Posts in Restaurants
Sorry, La Veranda Does Not Make "Authentic Italian"
 

To start, populism and Twitter advice should have no place in the decision-making process for restaurant-goers because I’ve been led astray… again. Probably appeased by the pinkness of the Blowfish Hotel and the merry expats swimming downstairs in the background, people have labelled La Veranda as “one of the best Italian restaurants in Lagos” or “authentic Italian”, but my question to them is, what is the benchmark? 

La Veranda, Bruschetta Rustica

Also, after reading the original review on La Veranda from 2014, I was somewhat excited to visit Lagos-Italy but to my surprise, the mighty have fallen.

Anyway, on to my experience. Alex and I’s evening at La Veranda kicked off with some Bruschetta Rustica and red wine - a decent start to an underwhelming dinner.

For those that don’t know, ‘bruschetta’ actually refers to the crusty bread slice (ciabatta or baguette) and not the entire crusty bread topped with chopped tomatoes and basil, so don’t be surprised when you order bruschetta and what you’re served looks different. The Bruschetta Rustica was olive tapenade on a toasted baguette slice, and it was just… okay.

Besides the bread answering it’s father’s name and coming as it should have, the olive tapenade lacked personality, with no seeming uniqueness to the La Veranda chef - almost like it was just olive puree out of a tin, spread on bread, the same way a rookie would make it.

Pesto Pasta, La Veranda

Trying to not be dampened by the starter, we went on to order our mains, Penne Al Pesto and the Tagliatelle All'Aragosta - the “Chef’s Special”. Before I go on, I’d like to mention that the whole point of visiting casual-fine dining restaurants and opposing the rice-at-home movement is for quality food, ambience and service; and by ‘quality food’, I mean both the presentation and taste of the food.

The chef might have gone a little overboard with the presentation on this because the pesto pasta dish looked Nigerian flag green… hulk green… like the pesto OD’d during photosynthesis green or something.

Just imagine the La Veranda chef as Professor when he was making Powerpuff Girls and then excess Chemical X (pesto in this case) pouring into the pot. But really, it was green green and food colouring was most likely used, which is an overkill since pesto is already green. There were some positives however; the pasta selection, Penne, and pasta texture were satisfactory… and that’s it with the positives.

All four prawns (which I had to order additionally, by the way, because the pasta doesn’t come with proteins) tasted bland, like they hadn’t been spiced or seasoned before being tossed in the pesto.

Tagliatelle All'Aragosta, La Veranda

 Unfortunately, the chef may have lost steam as he was preparing his special, the Tagliatelle All'Aragosta. ‘Aragosta’ simply means lobster, so, what was ordered was a lobster pasta, with the chef’s twist being a tomato base with garlic and mushrooms, topped with parmesan cheese. The photo speaks for itself and addresses all comments on presentation - the dish looked like some faux-Italian concoction I’d whip up at home.

Still on presentation, there’s a trend I’ve noticed with restaurants that serve ornamental lobster claws, heads or tails with their seafood pasta dishes - the dishes are ALWAYS underwhelming. Moving on to how it tasted, the salt was quite overbearing to all other spices but the garlic helped a bit.

Mmm, I love garlic.

Overall, the special was in fact, not special.


POSTSCRIPT

I really shouldn’t be feeling like I can go head-to-head with a whole restaurant’s chef after I order his “Special”, because there really is a kitchen at home with pasta and rice and everything (almost) I need to make these dishes.

VERDICT

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DAMAGE

Bruschetta Rustica - N3500

Penne Al Pesto - N6000 (+N3900 for prawns) 

Tagliatelle All’Aragosta - N13500

 

PARKING

Decent

12 cars inside and a whole not-so-busy street to park on outside 

ABUJA: Fine Dining in a Casual Space at Hélène's
 
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Hélène's Food Co., a gourmet restaurant run by Chef Emeka, is tucked away in the industrial district of Jahi amidst other shopping complexes and housing estates. It’s not a location where you'd expect to find an upscale gastronomical experience. I definitely didn’t expect to find an alumni of Le Cordon Bleu (Paris) either. The building itself was quite nondescript with a certain emptiness that I knew I would not be comfortable with after dark.

On the inside, it’s a different story. It looks like my home. Well, my home if I execute my vision board.

The space is open-plan style with an actual built in kitchen. “Homey” rather than “upscale” springs to mind. There was a comfy-looking settee, which I was offered because my friend was running late.

I loved the cute yellow dinner plates on the already-set table, but the crockery and cutlery were about 50% short of what a fine-dining dinner table requires. I quickly reset my expectations for the evening while the earnest staff fetched me complimentary water and the menu.

(Ed Note: Hélène's is more bistro than fine dining)

The prices aren’t listed on the menu and I think it is deliberate, lest potential customers have a heart attack on an empty stomach.

More on this later.

My friend and I got the duck starter from the March Dinner Menu - Helene’s refreshes the menu monthly. I opted for the fish for my main and my friend ordered the chicken. A complimentary slice of sourdough bread was served while I waited for my starter. It certainly wasn’t sourdough and it didn’t come warm, but I ate it because I was hungry and the butter made it all better.

The drink menu at Helene’s is severely limited, but I guess that’s not the point of Hélène's. I wanted some orange juice, but they had run out so I had to settle for water.

Duck - Pan seared duck breast, deep fried cauliflower, pepper roasted cauliflower, cauliflower puree and strawberry jus

Duck - Pan seared duck breast, deep fried cauliflower, pepper roasted cauliflower, cauliflower puree and strawberry jus

As each meal came out, it was immediately obvious that they were prepared with the utmost care, which justified the wait time. The presentation and the taste were five-star. The cauliflower puree in my duck starter melted on my tongue and left a party of flavours in my mouth.

Even without a trace of chilli in any of their dishes, everything was not only delightful but served on warm plates.

Fish - Nile Perch two ways, potato and butter bean puree, smoked fish croquettes and spring onions

Fish - Nile Perch two ways, potato and butter bean puree, smoked fish croquettes and spring onions

The wait staff were not loitering in that annoying way they do at some restaurants but each time I caught the waiter’s eye, he came bouncing towards me energetically like an eager-to-please puppy.

We chose to share one dessert, the mango sorbet, and it was certainly the piece de resistance.

(Ed Note: Chef Emeka graduated from Le Cordon Bleu Paris with a Grande Diplome in Cuisine and Patisserie)

Mango sorbet, coconut lime sponge, coconut lime curd and vanilla tuille

Mango sorbet, coconut lime sponge, coconut lime curd and vanilla tuille

Perfectly sculpted frozen pureed mango balls married well with the coconut and lime flavours. I suspect that the sponge was made a day or two in advance as it was neither warm nor fluffy.

(Ed Note: There’s no hard and fast rule on sponge cake temperature)

An inspection of the restroom facilities led me to a foul stench from the men’s stall. I was glad I visited after my meal because the odour was enough to put me off. I expected more of a powder room but I got a lavatory.

When I saw the bill, I was shocked!

Forty-five thousand naira for two starters, two mains, one dessert and some drinks was a bit much. The food was certainly impressive but to justify those prices, Chef Emeka must upgrade the space, facilities and service to match the quality of the food.

 

VERDICT

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DAMAGE

The March Dinner Menu - N20,000

Hard Rock Cafe: Snatching the "Meh" from the Jaws of "Good"
 

Feeling compassionate on election weekend (thanks to the free roads), I decided to visit Hard Rock Café, the American neighbours of our Oriental friends, Shiro, and it was quite the experience.

Read the original review HERE

Anyway, straight to the food…

Hickory-Smoked Ribs from  Hard Rock Cafe

Hickory-Smoked Ribs from Hard Rock Cafe

My first order was the half rack of Hickory-Smoked Ribs which came with a side of mashed potatoes, cowboy beans and coleslaw – HRC really took me for a ride with this one.

Before even touching the ribs, I started off upset about not being given a steak knife, then excited after realising that the ribs fell off the bone, AND THEN back to being upset when I was halfway through the rack and the midsection couldn’t be tackled with the blunt table knife. I mean, the ribs were well-seasoned and tender on the edges so if they had just been consistent then they would have been IT for me.

The mashed potatoes were nice and smooth but not as creamy as I’d have liked. The better restaurants in Lagos have spoilt me, to be honest, so I can’t settle anymore. Also, with the recent uproar about cowmilk, I know I shouldn’t be asking for creamy mash but bruhhh, I don’t think I’m ready to replace cowmilk with almond milk in mashed potatoes just yet.

Can’t click.

I didn’t try the coleslaw, but the cowboy beans were also decent, and the chef was kind enough to share the recipe – not sure if I’m allowed to disclose so maybe you should visit and try it for yourself?

Question: How do you eat your ribs/chicken/steak and mashed potatoes?

  1. Scoop mash then pierce into a piece of the ribs/chicken/steak

  2. Place mash in mouth then quickly add ribs/chicken/steak to mouth before swallowing

  3. Eat ALL the mash then focus on the ribs/chicken/steak at the end

(If ‘3’, you’re probably from SW Nigeria.)

Moving on, the second meal I ordered was the Blackened Chicken Sandwich which came with French fries… cold French fries.

Blackened Chicken Sandwich from  Hard Rock Cafe

Blackened Chicken Sandwich from Hard Rock Cafe

Besides the bread being a lot to deal with and the fries being cold, the chicken breast and the overall composition of the burger were lovely! The spicy chicken breast is topped with red remoulade and mango salsa, giving it a sweet-spicy taste. Overall, like pineapple on pizza, I imagine people will either love or hate this burger, thanks to the mango salsa.

Hot+Fudge+Brownie

Side Note: I guess tattered menus are like battle scars for the wars you’ve faced with your many customers, but please restaurants, do better. (Also, blame HRC for the poor brownie shot because their margarita glass seemed like it had be cleaned with sandpaper or something.)

Final order of the day was the Hot Fudge Brownie - a brownie crowned with a scoop of ice cream topped with chocolate syrup, walnuts and whipped cream. Quite a lot for someone that had just rammed through two meals, I know, but there was still space, so I had to fill it.

I was quite impressed by the richness of the brownie and quality of ice cream in this dessert. Restaurants with stellar mains often relax when it comes to desserts and serve you scoops of Fan ice in their sundaes, but HRC didn’t. Imagine a brownie piece cut out from the middle of the tray with no crusty edges – that was the HRC brownie. Overall, impressive.


POSTSCRIPT

…. quite the rollercoaster with the ribs and the cold fries but I’d definitely return for the chicken sandwich and the cowboy beans!

VERDICT

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DAMAGE

 Half Rack Hickory-Smoked Ribs - N6500

Blackened Chicken Sandwich - N5000

Hot Fudge Brownie - N4600

 

PARKING

Ample parking space - Over 100 cars 

The Metaphor Looks Better Than it Tastes
 

NOSA: The first thing you notice as soon as you walk into The Metaphor is the space (Well, duh). It’s literally someone’s house that has been refurbished into a restaurant. It doesn’t totally do away with the house-y elements, however. The furniture, for starters, makes you feel like you went to visit an aunt somewhere in Lagos. I wonder what the story with the space is. Did the owners move to Banana Island or Lekki? Or maybe Canada?

FOLLY: Nah, you can’t tell me some people still don’t live in that house. I kept seeing a guy with EarPods walk in and out of the rooms. I think renting it out to other people would have been more profitable than the restaurant business (especially because based on my experience they aren’t very good at it)

NOSA: I guess the neighbourhood has gone beyond residential so this makes sense in some way. And they’ve really done a good job with the space. It really does feel like a home-turned-restaurant and I mean that in a very good way.

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FOLLY: Good job with the space, but horrible at the food and experience.

NOSA: Yeah, that’s where all the good things about The Metaphor end, unfortunately. That home-turned-restaurant thing takes a terrible turn in the kitchen. They probably kept the cook from the previous residents and it shows. Ok, I don’t mean that literally but yeah, the food sucks. They definitely need all sorts of help in the kitchen.

FOLLY: And also in the service department, the waiters and waitresses are clueless.

NOSA: The food took forever. We stopped by just before “COB” and it turned dark before our first item came out. My main never even came out and the waitress told us it was “almost done” on our way out. For reference, I ordered a pasta and not some slow cooked goat tongue.

FOLLY: I should also add that the first couple of items Nosa ordered weren’t available.

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NOSA: We probably could’ve stayed thirty more minutes without my main coming out. Folly’s did, thankfully. It wasn’t any good, but it came out so I guess I should be grateful for the little things.

The Loaded Fries were loaded… with onions.

FOLLY: Raw onions…

NOSA: It definitely could’ve been cheesier and a little less dry. It’s like the omelette the cook in your house makes, but sub the eggs for fries. The less said about it, the better.

FOLLY: I also think using rolled smoked ham in their loaded fries wasn’t the best idea.

NOSA: The less said about the “Penne Pesto”, the better too. But if we don’t say anything, we don’t really have content. So we’ll just have to trudge through it.

FOLLY: There was nothing pesto about this pesto. Like absolutely nothing, okay they shredded some basil in there.

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NOSA: Last week, I put some peppers, onions and tomatoes in my pesto as some part of some weird experiment. Turned out disastrous, but I learned my lesson. The “Chef” at The Metaphor surely didn’t learn that lesson because he did the same exact thing and produced the same useless result. This is like the pasta your cook makes at home and when you’re not paying, you don’t complain much. It’s edible after all. When you’re paying for it, however, you tend to judge it with a different lens.

FOLLY: I mean some could argue that they attempted to combine a red pesto and a green pesto to make a Metaphor Pesto but I know for a fact that’s not what they were thinking, and they didn’t even have the right elements of either.

NOSA: Maybe they were going for a spicy pesto, but HSE does something similar and the pesto isn’t lost in the process. We couldn’t taste any pesto in The Metaphor’s version. Oh, and the pasta was slightly overcooked too. Pasta should be easiest thing that restaurant makes so I don’t get how they mess it up all the time.


POSTSCRIPT

FOLLY:  It feels rushed giving them a review off two items but honestly I don’t think they’d do much better even if we ordered five times.

NOSA: I’m sure the Jollof is good, but I’d complain about paying 5k for jollof. Then again, I paid 2.5k for Ewa Agoyin so maybe I’m not the one to be saying this. That said, you can spend the same amount of money at BL or South, on the same street, and get more value. The Metaphor is a complete bust.

VERDICT

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DAMAGE

 Loaded Fried - N4000

Pesto Pasta - N6000

 

PARKING

On street parking mostly, wouldn’t be enough on a busy night.

Casper & Gambini's Keep the Consistency Award
 

I remember driving down to the Casper & Gambini’s street a while ago and turning back when I saw that they had closed. Also remember thinking they had fallen victim to the 3-year curse Lagos restaurants face, until Twitter people asked that I chill since they just moved down the road. Anyway, back after their odd rebirth at a new location with a “new” menu, I was excited to see, well, taste if they had remained the Consistent Komolafes that they are.

Casper & Gambini’s Asian Spicy Shrimp

Casper & Gambini’s Asian Spicy Shrimp

(Had a funny thought about them moving to another location on the same street – like dying a Nigerian and then being reborn in this same Nigeria instead of Canada. God forbid).

Okay, okay, on to the food. You know how you scroll through a restaurant’s menu but still order the same thing you ALWAYS get? That was me when I ordered a seafood starter and pasta – the Asian Spicy Shrimp and the Chicken Pesto Pasta.

The Asian Spicy Shrimp starter was pretty much tempura prawns tossed in sweet chilli, sprinkled with sesame seeds and spring onions – tasted nice but it really didn’t give off that spiciness that the name promised. I mean, it’s cool not having to stress yourself dipping tempura prawns in sweet chilli since the chef has done it already but, what else, sir? Where is the spice?

For the price, I think I expected 2/3 more prawns on the plate but Casper & Gambini’s seems to be selfish with the shellfish. Also crazy that this was more expensive than my main dish… “seafood”, I guess.)

My main, the Chicken Pesto Pasta was lovely! Not too dry, not too creamy, good texture tossed just right with the most appropriate pasta selection for pesto – fusilli, and the toasted pine nuts were just enough to not distract me from the actual dish.

Casper & Gambini’s Chicken Pesto Pasta

Casper & Gambini’s Chicken Pesto Pasta

Side note: Something that grinds my gears is when supposedly sophisticated and high-end restaurants that should know better prepare pasta dishes with the wrong pasta selection. Thank goodness C&G got it right. Might be extra but those that know, know. For those that like to experiment, and for the chefs in Nigeria that need a refresher, check the BBC GoodFood article on perfect pasta pairings out.

Reminiscing about the meal, I can’t remember that many chicken strips in the pasta, so a little more generosity with that would’ve been nice. This might be the secret to staying alive as a restaurant in Lagos tbh - stinginess with proteins.

Hmmm… I think I should have asked for bacon to come with the pasta for extra… oomph. Might go back just for that. :)

Casper & Gambini’s Chicken Pesto Pasta

Casper & Gambini’s Chicken Pesto Pasta

Overall, an okay starter, better main, reasonable portions (not trying to starve me like some restaurants we know, and didn’t have to overcompensate for mediocre food with a large serving), calm ambience with mood music and spacious seating area for group dinners if you’d like.


POSTSCRIPT

Can’t remember why I stopped visiting C&G’s after a good run ages ago but they really have kept it consistent! Arguably one of the top places for pasta in Lagos.

(Missed the past two Casper & Gambini’s articles? You’re welcome: “Lagos Gets a Casper & Gambini’s Too”, “Casper & Gambini’s Refreshed” )

VERDICT

Ed. Note: We’re currently in the process of rejigging our ratings. Restaurants that are downright awful simply don’t get rated. Restaurants that we’ll never revisit get the frown-y Larry David while the smile-y Larry David is reserved for truly excellent restaurants. Everyone else goes in the middle - not great, but will revisit.

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DAMAGE

Asian Spicy Shrimp - N6000

Chicken Pesto Pasta - N5800 

 

PARKING

Decent parking but it’s a shared building so 10/15 cars