Where I’ve Eaten
Where to eat
Two weeks after opening, modern Palestinian restaurant Akub, on Uxbridge Street behind Nottinghill gate, was already packed with diners when I visited for a Friday lunch. The light, airy space is decorated with vases of olive branches in an urban rustic style and a menu of mezze-sized dishes come on simple hand made ceramic plates. I don’t usually like the waitress to ‘talk me through’ the menu, but in this case her knowledge and tempting descriptions led me to order things I may have otherwise overlooked. There were wedges of cabbage, roasted until tender and bathed in garlic yoghurt and dotted with pomegranate seeds. Skate kofte came wrapped in vine leaves and a winter tomato salad with green chilli and dill was sweet and creamy. A Palestinian firm white cheese was served grilled with a black crust of nigella seed oil and the za’atar bread was excellent for scooping up hummus-like red lentil moutabal. With welcoming and enthusiastic service, Akub is a great newcomer to the neighbourhood.
As a long term devotee of St John, I am delighted they have opened another branch in Marylebone, a short walk from the Conde Nast office and an excuse to wander past the tempting shops on charming back street, Marylebone Lane. With a simpler menu than their original Smithfield restaurant, this still serves the superb and deceptively simple dishes that made it the holy grail of good English food. There’s devilled crab, game birds (in season), braised rabbit and a new version of anchovies on toast – fillets of salted anchovy served in a tangle of parsley and shallot on crisp croutons. Chopped beetroot salad is dressed with pickled walnuts, a seldom used great British accompaniment and their new deep fried Welsh Rarebit has sent restaurant critics into paroxysms of pleasure. Desserts are hearty or light, depending on your appetite, rice pudding comes with rum soaked raisins, Madeleines are cooked to order or have their famous combination of Eccles cakes with a wedge of crumbly Lancashire cheese. The ground floor dining room is perfect for tables of two, or downstairs there’s room for larger groups. But book in advance, this place is already attracting a crowd.
Where to shop
Robin Birley, founder of members clubs and restaurants 5 Hertford Street and Oswalds has opened a charming and extremely tempting bakery on Chelsea’s Cale Street. Birley Bakery’s glass display cabinets are stacked high with creations from master bakers Vicent Zanardi and Eshak Belabed. There are freshly baked croissants, Galette des Rois, sourdough breads and pissaladieres and roasted vegetables on flaky puff pastry boats, all made with artisan produced flours. Gift boxes of home made chocolates are decorated in the same theatrical design of the beautiful shop interior – burgundy walls hand painted with 19thC Japanese gilded motifs of birds, lanterns and leaves. There are banquette seats and a window bar with stools for people watching if you want to sample pastries in the shop, or buy a whole tart Tropezienne to take away and serve as pudding at home. The bakery is the jewel in the crown on this charming street that already is home to some of the best independent food shops, so it’s worth a shopping trip even if you don’t live close by. You’ll find everything you need for a food lover’s paradise just footsteps away – Rex Goldsmith’s fishmonger, Andreas a treasure trove of a greengrocer, Paxton and Whitfield cheeses and Jago’s butcher. Birley Bakery 28-30 Cale Street, London, SW3 3QU.
This article originally appeared in the February 2023 edition of House & Garden magazine.