Cool cantine: Sampling London’s hippest eatery

The NAC in Mayfair is supremely stylish, but laidback and welcoming. (Supplied)
Updated 27 August 2019
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Cool cantine: Sampling London’s hippest eatery

DUBAI: Cookies with ice-cream is the dessert you never thought you needed.

Walking into North Audley Cantine (NAC), we were greeted by a friendly host who — very sweetly and sympathetically — told us that there were no tables available at that time.

“We get booked up very quickly, but we have one reservation left for 10:30 this evening,” he said. It was just turning 7 p.m.

Rather than give up and walk away, we took the slot. As we waited, we went to Oxford Street, which is a five-minute walk from the venue, telling ourselves that we’d just waste a couple of hours in Selfridges.

You see, NAC has amassed quite the following of resident foodies, cool hunters, and tourists. As its consistently excellent service ratings suggest, it’s definitely one of the top eateries to sample in Central London. I first came across it when I was invited for a coffee meeting.

Stylish yet extremely laidback and unpretentious, the Mayfair-based establishment, billed as a French bistro, exudes contemporary chic, with beautiful whites, gold and pinks complementing the brown leather banquettes and high seats.

After my first experience, I knew I had to return to sample the menu. So here we are, months later, fast approaching 10:30 p.m.

And it did not disappoint.

One of the standouts of the establishment on both occasions I have visited was the extremely welcoming and friendly service, which was consistent throughout the meal. NAC offers separate lunch and dinner menus — featuring starters, salads, mains, sides and more — but items do cross over, and quite frankly, these are the ones to look out for.

Out of the starters, the winner was the halloumi fries with honey sriracha. Crispy on the outside with a delicious soft centre, these fries are like tucking into a fine grilled cheese sandwich without the bread.

While the menu boasts some lovely mains, including the truffle burger with Monterrey Jack cheese and truffle mayo, we opted for a selection of smaller plates instead. And the most surprising dish came in the form of one of the side options.

How the truffled mac and cheese is a supporting act, we’ll never know. This glorious side dish — which, FYI, is quite a large portion, so you could share — is a heavenly gooey combo of rigatoni with flavourful truffle-infused cheese. This is the comfort food to end all comfort food; the carb-filled dish that’s worth putting your keto diet on pause for.

And since you’re on pause, then make room for dessert. NAC’s showstopper may consist of basic childhood faves put together, but for some reason it works. And it works well. On the menu, it’s listed as crushed milk-chocolate cookies with Frosties and soft serve ice-cream, and that’s exactly what you get: Warm, soft, chewy chocolate-chip cookies, topped with truck-style ice-cream and Frosties cereal. It’s absolutely delightful.

Other desserts include ricotta pancakes with dulce de leche and banana, which we would happily have for breakfast. Another dessert that totally should be served first thing in the morning is the honey French toast with raspberries, clotted cream, and speculoos (you know Lotus biscuits? Well, speculoos is a spread made of it — one of the greatest food inventions of our time). For the health-conscious, choices include an açai bowl or matcha chia seed, granola, and fresh berries combo.

But we’ll say it again, if you visit NAC and forget to order the crushed cookies, you’re definitely missing out. Here’s hoping they never discontinue it.


Celine Dion returns to Canada to kick off world tour

Updated 19 September 2019

Celine Dion returns to Canada to kick off world tour

  • The Grammy winner also recently announced the release of a new album titled “Courage”
  • She said in April that she felt motivated to create new music and hit the road after the 2016 death of her husband and manager

QUEBEC CITY: After living and crooning for years in Las Vegas, French-Canadian superstar Celine Dion returned home to Quebec to kick off her first world tour in a decade on Wednesday.
At 51, the Grammy winner also recently announced the release of a new album titled “Courage,” which will be her 12th in English and is due out on November 15.
The first single “Flying On My Own,” featuring her powerful vocals backed by techno beats, has already hit the airwaves, while three more dropped Wednesday: “Courage,” “Lying Down” and “Imperfections.”
Known for her blockbuster ballads, Dion said in April that she felt motivated to create new music and hit the road after the 2016 death of her husband and manager Rene Angelil.
“When I lost Rene, he wanted me back on stage. He wanted to make sure I was still practicing my passion,” she said. “I wanted to prove to him that I’m fine, we’re fine, we’re going to be OK. I’ve got this.”
So, after more than 1,140 concerts for 4.5 million fans over 16 years in Sin City, she bid adieu to the Colosseum at Caesars Palace with a final two-hour show.
“Courage is exactly the way I feel,” she told public broadcaster CBC at the time, talking up the upcoming tour of the same name.
“In the past three years, it has been difficult for me to talk to my children, to raise them, to lose my husband, wondering am I going to sing again... so much has happened, but at the same time I feel that I’m in control of my life.”
Some 60 dates in North American have been confirmed so far, her label said, with two arena shows in Quebec City on Wednesday and Saturday kicking off the tour, which will run through April 2020, and will be her first world tour since 2008-2009.
Her show was almost two hours of mastery, as she performed some of her greatest hits — from “I’m Alive” to “My Heart Will Go On” — as well as new material to an ecstatic crowd of roughly 20,000.
“It was really impossible to miss Celine at home,” Nicolas Delivre, a French university exchange student in Montreal, told AFP.
Donald Berard, from Quebec City, said he had grown up listening to Dion. “We love her like a member of our family.”
“Courage” marks the first album and tour in Dion’s long career without Angelil, who steered her success beginning in 1981 when he mortgaged his house to finance the young teen’s debut album.
The pair began a personal relationship in 1988 when she was only 19 years old, and married in a lavish ceremony in 1994. Angelil died of throat cancer at age 73.
In an interview with NBC’s Today show, Dion revealed that she longs for the hugs and laughs that come with a relationship, but added, “I’m not ready to date.”
The youngest of a family of 14 children raised in the suburbs of Montreal, Dion has sold 250 million copies of 23 studio albums in English and French, including collaborations with French singer-songwriter Jean-Jacques Goldman, Barbra Streisand and Stevie Wonder.
Back in Canada, she told the Montreal Gazette that the tour schedule was “a little crazy,” but that she had found time in advance to take in life’s small pleasures.
At a press junket last Friday, Dion told Radio-Canada: “There are good wines that age well, and there are good wines that age badly. I hope to be a good bottle of wine.”
“I’m not a new Celine,” Dion added. “I’m a continuity of myself.”