I think that it is shame that the Square Mile or the City of London seems an underrated, and undervalued destination by tourists. Slightly west of Central London it has much to offer the weekend traveller, with none of the negatives of the West End, which is at best overcrowded, noisy and busy of a weekend evening.
Much has changed since I first moved to London started work in the City 15 years ago. Then city was a very different place, shopping consisted of a few sandwich shops, which were mainly independent (in those days Pret was a fledgling company and still not on every corner). There was no Starbucks, coffee came from the sandwich shops in varying degrees of quality. There were some clothes shops – mainly selling suits and shirts for men, dark smokey wine bars and the odd branch of Boots. Maybe an opticians and a financial bookshop could be found too.
Way back in the days of my first job I had no internet or e-mail; fax and couriers bearing floppy discs were the order of the day. The city was dark and somber and not that fun to go out in.
I have always loved the city. I adore the juxtaposition of old and new, the shiny modern office next to the Wren church (unusually I was Christened in a city church, according to the register the previous one had been about 20 years before). When first in London I enjoyed wandering the city streets at weekends (packed lunch in my bag as nothing was open at weekends) when the place was deserted. In about the last 10 years all this has changed, possibly driven by Canary Wharf successfully mixing offices & shopping, the City has followed. All the shops I want are there, it is busier of an evening and weekend and is altogether more fun.
Bonds Restaurant & Bar (and attached 5* Boutique Threadneedles Hotel) epitomises all that is good about the modern City. It opened in 2002, a stone’s throw from the up-market shopping of the Royal Exchange. It is a chic, stylish place to stay, sip cocktails or dine.
I was delighted to receive an invitation to join a group of bloggers to sample the extensive cocktail menu and dine at Bonds, I actually had not been to the City for sometime and walking to the restaurant I was reminded just how much I like the area.
The evening kicked of with cocktails in the delightful hall pictured above (thanks to Maison Cupcake for letting me use her photo). An innovative glass of champagne, with a rose eau de vie, goji berry liqueur and morello cherry was the perfect start to the evening. I wanted another, but with 4 more cocktails to go, I realised that pacing myself was a sensible option.
Executive Head Chef is Barry Tonks, who joined Bonds when it opened in 2002. Tonks received his first Michelin star aged 30, when he worked at McClements. The menu (and wine list) is heavy on seasonal British produce, which is cooked with a modern French twist.
I started with a beautifully presented plate of seared “Sashimi” yellow fin tuna, served with pickled mooli, pineapple, coriander and a soy and lime dressing. The fish was tender, flavours balanced and delicious. An amuse bouche of a Dorset bay crab salad and ciabatta crisp followed.
My main was stone bass, with homemade liguine with an oyster and champagne veloute. Perfectly cooked pasta, the fish with crispy skin had an almost piquant flavour. I love wet food, and wanted to dive into the veloute, which was rich, creamy and bursting with flavour.
Pudding consisted of a 70% chocolate fondant, served on a caramelised biscuit with a sublime almond milk sorbet. The sorbet was perfect with the chocolate, refreshing and being both light & creamy, something I shall be trying at home soon.
I have never really thought that much about cocktails with food before, the dryest of dry martinis pre dinner is my usual choice, but after the evening I may have to rethink this stance.
Rosemary infused gin, with Granny Smith apple and bramble apple juice with honey and a touch of Drambuie was an inspired, refreshing accompaniment to the main course (to avoid getting totally sozzled we passed one cocktail around the table per course). Also the digestive was stunning, mixing black truffle vodka, Lapsang Souchong, Caol Ila, orange bitters and a touch of vanilla. Very clever stuff, and I realise that as much thought had gone into the cocktails as the food.
This was a hosted event, even so service was excellent, with staff being knowledgable about the menu and ingredients. Special credit must go to the waitress who served the cheese, and gave an in-depth explanation of the excellent and extensive cheese trolley (again featuring many British products).
The English wines were amazing, part of the wine list that we sampled is reproduced below. I especially enjoyed the Primrose Hill, and the Denbies red. Why more people are not aware of just how good English wine can be I do not know.
Balfour Brut Rose, Hush Heath Estate, Kent, 2006
Characteristically pale and elegant with fine mousse and good persistence. The palate boasts soft, delicate red fruit flavours leading to a crisp, dry and focused finish. Award Winner
Plantagenet, Chardonnay, Great Southern, 2007
The wine is straw yellow in colour, with clean lifted aromas of lightly caramelised figs and mandarin and a nutty vanillin oak character. Good body balanced by a refreshing acidity and excellent length. Citrus, cashew and creamy notes linger through to the finish.
Primrose Hill, Bacchus, Chapel down, Kent, 2009
England’s answer to Sauvignon Blanc is a vibrantly aromatic Bacchus with notes of elderflower, nettles, passion fruit and grapefruit characters, on the palate, fresh citrus fruits and flowers mingle with flinty notes and refreshing acidity leading to a clean, dry conclusion.
Denbies Redlands, Dorking, Surrey, 2006
This classic English red blend made from Pinot Noir and Dornfelder is grown on the chalky hillsides above this excellent vineyard near Dorking. A rich and fairly full bodied dry red with bright crimson hues. The smooth palate displays berry fruit characters and delivers a firm finish.
A fantastic meal and a great destination for great British produce.
Throughout April Bond’s are offering a three course set menu for £19.95 including a glass of wine.