by a full-bodied suppleness. Exquisite. 

Our superb Chef Sommelier, Gaëtan Bouvier is a delight. Carefully explaining in excellent English his pairings for the evening, he tells us about his obvious passion for all things grape. Named ‘Meilleur Sommelier de Rhone Alps by the Gault & Millau Guide in 2013, he also reached the final of the “Meilleur Ouvrier de France’ last year. Further accolades include his Sommelier of the Year award in Lyon last year. And he is also entering the ‘Meilleur Sommelier in France’ competition. A busy man.

Dessert arrived in the form of Piemont chestnuts in the Panna cotta au chocolate Jivara, alongside a superb Crème glacée à la banane – simply out of this world. 

Port – chilled Quinto do Noval Black. Flavour burst and chilled, was the perfect accompaniment to rich smooth coffee and delightful petit fours. Packed with a seductive flavours of chocolate, prunes and grapes and at 19.5% proof, this refined offering from Portugal’s Douro region provided the perfect denouement to a fabulous evening. 

Tables at Les Terrasses de Lyon are booked weeks in advance, so make a reservation now and enjoy one of the finest gourmet dining experiences in the city of lights. 

How & Where
Where: Villa Florentine and Les Terrasses de Lyon restaurant, 25 Montée Saint-Barthélémy, 69005 Lyon, France
How: Visit or phone +33 4 72 56 56 56 to make a booking.
Getting there: Lyon has an international airport. Travel to Lyon from London via Eurostar. The journey time is 4 hours 41 minutes. 

Gina travelled to Lyon courtesy of Eurostar, SNCF, A Tout France and Lyon tourist board. 

Restaurant Review: Kahani, Chelsea

Restaurant Review: Kahani, Chelsea

I meet Kahani Chef Patron Peter Joseph at his new contemporary Indian restaurant near Sloane Square

Since Britain’s first curry house appeared in 1809, the UK’s love affair with Indian food has continued with relish. Fast forward 200 years and the cuisine is our national dish. Increasingly chefs at Indian restaurants are creating more refined Indian dishes with less heavy sauces, less ghee and as a result are attracting a loyal crowd.

A case in point is Kahani, the new kid on the Chelsea restaurant scene. Open just six months and already garnering positive press, this intimate Wilbraham Place Indian restaurant is well patronised by locals (a stone’s throw from Sloane Square) and has swiftly become a destination restaurant for lovers of sophisticated Indian cuisine.

Kahani enjoys an intimate subterranean setting with 80 covers (formerly home to Canvas and Le Cercle) including a private 10-cover dining room on a mezzanine level above the main dining tables. The space is sophisticated yet welcoming with a semi-open kitchen and a vast wine cellar visible behind glass panels. I receive a warm welcome from the concierge who takes my coat and guides me downstairs to the restaurant.

Kahani means ‘story’ in Hindi, its Michelin-starred co-owner and Chef Patron Peter Joseph tells me at the bar. “It’s my first restaurant – we’ve been open six months now to a great reception. My idea was to show diners that Indian food doesn’t have to be full of heavy sauces. So we focus on light dishes, grilled meats; fish and vegetables from the robata grill as well as tandoor.”

Peter began his UK career at Tamarind in 2005 and left last year. “A great time, a great place to learn, and a fabulous place to work. From 2011 onwards I was head chef.” 

In Peter’s case that makes nine years as a Michelin-starred chef; considerable experience in management and cuisine that he brings to Kahani.

Peter looks more like a yoga teacher than a chef. He’s only 20 minutes from service yet incredibly relaxed. Does ever lose his cool in the kitchen? “No,” he smiles. “There’s no point and that’s not my style. We have a calm kitchen. It’s due to good training. 

“For sure, there’s lots of pressure in the kitchen, but I’m a very calm chef. Everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing. And they get on with it.

“I find yoga helps me focus and relax, so I apply the same discipline in the restaurant. My Dad used to teach me in childhood. He’s nearly 80 now. Still does yoga back in India.”

I’ve heard his mother influenced his choice of career? “Actually she did,” Peter recalls. “My cooking basics come from my mum. Both my parents are teachers, though. They were worried when I joined hotel management. But they are very proud of me now. 

“My mum would pack my lunch for school. A tiffin box with rice, lemon tamarind, breads with meats, rice pancakes and dosha spiced potato. She’s a great cook. I love her lamb curries.”

Did she teach you? “No. I just watched her,” Peter reveals. “Then I watched TV chefs. I loved the white uniform. In my pre-teens my friends and I stole ingredients from mum’s kitchen. Tamarind cumin, etc and we’d make a dish. Four or five guys at the age of 12. It was our way of having fun and socialising – and eating well. That’s when I really fell in love with food. Then I learned my mum’s recipes. After that I studied hotel management for three years in India with a focus on food production. 

“I worked with the Residency Group of Hotels in India then moved to London in 2004. Tamarind started in 2005 and I was invited to join them. I left last year and quite miss my brigade there. We were so proud to win the Michelin star – it took a long time. So I’m hoping that Kahani will perform just as well.”

Is there extra pressure to perform when you have a coveted Michelin star?

“Maintaining the star brings extra pressure, but I’m used to it,” says Peter. “We are aiming for another star here.” 

I notice the fabulous wine wall at the back of the restaurant. “That was already here,” Peter explains. “But we’ve redesigned everything else, including the private dining room on the mezzanine, which we call our peacock room due to its green and blue hues.” 

What makes Kahani stand out? “Our main aim is that each customer feels well looked after from the time they arrive to the time they leave,” Peter tells me. “This is fine dining with a casual flavour; ideal for sharing whether it’s business meetings or a meal with family and friends. We encourage people to enjoy a selection of small sharing plates and connect.  We want people to chat with each other. Not spend time on their mobiles.”  

Ingredients are seasonal and British where possible, and portioned for sharing. Traditional flavours demand that all the senses are involved. What is Kahani offering that’s different to Tamarind?

“At Tamarind the menu was more traditional – curries and so forth. The spirit of Kahani is light, contemporary Indian food, made with seasonally sourced fresh ingredients. We use very little ghee and always traditional spices – not fusions! I feel fusion is always confusion!

“Grills are the main focus at Kahani. We marinade the meats. And we make up our sauces fresh, not bought in bulk like some restaurants. Our meat is always fresh. Not frozen and reheated.

Where is the meat from?

“Our meats are from different suppliers: mainly UK lamb from Somerset and venison from Kent. Our chickens are organic and grass fed. We have Scottish salmon, and the jumbo prawns are from Indonesia. I visit Billingsgate market twice a week to select the best fish. Having lived in London for 15 years now, I know the suppliers very well. We never use imported meat; it’s all organic and sourced locally.”

What food did he grow up with? “I’m originally from Chennai on the Bay of Bengal in eastern India. So we had lots of seafood and steamed dishes which I still enjoy.”

His favourite meal on the menu? “I love our signature dishes like the prawn tandoor: Malabar prawn, coconut green chilli curry leaves and broccoli. It’s very popular. Lamb chops with Punjabi spices grilled in tandoor is also a favourite. And we have duck and game on the menu mixed with spices such as fennel, cinnamon, ginger and garlic. There are only a few curries on the menu, including Rogan josh. We cook our lamb on the bone so it holds its flavour. Our Biriyanis are also popular.”

We’ve almost finished our cocktails at the bar: the delicious SW1 (saffron and cardamom infused Patron silver tequila, Cointreau and lime juice) while my friend savours her Wilbraham – a heady concoction of rye whisky, Suze, sweet Vermouth, cherry liquor and orange bitter. Both delicious and the perfect aperitif to our supper.

We then make our way to a generous booth and dive into a selection of small plates for starters: spiced chickpeas with sweetened yoghurt, mint tamarind and chutney; chargrilled Scottish scallop – star anise coated – with spiced raw mango thuvayal and soft shell crunchy crab with Mangalorean spices and tomato chutney. And a delicious Masala grilled avocado with olives, caramelised onions and iceberg lettuce. Portion sizes are generous and perfect for sharing. And the poppadum and trio of chutneys delicious.

Our friendly and knowledgeable sommelier Dimitri recommends a superb Fleur de Pedésclaux (Pauillac 2012) and explains wine pairing with Indian cuisine. “An alcohol level of around 5% goes well with spicy food,” he tells us. “The higher the alcohol level, the more spicy the food will taste. And vice versa.”

He pours the wine into a beautiful decanter, allowing it to open up and leaving any sediment at the bottom.  “Wines matured for more than 5 years most likely have sediment at the bottom,” Peter explains. “Some people love it, but we usually use a carafe. 

“Some wines such as Pinot Noir we have to watch, since the DNA of the grape variety is very sensitive to oxidisation. If the wine has matured for 3 or 4 years, then you have to be gentle when decanting so it’s exposed to as little oxidisation as possible.”

The Kahani menu is extensive with a great selection of seafood, meat, game and vegetables. We chose from the à la carte but there’s also a tasting menu, and a lunch and pre-theatre menu. Eventually I plump for a chargrilled sea bream with browned garlic, sundried tomato and smoked aubergine. My friend opts for the Gressingham duck breast with coriander, pokharaya chutney and a special Jaitooni naan. Our rice is light and fluffy. The textures of both the seafood and game succulent with a delicate blend of spices. There’s little oil here making the food more palatable and infinitely healthier.  Presentation and service are excellent.

I’d been told to leave space for dessert. Thank God! My friend and I devour the Chocolate Chilli chocolate mousse bomb with gulab jamun bits. It melts like a volcano when hot chocolate sauce is poured over. And our medley of kulfis: Salted caramel, Rose malai, Pistachio cardamom are extraordinary and a great palate cleanser.

Bravo Kahani! A sensual and exquisite dining experience. Perfect for date nights, family gatherings, celebrations and business meetings. Kahani is taking contemporary Indian cuisine to new heights in sophisticated and intimate surrounds, highlighted by superb attentive service from the waiters and sommelier who gave us outstanding pairings.

Highly recommended.

How & Where
Where: Kahani London, 1 Wilbraham Place, London SW1X 9AE
How: Please phone +44 (0) 207 730 7634 or email to make a booking.

Restaurant Review: POTUS Bar and Restaurant at the Crowne Plaza London

Restaurant Review: POTUS Bar and Restaurant at the Crowne Plaza London

I savour the stars and stripes menu at American-inspired POTUS on London’s Albert Embankment

In the 15 years I’ve lived on London’s Southbank, the area has transformed beyond recognition. From One Blackfriars to the new Crowne Plaza at Vauxhall, sophisticated hotel and residential development has breathed life into what once was a distinctly ungentrified part of SE1. Waterloo and Vauxhall have become thriving destinations in their own right.

A recent and welcome addition to the area’s new restaurant openings is the interestingly monikered POTUS – (the most zeitgeisty of anachronims) located on the ground floor of the new Crowne Plaza Hotel at 10 Albert Embankment – a five-minute stroll from Vauxhall tube and mainline station. With a nod to classic Americana, each dish is designed to reflect different elements of the US of A’s cultural identity. While the signature cocktail menu takes its inspiration from past US Presidents whose black and white portraits – JKF, Ronald Reagan among them – adorn the walls.

We enjoyed our Teddy Smash “Hat Club”, a tribute to Roosevelt’s love for Mojitos, and a vibrant JFK & Mary in the smart yet relaxing bar area – demarcated from the dining room by a warming central fire, before we took our places for dinner. Interiors here are warm: wood, steel, subtle lighting, a gorgeous drop chandelier centre stage, make for an impressive bar experience, and includes an unusual waterfall feature on the far wall.

Circular tables in a softly lit dining space – again with more POTUS black and whites around the walls. It’s a club-like atmosphere with an earthy, decadent feel. Very inviting and engaging and the hotel has plans to host intimate jazz and blues evenings to complement this seductive vibe.

Our waiter was very attentive and brought us more Prosecco while we perused the generous wine list. A thoughtfully curated mix of American and New World varieties, diners can choose the richly complex Legacy from Sonoma via the fruity Flor de Campo Chardonnay from Santa Barbara to a fruity Stonestreet Aurora Point Sauvignan Blanc. New World offerings include Italian, South African, Chilean and French wines.

We chose the Californian Showdown Cabernet Sauvignan – and a Pinot Grigio from Trentino – both smooth fruity accompaniments to our starters of West Coast Tuna Caesar salad and Fried Soft Shell Crab – both melt-in-your-mouth delicious. And subtly enhanced by the arrival of delicious fresh bread and chef-prepared butter with smoked sea salt and maple syrup.

The varied menu at POTUS is innovative and exciting. Seasonal ingredients are sustainably sourced.  The presentation is mouthwateringly appealing. We segued into main courses of Roasted Free Range Duck Breast with crunchy sweet potatoes, beetroot red fruits purée and pistachios, all perfectly cooked and flavoursome. Alongside tenderstem broccoli. My friend selected the San Francisco Ciopinno: Spiced lobster broth, sea bream, scallop and clams and she was equally delighted. Other main course options included Cajun chicken, a 300oz Cowboy Steak, Truffle Mac&Cheese… POTUS demands (several) return visits to sample all on offer.

The enticing dessert list could not be ignored. After a suitable interval we sampled not one but three desserts:  The Bananas Foster (banana sponge caramelised in rum and brown sugar, with crumble and coconut ice cream, the NY baked cheesecake (with fresh raspberries and eggnog ice cream) and Down Mexico Way (warm hazlenut, spiced chocolate tarte with lemon sorbet). All absolutely delicious.

If there is one area in which globalisation has been a resounding success, it’s in the cross-fertilisation of culinary expertise. Executive Chef Pablo Peñalosa Nájera Penalosa has perfected his craft in Mexico, ColumbiaColombia, Spain and now London, demonstrating that food is a great reconciler of perceived differences.

“I am delighted to lead the kitchen at POTUS,” he says.  “We truly believe the best connection between people always happens around a table with food and drinks. We will be changing the menu seasonally in order to showcase the depth of the cuisine, but will continue to utilise London’s great access to the best ingredients throughout the year.”

Culinary experiences, like great art, tend to linger long after the experience is over. POTUS has achieved just that; a gastronomic delight using the finest and freshest ingredients that encourages diners to fully indulge their culinary senses. Highly recommended.

How & Where
Where: 10-11 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7SP
When: During the week, POTUS is open for breakfast from 6.30am – 10am, for lunch from 12pm – 3pm and dinner from 6pm – 10:30pm. On weekends, the restaurant opens for breakfast from 7:30am – 11:30am, lunch from 12:30pm – 15:00pm and dinner from 6:00pm – 10:30pm. Last orders are by 10pm for dinner service.
How: For reservations, please book through Opentable or phone reception on 0203 1460 371.

A Night Of Cocktails At The Athenaeum

A Night Of Cocktails At The Athenaeum

I celebrate cocktail week with a visit to THE BAR and Galvin restaurant at The Athenaeum Hotel & Residences in London’s Mayfair

A playground for the rich and famous for more than 170 years, 116 Piccadilly is home to one of London’s most iconic hotels, The Athenaeum. An extensive refurbishment of ground floor and bar areas by Kingsley Kent Design this summer has opened up the lobby and reception, while the former Garden Room has evolved into THE BAR, a cool destination lounge bar with its own private entrance on Down Street.

I’m sitting at the bespoke black marble counter top, looking out at the Living Wall by Patrick Blanc opposite – this is a beautiful softly lit space. The sofas and chairs lend an air of relaxed sophistication and the service is immediate and friendly.

I’m here to meet the renowned Italian entrepreneur and bar consultant Giancarlo Mancino, creator of a unique range of signature cocktails. He’s bar consultant to Michelin-starred chefs The Galvin Brothers who now run the food and beverage arm of The Athenaeum. With a repertoire of original creations but also some “classics with a twist”, all 15 bespoke botanical cocktails at The BAR are served in Mancino’s own cocktail glassware  – each with a wormwood engraved motif – designed specifically to enhance the outstanding flavours.

Originally from the South of Italy, Giancarlo learned the art of mixing in the States, where he studied with Master Bartender Cory Campbell (he trained Tom Cruise for his role in the movie Cocktail). Moving to London, Giancarolo won Best Bartender awards in 2000 and 2001 while working at the Lanesborough’s Library Bar. Periods in Dubai and across India expanded his cultural and mixologist horizons, before returning to London to start his own consultancy Giancarlo BAR, which has now branched out to Hong Kong. As a result he continues to consult for some of biggest names in the hotel industry across the world.

Mancino is also known as the King of Vermouth – having created his own Mancino Vermouth range. His inspiration? “I became disappointed with commercially produced Vermouths – they were all lacking quality,” he tells me. “As a bartender I know the importance of having a quality Vermouth for cocktails. So I decided to experiment and produce my own.” 

Having tested the market on his friends and family, Giancarlo was convinced he had a winner and started production in 2011. He chose a family run mill in the Piedmont area of northern Italy where he grinds the botanicals for 30 days.

The botanicals are then steeped with sugar beet spirit and added to a Trebbiano di Romagna wine base, which is stored for six months before bottling and labelling. The product is now shipped worldwide and there are four fabulous varieties: Secco, Bianco Ambrato, Rosso Amaranto and Vecchio.

An original spin on a classic taste, the botanical flavours are distinctive. Perfect as an aperitif on their own as well as a cocktail base. I especially enjoyed it neat on ice.

“I did a lot of my own research, traveling around the world searching for the right ingredients,” says Giancarlo. “Eventually I found 40 botanicals that I use. It’s been an incredible adventure.

“I put my own money on the table at first and it was more of a hobby but then it went boom! Suddenly I had a profitable business!”

I notice the retro-looking label on the Vermouth bottles. “This is my village in southern Italy. You can see the square where I played football as a kid.” Clearly family is important to Giancarlo. 

My grandmother very much inspired me,” he reveals. “She used to serve my father a Bianco vermouth every Sunday – and my wife has been very supportive. 

“She initially encouraged me to make my dream a reality, and produce my own artisanal Vermouth range.”

Every table at THE BAR has a collection of photo postcards with each of the 15 Mancino cocktails. As we are chatting, I’m enjoying a delicious Champagne Julep (Lanson Black Label Brut/goji berries liqueur/strawberries/caster sugar/fresh mint leaves) and have segued on to a wonderfully refreshing Basilico Mojito.

Giancarlo’s love of the botanicals: flowers, herbs spices and roots is legendary. Maybe he was a monk in a past life? “I love Japan so much I think I was a Samurai,” he smiles. Mancino is certainly the Samurai of Vermouth.

So what’s the essential ingredient for a good hotel bar? “Good visibility, great glassware and superb service,” he tells me. “And keeping the cocktails bespoke and craft. It’s important to keep a sense of uniqueness.”

Giancarlo Mancino has certainly created his USP with his superb range of botanical cocktails at THE BAR. It’s hard to leave but I have a dinner reservation here at The Athenaeum. So Basilico Mojito in hand, I bid adieu to the master mixer and head for the Galvin restaurant on the ground floor of the hotel.

If you’re a foodie you need no introduction to the Michelin-starred Galvins (Bistrot de Luxe, Galvin La Chapelle and Galvin HOP). Brothers Chris and Jeff have created an all-day dining offering at The Athenaeum that includes breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, room service – and dinner. 

I’ve an early sitting and the restaurant is quiet and peaceful – perfect for an early evening catch up with an old friend. The menu features a welcoming British influence, in addition to Galvin favourites such as the Galvin smoked salmon and steak tartare. The wide range of starters is very appealing. I loved the flavours and textures of my black figs, goat’s curd and Woodall’s Cumbrian air-dried ham.

My friend opted for the poached lobster and cauliflower salad. Both light on the palate and a perfect segue into the fish pie – and for me the Denham Estate venison with blackberries and celeriac. Cooked to perfection, the meat melted in my mouth. In the name of research I also tried my friend’s fish pie, which was creamy and full of chunky fish pieces. My wine – a Côtes de Rhône was the ideal accompaniment.

Dessert treats include sticky toffee pudding and Valrhona chocolate mousse. I made for the sorbet while my friend relished her floating island with vanilla and blackberries. 

Superb and attentive service, combined with the masterful creations from the Galvin kitchen ensured a memorable and fun evening. Stylish and glamorous, and without pretension, THE BAR and Galvin at The Athenaeum are a welcome and sophisticated addition to the Mayfair restaurant scene. 

How and Where
The Athenaeum Hotel & Residences: Located in Mayfair, The Athenaeum Hotel & Residences has 164 bedrooms, including 12 suites, 18 townhouse residences and The Penthouse Suite. The Penthouse Suite is available from £2,280 inc VAT
Where: 116 Piccadilly, Mayfair, London W1J 7BJ Tel: +44 (0)20 7499 3464
How: Email, phone +44 (0) 20 7640 3333  or visit

Restaurant Review: The Balcon, Sofitel London, St James

Restaurant Review: The Balcon, Sofitel London, St James


I discover an elegant dining spot at The Balcon restaurant & sample Executive Chef Matt Greenwood’s exciting new menu

Centrally positioned in white-stuccoed St James, just off Pall Mall, The Balcon restaurant is a wonderful find. A grand entrance leads directly into the high-ceilinged 100-cover brasserie, which is surprisingly warm and welcoming, considering it was once a bank.

Décor is smart and sophisticated; the lighting subtle. Gilt and marble columns command your attention, as does a bespoke wire chandelier overarching the top tables, while silk draped double-height windows afford diners a view over the grandeur of Waterloo Place. You can’t miss the Champagne balcony, framed by two oak spiral staircases that overlooks the dining area, showcasing the wine cellars with tasting room directly underneath.

The elegance and sophistication continue into the St James bar area, where my companion samples a ‘Round The World’ cocktail from the resident mixologists. I remain G&T faithful and enjoy the best ever – the botanical notes of Jensen’s Old Tom Gin – from Bermondsey distillery on Maltby Street Market – providing the perfect apéritif. The snug intimate bar has a delightfully decadent feel: sink into French antique gilt chairs, mahogany leather and blue mohair banquettes, while you admire the amethyst-topped bar and the gold-studded ceiling, replete with a Thierry de Crosmières painting of a Duke holding the head of a cockerel. As you do.

We are here to sample Executive Head Chef Matt Greenwood’s (Blixen, Smokehouse, Caravan…) new menu. With extensive experience in New Zealand (his home) as well as Australia, Matt launched Caravan in Exmouth Market and King’s Cross, followed by the well-received Blixen in Spitalfields Market.

His love of fusion remains, together with strong allegiance to The Balcon’s traditional French cuisine leanings. New dishes include the refreshing Yuzu Cured Salmon with Edamame Purée, Wakame Salad and Tobbikko, plus Foie Gras with membrillo, spiced walnuts and pain d’epices crumbs starters.

A fish fan, I plumped for the succulent grilled scallops (fresh diver-caught from Scotland), boudin noir and apple croquette and carrot pickle. A divine taste pairing, as was my companion’s twice-baked goat’s cheese soufflé (‘delightfully light and cheesy’) with pine nuts, mint and a smooth apple sabayon.

We segued seamlessly into the main course – smoothly transported by a fruity medium-dry Rothschild Pinot Noir. I opted for roasted hake fillet with ratatouille, green olive tapenade and shellfish oil, while my carnivorous friend chose a succulent grilled longhorn sirloin with rosemary salted fries and a deliciously creamy béarnaise sauce.

Sides on offer included cumin roasted carrots and butternut squash with pumpkin seeds that complemented our surf and turf choices. The hake – sourced from The Upper Scale at Billingsgate was perfection, as was the sirloin: medium rare, juicy, full of flavour and great texture.

Matt Greenwood prefers to use only fresh, seasonal produce, sourcing primarily from recognised UK farmers.

I always endeavour to make sure our high quality produce comes from sustainable sources,” he tells me. “These include small and large suppliers from around the UK and also continental Europe.

“The lamb comes from Daphne’s Welsh Lamb, one of the finest lamb producers in the country. And our steak and burger mince comes from rare breed cows from Charles Ashridge at Taste Tradition in north Yorkshire. He breeds and farms high quality cows, pork and lamb.

Vegetables are from Covent Garden Fruit Suppliers, while we source our cheeses from the UK and France. Suppliers include Simon & Tim Jones (Lincolnshire Poacher Double Barrel) and Goddess cheese from Alex James.”

And the fois gras? “Smaller goods and French meets come from Classic Fine Foods who supply us with our foie gras, snails, Alsace bacon and other artisan products,” he tells us

There is always room for dessert, and after a gap digestif I ordered the visually arresting floating hot pear and sorbet (aka Pear and Poire Williams île flottante). A recommendation from our waitress, this refreshing hot-cold combination was intoxicating. As was her recommendation of profiterole with banana caramel, vanilla ice cream, hazelnuts and Frangelico ganache. A gustatory work of art. Really.

The food here is superb, coupled with great service in a sophisticated yet relaxed environment. A private curtained room off the main dining area has seating for around 30 guests. You could try the 7-course tasting menu there and make it a party to remember

The grand Neo-Classical building is also home to Sofitel St James hotel, which adjoins the restaurant. Guest can unwind in the plush, inviting Rose Lounge library where afternoon teas are served amidst books on English and French culture. Or head, as we did, to the snug St James Bar and sample their new cocktail list featuring ingredients and influences from around the world

Dinner, lunch or breakfast at The Balcon is a delightful experience to be shared and savoured, especially with someone you love.

Where & How
Where: The Balcon, 8 Pall Mall, St James, London SW1Y 5NG
How: Phone +44 (0)20 7389 7820, email or visit to make a reservation.