Flavour fest at local restaurants this autumn

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Flavour fest at local restaurants this autumn

From Borehamwood to Hampstead, there's a range of amazing food at new openings and old favourites

Oak & Poppy
Oak & Poppy


It takes a brave man to open a restaurant these days… and a brilliant one to get it right. And brave, brilliant Mitch Tillman of The Summerhouse and The Waterway has got it absolutely right with his latest venture, Oak & Poppy in Hampstead, which opened last month. It’s a gorgeous blush pink and gold haven of prettiness with a magnificent central tree climbing up to a stunning retractable glass roof (like being on Centre Court!) so it’s like being outside even when you’re inside… just like at The Summerhouse! The food is fabulous and well priced. We started with fish tacos, duck bao buns, quesadillas and mac & cheese bites – thumbs up all round. Then beautiful pan-fried lemon sole, lovely and thick – not the skinny fish you often get palmed off with. A half rotisserie chicken with so much flavour and so tender, and a burger which presented as two! We finished with a superb pecan pie – phenomenally good buttery pastry, crunchy caramelised pecans and salted caramel ice-cream. An easy-reading wine list plus some interesting options I haven’t seen before. The service is great, the atmosphere is terrific and at long last… there’s somewhere decent to eat in Hampstead. LW

Pecan pie at Oak & Poppy



He has worked in hotels and restaurants, been to catering college, worked for a catering company, set up his own catering company, and now set up his own restaurant – is there any avenue that Kushan Marthelis won’t explore to bring his unique and exceptional cooking to the table? Cacao Bean Café opened in Leeming Road, Borehamwood, earlier this year with a bi-monthly carousel of tapas menus. The first two were general tapas with some outstanding signature dishes such as blackened cod and miso aubergine and then Kushan started to specialise. In July he opened up the bi-fold doors to welcome in the sunshine as he launched a Sri Lankan menu focusing on dishes from his home country. This month, as the evenings start to draw in, he is taking us to Japan with a longer-than-usual list of exotic dishes and twists on regular favourites.

Poke bowl

Kushan has a unique gift for putting flavours and textures together, so that the humble cauliflower comes to life with a five-spice coating, before being roasted to a succulent finish and crunched up with toasted peanuts. A best-end rack of lamb is elevated to meaty stardom with a miso glaze and shiso pesto. A beautifully refreshing and exceptionally pretty glass poke bowl is the perfect way to start a feast such as this, while a rich Japanese-style fish soup with chunks of salmon and creamy confit garlic combines sunny flavours with autumnal warmth.

Rack of lamb

The blackened cod is here, with grilled bok choi, and a sweet and sour tofu with mixed veg and toasted sesame seeds My husband was all over the yakitori beef short ribs with yuzu-buttered beans but I held back to make room for a fudge-like miso crème brulee with lime sorbet. When Kushan is not making foodie magic in Borehamwood he is catering functions large and small from private dinners and barmitzvahs to weddings and launch parties for Amazon – yes, really. Last month saw him cater an enchanted forest-themed dinner to celebrate the new series of Lord of the Rings – The Rings of Power. Rather fitting really, as Kushan is definitely lord of the kitchen. LW

Pani puri at Bhagheecha


Indian is my favourite cuisine and I have carried out extensive ‘research’ to find the best restaurants. Following my visit, Bhageecha in Elstree numbers among them. What was once The Fishery pub and restaurant has been totally revamped and looks like it has had the same interior designer as The Ivy Brasserie. It’s modern and spacious with a floral theme running throughout its Passi Flora Bar, Bloom and Palm Room. My companion for the evening was a friend who doesn’t do spicy and is a slow eater – her losses, my gains. Our lovely waitress pointed out the milder dishes and I she tried the Kurkure Bhindi – crispy fried okra (India’s answer to zucchini fritti), while I went for the Pani Puri – puffed wheat bubbles filled with potato and served alongside a teapot of tangy water. One takes the puri and fills it with the liquid, eating the whole thing in one go. They were extremely spicy and I had to take all six for the team.


A vegetarian dum biriyani was cleverer and tastier than it sounds but I didn’t pay much attention to my friend’s chicken dish, as it wasn’t in my no-meat-out radar. Neither did I spend time looking at the signature dishes, fish main courses or appetiser platters. They will all have to wait for next time. The desserts sounded amazing. We were full, but I heard myself asking for a kulfi with two spoons. Go to Bhageecha. Take a friend who doesn’t do spicy. Even better, take one who will drive you there too as the cocktails looked amazing. I can’t wait to go again… and again… and again. AJ



Melissa in Canons Park is a great venue for a good Turkish nosh-up. A spacious restaurant with beautiful chandeliers, colourful Byzantine murals and attentive staff makes for an extremely pleasant and relaxed dining experience. Two plasma screens on the walls showed reels of exotic holiday destinations and on more than one occasion, my husband’s attention wandered from my scintillating conversation to them. Despite Melissa’s main attraction being meat (massive portions of delicious looking charcoal-grilled skewers of lamb and chicken), we managed to find plenty to eat. We began with mixed starters of hummus, felafel, cacik (tsatsiki), tarama and patlican sosu (delicious peppers and aubergine in a tomato sauce) with never-ending offers of more pitta bread. For mains we had sea bream and sea bass. Mine was with rice, my husband’s with chips (which he wolfed down before I could get a look in). The fish was extremely fresh and tasty. If I had closed my eyes I could have imagined I was eating it in a little family-run restaurant on the shores of the Mediterranean. There were vegetarian choices too – everyone is catered for at Melissa. We were stuffed but tempted by the extensive dessert menu, Tony choosing baklava which came with squirty cream and chocolate sauce and me a Tartufo Scuro – a coffee and egg cream bombe style ice cream. Owner Cetin shared that he is opening a second branch soon in Harrow. If it’s anything like Melissa in Canons Park it will be well worth a visit. AJ


Veggie dishes at Bubala


London-based teenagers in the eighties basically grew up in Soho and it may have changed almost beyond recognition, but I still love the cacophony of little streets and the vibe that prevails. Soho, to me, is the beating heart of the West End and home to some of the best and most innovative restaurants in our city. Here is where Marc Summers and Helen Graham have opened their second branch of Middle Eastern vegetarian restaurant Bubala, whose original Spitalfields venue I went to last year when covid restrictions were still in place meaning that we had to Eat Up and Get Out by 10pm. It is sacrilege to rush a meal with this level of innovation, this complexity of flavours, this standard of cooking. The Soho branch is larger than its sister venue and has an open kitchen at the back. There’s also a large high-stool counter seating area around the bar, rough hewn walls, industrial lights and plants hanging from the ceiling and it’s very lively! So far so fun. The cocktail list is short but cute (a lemon and lavender spritz for my daughter); the wine list is fairly extensive with interesting-sounding wines such as Uovo and Sketta (which is orange and delicious!).


Ordering was a process of what shall we leave out, as truthfully we wanted it all. We had a tahini-based grapefruit ‘ezme’ into which we dipped gorgeously soft and chewy laffa (other options are challah and pita), then a leek & amba (mango sauce) skewer and a charred oyster mushroom skewer, both of which were just superb – one delightfully sweet, the other deeply savoury. Next up was plate of fabulous falafel with sumac onions, and halloumi baked in fennel honey, which was hands down the best dish. There’s cauliflower of course – a large quarter with leaves ‘n’ all, cooked to a crisp and served with tomato and yoghurt to dip it into. Confit potato latkes are unlike any latkes you’ve ever had and vesuvio tomatoes with mango and cumin are sunny and full of flavour – just divine. Naturally there’s malabi for dessert and naturally it has a twist, in the form of a sour cherry purée and crushed peanut butter brittle on the top. We had little coconut and tahini fudge squares too. This was a stunning meal. Did I mention it’s a totally veggie restaurant? There’s absolutely no meat. Or fish. None. Nada. Rien. Did I miss them? Absolutely not! LW



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