Articles Tagués ‘London 2*’

The Ledbury, London

décembre 12, 2010

I have written about the Ledbury on numerous occasions, so we won’t repeat ourselves here anymore. The only thing that can be said is that Brett’s cooking is progressing quicker than that of any other London chef. He is moving so quickly, that one can eat here twice a week and be served a completely different menu on each occasion. That is something not many chefs can say do, even fewer if the food is of a consistently high quality. Autumn is probably one of the best seasons to eat here, as Brett’s game dishes are stunning. So, all I can say is that this continues to be London’s best restaurant, and only keeps on getting better.

So, there you have it. A few shots of recent meals. Needless to say that you should make your way down there pretty soon. A great restaurant it is indeed!

The Ledbury, London

avril 4, 2010

Brett Graham and his brigade have given me quite a lot of memorable moments during the last few months. As a Dutch friend of mine was in London for a few days, we met up for a first meal at the Ledbury for a nice tasting menu.

We let Brett decide what to cook for us, and selected a bottle of 1994 Silex from Didier Dagueneau to start with. This was very interesting. The nose was simply exquisite. Of great complexity, it promised a lot, something the taste could not quite deliver in the same magnificence. The wine had just surpassed its peak, and was less fresh, vivid, and immediately pleasing than younger Silex’s. It wasn’t bad, by no means, rather very good, it just seemed a little different than a Silex of recent years. The next wine was a 2001 Cote Rotie La Barbarine from Yves Gangloff. This was a huge pleasure to drink, and even though my friend wasn’t entirely won over in terms of complexity and depth, we both enjoyed this very well made wine enormously.

To start, we were given an amuse version of one of Brett’s dishes: Lamb shoulder, Jerusalem artichoke (as chip and crushed) with winter savoury milk. This was even more enjoyable than the dish itself, as the proportions in this little bite were simply exquisitely balanced. Alongside were served the classic macarons, about which I won’t have to write anymore I hope. Excellent,

The following dish was a tuna with bonito flakes and a yuzu cream. This was very fresh, and again a real treat, as the quality of the tuna was very good, and the combination exemplary. Very good.

The first course for me was a real treat. A rather impressively sized scallop came roasted with truffles and sea kale. A Simple, yet incredibly efficient and well made dish, every element had its place, and provided pleasure with every bite. The scallop was very fresh and perfectly cooked. The truffle was so intensive that one could smell it directly after the plate was set in front of me. Outstanding.

Up next was the first course which was a notch below perfect. A piece of John Dory was roasted and served with crab and cucumber. Now the dish was pretty close to being perfect, had it not been for a slightly too generous drizzle of lemon juice on the fish, which itself was a bit overcooked. Apart from that it was a great dish, which can be excellent without these flaws. Good to very good.

The next one was reminiscent of Alain Passard’s cooking, albeit a little more complex in presentation and serving. Celeriac spaghetti were served with smoked bone marrow and mustard (from Orleans). This was a very enjoyable, perfectly balanced dish, in which the mustard made things come to life, but stayed within reasonable boundaries. The smoked bone marrow made the whole thing even more decadent. Very good, and at a fraction of the price you’d pay in the rue de Varenne.

Unfortunately, we weren’t served any further fish course, and had to make due with a stunningly nice pork belly. This was just brilliant, with about as much crunchy parts to it as tender pork meat. The accompanying morels were much more powerful than those, we ate a few days later at the Greenhouse, and had enough punch to stand up against the rest of the dish. Excellent.

Now, this next dish was to become one of the very best dishes of the year, if not my life. Both of us had eaten a lot of venison in our life, but this was the crown jewel. Cooked on the bone, it is set on hay, which is then burned. This gives the Sika deer rack another dimension and even more complexity in terms of flavour. The texture was brilliant too, as it was incredibly tender, and juicy. The accompanying elements worked beautifully with it, and complemented it perfectly. This was great, as it is rare to find a main course, which blows your mind away. Outstanding.

After a bit of cheese, we were served a rather curious chicoree crème crulee, which was not bad, but not really pleasant either. There is a reason for which people drank chicoree only after coffee had ceased to be publicly available during numerous wars.

The first dessert was a olive oil panna cotta, served with white chocolate granita, mango sorbet and candied black olives. This was brilliant. I would not have thought that the mango would work with the other ingredients, but it did, and it did so beautifully. Excellent.

The next dessert was fun, as it was pretty much the same (if more complicated) dish, that I had eaten at the Harwood. Rhubarb was served with Pepper sorbet and a few bits and pieces. Fresh, delicious and very well made. Very good.

The last was the classic date and custard tart. Hard to fault, just very good, although one could add an element of freshness in there somehow, as it is a little on the sweeter side of things. This taken apart, its delicious. Excellent.

The brigade here really is on top form it seems, we had the luck to eat a very strong 2* meal, which was lurking into 3* territory. At least for me. Service was great as it always is here, and in addition to the best food in London, the most charming service brigade, one has the most reasonably price wine list in all of the city’s better restaurants.

The Ledbury, London

mars 2, 2010

Eating at the Ledbury has become one of the must do’s for anyone visiting London, or living here. At least in my book. Brett Graham, recently awarded with a 2nd star from Mr. Bibendum, cooks the most interesting, food in London, and is among the best chefs in the UK without question. However, that’s not all, as the service brigade is equally great. Led by John Davey, who really knows what he does, these guys are fantastic. Hayley, who led me through my last meal too, did a fantastic job tonight, and the new sommelier Yoann Vasquez equally deserves his fair share of praise.

The meal here started with a glass of 1999 Pol Roger, which I find very good, especially after a little while in the glass. To follow, we had a very enjoyable 2003, Chablis Grand Cru Valmur from Raveneau, which took quite a while to open up, but whose last drops were phenomenal. To accompany our meat courses, a bottle of 2004, Auxey Duresses from Jean Francois Coche Dury was a memorable experience. This was a most pleasing wine, which was perfectly balanced, even at such a tender age. I will forever remember that first (and the subsequent) sip(s), as this ranks very highly in my red wine tasting life. Alongside this, Yoann poured me a glass of 2002, Gevrey Chambertin 1er cru Clos St. Jacques from the Domaine Fourrier. This was a very fine wine too, but I much preferred the Auxey Duresses, which was already much more approachable. As we had something to celebrate, we had a glass of 1996, Chateau d’Yquem and a glass of 2002, Chateau Suduirat for the desserts. I had the ’98 Yquem a few days earlier at the Square, which was a little underwhelming, but this was what I hoped Yquem would taste like: It was incredibly close to perfect, and quite simply exquisite. The Suduirat was not a bad drop neither, but looked a little pale next to its big brother (both figuratively and literally).

Some of the wines of the night

To accompany the Champagne, we had the obligatory beetroot/foie/gingerbread macarons, which were as good as ever. Very good.

macarons

The menu for tonight was put together for us by Brett and a few of the dishes (in fact most of them) were not on the night’s menu itself we were told. To start off, we were served a new creation: Frozen Foie Gras with Quince, Banyuls and Gingerbread Crumbs. What looked like a, nowadays quite trendy, pile of earth, tasted like heaven. The frozen foie gras was grated like cheese, giving it an incredibly light feeling, whilst retaining its powerful taste, and came with nicely crunchy gingerbread, reduced Banyuls and quince puree. This reads pretty sweet, but was a masterwork of balance. Every flavour was spot on, and the whole thing was already one of the (many) highlights of the night. A masterpiece.

Foie

Next up were Hereford Snails in a Mousseline of Herbs with Pickled White Carrots, Cepe Marmalade and Roasted Oxtail Juices. I don’t particularly like snails, they are often a little tough, and don’t really get me all that exited. Normally I don’t. Here however, the story was a very different one. The snails were as tender as it gets, and the surrounding mousseline gave them an additional unctuous, rich texture, which accompanied them greatly. A little cep powder gave some texture as did the slightly crunchy white carrots. The full-bodied oxtail braising juice boosted things up even more, and one was yet again completely won over by this course. Excellent.

Snails

The next course’s smell reached me before the plate did: Raviolo of Potato and Egg Yolk with Black Truffle, Onions Cooked in White Beer and Grated Vacherin. A large raviolo was filled with a runny egg yolk and mashed potatoes, to make a tasty, rich base for the black truffles. This was a great dish, but unfortunately, the lack of salt left it a little pale. Usually the food here is nicely seasoned, but here, they were a little too careful with the salt. Not that it was a massive problem, as salt and pepper stand on the table, but the first bite is that little less overwhelming, when the seasoning is not spot on. Once I gave it a pinch or two more however, the truffles suddenly woke up. Now the combination worked, even though there might have been too much egg yolk for the truffles, as the former overpowered the (very good) truffles a little bit. This being said, this was a very fine course, be it less memorable than the rest. Very good.

Raviolo

Roast Scallops with Cauliflower Puree and Wakame Brown Butter. A simple dish: Just a little puree, some scallops and seaweed butter. Does one need more to be in paradise? Probably not much, as this was stunning. The scallops, whilst not overly big, were perfectly cooked, and of stunning quality. This was serious stuff, and the combination worked beautifully again. The iodine flavours of the seaweed gave the scallops that little kick that made them shine even brighter. Excellent.

Scallops

Unfortunately we had to go to the meat course already: Calves Sweetbread Roasted on Liquorice with Carrot, Verjus and Chanterelles. First of all, the accord with the Valmur was unreal in this course. When drunken with this course, the wine suddenly was even more complex, rich and fruity. The meat itself was perfectly prepared: Crunchy on the outside, delightfully creamy on the inside, these sweetbreads worked beautifully with the other elements, and made for another simple, but excellent dish.

Sweetbread

The second main course was a Shoulder of Pyrenean Milk Fed Lamb Cooked for Twenty Four Hours with Baked Jerusalem Artichokes and Winter Savory Milk. Atop crushed navets sat a rectangle of slow-cooked lamb shoulder, which itself was topped with crunchy Jerusalem Artichoke skin. The meat’s texture was really interesting on this one: It was cooked at a low temperature, simply wrapped in plastic foil, not braised. This gives it a tender, but at the same time less mushy texture than braised meats have. One still had a little bite to the meat, which was great. The Jerusalem Artichokes made for a very successful accompaniment, and we had yet another excellent dish.

Lamb

A little cheese was needed to finish the red and white wines, before going to dessert, and the small, carefully chosen board remains my 2nd favourite in London (behind the phenomenal one in the Greenhouse). Oatcakes and another type of bread a freshly baked, and one is offered grapes, and other little things to go with the cheese.

fromages

Now, Brett knows that I do like my desserts, so when Hayley came up to us and said that there probably wasn’t enough space on the table for all of the desserts they were about to unload on it, I was smiling like a little child that sees the Christmas tree. We were served the integrality of the dessert menu, which was absolutely great.

To start, I tried the Raviolo of Rhubarb with Buttermilk and Hibiscus. This was essentially a re-worked version of the pre-dessert I’ve eaten at my last visit, and was very good. The only slight drawback here was the jelly, that served as the skin for the raviolo: It was a little too jellified, and hence tasted a little unpleasant. Otherwise, this was a refreshing, light dessert, with some very fine doughnuts on the side. Very good.

Raviolo

Next up was the Passionfruit Souffle with Sauternes Ice Cream. Now they make a very, very good soufflé here, and dare I say, it beats pretty much all of the other London soufflés by quite a margin. With the ice cream, it is a refreshing, perfectly balanced soufflé, that makes this absolutely perfect. Excellent (not to mention how this eats with a bit of Yquem on the side).

Souffle

Caramelised Banana Galette with Salted Caramel and Peanut Ice Cream was the dessert I didn’t quite enjoy when I first came to the Ledbury back in November. This time, the bananas were caramelised, cooking and making them crunchy at the same time. This resolved the problem of them being nearly raw, and lifted the dessert up by quite a margin. The ice cream with this was stunning. Very rich, with a noticeable salty background, and delicious crunchy caramelised bits of peanuts, I can’t praise it enough. Excellent.

Galette

Date and Vanilla Tart with Cardamom and Clementine Ice Cream. A very pretty presentation for a great dessert. Basically, a little date puree is topped with a custard, and the whole thing sits on a normal short-crust pastry. With it comes a very refreshing ice cream, which makes things look a little lighter, and gives the otherwise quite sweet dessert the needed acidity. Excellent.

Tarte

The Bergamot Lemon Tart with Assam Tea Ice Cream was a rare treat. These lemons have a very short season, and are quite hard to get. I was grateful to Brett, to let me try this, as I know Bergamot only from tea, and have never tasted it in a dessert or dish for that matter. Again it was a great combination, perfectly executed, although the Assam tea ice cream was perhaps not the best accompaniment for the whole thing, at least for me. Excellent.

Tarte-bergamot

The mignardises are always spot on, and I finished the meal with a glass of Billecart Salmon Brut Rose.

Mignardises

Wow! Brett and the whole brigade blew me away again, for the third consecutive time. This really is a special place, that needs to be visited by any serious foodie in London. Right now, I believe this address to be the finest in the city, as the food is technically at the same level as that of Herland and Howard, or Bonnet but seems even more exciting, bursting with energy, and freshness. Alongside the stunning service, one feels more than comfortable here, and I can confidently say that the second star is more than well deserved.

The Square, London

février 23, 2010

The Square is probably the best place in London for some highly consistent, British-influenced classical haute cuisine. However, it also has a remarkable wine list, the joys of which I start to explore. It also is priced in a way that makes you want to try bottles you normally wouldn’t even consider looking at.  I would say that alongside the Ledbury, this is the cheapest wine list in a London 2* restaurant.

It was my birthday and I wanted to celebrate. As my mother invited me a couple of days later to the Ledbury as a birthday present, I was about to have a very enjoyable week (there was some ballet in there too). There might have been a few minour issues (e.g. not filling up the bread when your bread plate is desperately empty) on the service side tonight, but apart from that everything was fine here. The kitchen ran more or less as smoothly as ever too, with only very small, hardly noticeable slips happening here too.

I started with a glass of 1999 Pol Roger, which drinks very well at this moment in time, and we then had a bottle of outrageously good wine: Anselme Selosse’s Contraste. I don’t have to tell much about it, other people know far more about the man and his story, but I can assure you that this is a monster. It was a pity to drink it pretty soon after opening the bottle, but throughout the evening this wine grew and grew. It was without doubt one of the most intense, complex Champagnes I have tasted, and made me fall under it’s charm right away. It does not get much better I suppose.

However, our great sommelier, who did a terrific job throughout the night, poured us also a glass of 2002, Puligny Montrachet 1er cru “Les Referts” from Louis Jadot, a 2007, Chateauneuf du Pape, Clos de la Roquete, a 2006, St. Joseph Les Vinsonnes from Alain Voge and to finish off the night a glass of 1998 Chateau d’Yquem and some Francois Hemart Rose. The wines were all very good, but the Yquem was a little underwhelming I must say. It was the first time I drank Yquem and it didn’t blow me away, as I had expected it would.  I must say, that I enjoyed Kracher’s Grande Cuvee no.12 much more for instance, but well, I was to see how good Yquem can be a few days later…

We started with some new amuses bouches: There was a black rice cracker with tarama, a squid ink puff, some prawn sticks and a cornet filled with foie gras. These were all very good. Especially the fantastic foie gras cornet, and the very enjoyable crackers with the tarama caught my attention. The only less good elelement was the slightly dry prawn stick, which lacked prawn meat or a more juicy farce. The squid ink puffs were very nice too, and accompanied the Champagne beautifully. Very good.

We then moved to the Salad of Thinly Sliced Baked Root Vegetables with Eiswein Vinegar and Goat’s Curd. I don’t know what happened to the kitchen here, but this was really not good. The beetroot slices were cooked, hence of a rather uninteresting texture, not seasoned, and the other elements couldn’t lift things up sufficiently. The overall taste was a little dull, nearly muffled. I can probably say that this was the poorest dish I’ve eaten in this restaurant. This was miles away from 2* food, and therefore quite unusual for such a consistently good kitchen. Not good.

The next course was great though: A Tasting of Rock and Native Oysters. On a plate was arranged a little variation of oysters, which included a bouillon, a deep-fried one, a smoked one in a creamy sabayon and a marinated oyster with Caviar.  This was perfect as a dish. Everything worked, and was very well made. We seemed to be back on track, which was good. Very good to excellent.

Saute of Scottish Langoustine Tails with Parmesan Gnocchi and an Emulsion of Potato and Truffle. This classic doesn’t need any description anymore, and it was just as good as always, although the gnoccho was maybe a tad firmer than usually. Excellent.

I had requested scallops with black truffles, and this was what I got: Roast Isle of Orkney Scallops with Crushed Cauliflower and Perigord Truffle. For the first time, I saw a scallop in piece in a British chef’s restaurant, and I can tell you that that alone made me happy. The dish was great, maybe one of the best of the night, as the classic combination of scallop/truffle and cauliflower was brilliantly executed here. The truffle cream came with plenty of punch, and the cruched cauliflower had more texture than a puree would have had. The only pity is that many restaurants don’t seem to shave their truffles tableside, which just adds so much to the magic of the black diamonds. This really was a great dish, and  was excellent.

The next dish was one of the best fish dishes I’ve eaten at the Square: Saute of John Dory with Hand Rolled Macaroni, Calves Tail, Leeks and Chanterelles. What reads like a dream in itself was a beautiful dish. The fish was of very very fine quality: Firm flesh, juicy and very tasty, it stood up well against the macaroni, and the otherwise rather robust filling of these. Here we had a great dish, which combined two fine ingredients in a most harmonious way. Excellent.

It was time for the main course: Roast Pigeon from Bresse with Caramelised Butternut and a Confit of Trompettes de la Mort, Chestnuts and Rhubarb. When the dish landed on the table I was quite surprised by the rather unusual looks of it. There was no saucing at the table, or anything like that, everything was right there, and it did look a bit bizarre (i.e. messy). But well, who really cares about what things look like? Taste-wise it was great. The pigeon was masterfully cooked, tender, and tasty and the confit gave it a very complex foundation. To finish things of, there was the beautiful jus and of course the deep-fried leg. The latter was great, meltingly tender, and wrapped in crunchy kataifi pastry it was delicious. I was very surprised how well the rhubarb worked in this. It didn’t stand out as a negative note at all, rather it brightened things up a little. A great winter dish! Excellent.

I tried the cheese board, which unfortunately didn’t feature any very old hard cheese, but had some very good other choices.

After this, we tried A Tasting of Stilton. This was basically a mousse made out of Stilton, with which was served a little fruity garnish made out of grapes and other fruit. It was nice, but I much preferred the normal cheese board. Good.

Desserts were to come, and I got a small portion of the Brillat-Savarin Cheesecake with Passionfruit and Lime. This is one more of those classics, which are always brilliant. Excellent.

The final course was a Rum and Raisin Souffle with Banana Ice Cream. This was a much better soufflé than the one I ate in April, as it was not overly sweet. Need I say that it was perfectly made and that banana, rum andd raisins work well together? I don’t think so. It was very good, but I still have trouble to get too excited about soufflés. Very good.

This was an interesting meal. I drank some incredible wines, of which the Selosse will be remembered as one of the greatest wines I’ve ever tried. The service was great too, as perfect as always here. I hugely enjoyed the evening, even if the kitchen was a tiny bit little less precise than usually, but those were really small slips, which nearly went unnoticed. There were some great new dishes, which showed how good Phil’s cooking is in winter, when such heart-warming dishes just work, and I can only say that I will be back sooner or later. Probably sooner, as I still believe to be among the very best in London.

The Square, III, London

décembre 28, 2009

La Salle

The Square is a restaurant which is nearly an institution in London by now. During the last years, Phil Howard and his team have cooked their way up to becoming one, if not the best restaurant in the city. This was my third meal here, and I enjoy it more and more to come here. The team is great, with David O’Connor leading a young, motivated brigade, and a great sommelier from the Auvergne called Marc, who recommends some rather drinkable wines.

La Salle II

The restaurant has changed its plates recently, which look decidedly more modern, even if they stay in the same style. The rest is still the same, with very good glasses, china and crockery.

La table

Being truffle season, Phil prepared a menu that mixed this and that, with the addition of truffles in various forms. Bread was better than on previous occasions, as it had a much more crunchy crust, which I hugely enjoy. The selection of bread remained the same too, and offered raisin and nut, brown and a white baguette. I started off with a glass of 1999 Pol Roger brut, which was very good, and disappeared quickly.

The first course of the meal was THE classic of the house. The Saute of Scottish Langoustine tails with gnocchi…. Was a huge pleasure again, even if I have eaten this dish on a number of occasions already. It is just something you don’t get tired of, and the quality of the langoustines is absolutely outstanding. Every time. Today we had the pleasure of meeting a particularly sizeable piece, which had that slight crunchy texture,  that often doesn’t come across on langoustines. Even in very good restaurants, most langoustines are of rather mediocre quality, but here they are among the finest I have come across. The texture is purely magical. In combination with the gnoccho, this is one very successful dish. Outstanding and one of the finest starters in London and Europe maybe.

Special Cuvee No.17, 2007, Hatzidakis, Santorini

La LANGOUSTINE

The first course was a sweetbread with a cauliflower and white truffle salad. Around it was a bit of parmesan jelly and some toasted almonds. The whole thing was sauced with a little veal jus.  This was a very well cooked sweetbread. Creamy on the inside, and just right (otherwise the texture is not so pleasant), it tasted marvelously. With the truffles (under it), the smell of the dish was simply unique. The fermented cauliflower brought some crunch, and underlined the truffles’ earthy tones. This was what the Square does best: Simple, perfectly executed dishes, relying on fine products which will beat most other London restaurants. Excellent.

Tokaji Furmint Nyulaszo, 2005, Istvan Szepsy, Batthyany

Le ris de veau

Up next was a John Dory with truffle butter, winter minestrone and shaved parmesan. The striking thing about this dish was the fish. It was by far better than any fish I’ve been served in this restaurant, as it was pristinely fresh, firm, juicy and tasty (the previous meals I’ve had here had some very good fish too, be it not at the same level as this). The combination with the pungent, powerful truffle butter was very, very comforting and enjoyable. It gave the fish a much more robust, round taste. The minestrone was very nice, but didn’t add much to it, although it didn’t hurt neither. In this case, the fish with that butter would have sufficed on their own. Very good, and excellent for the fish in terms of quality, cooking and combination with the butter.

Puligny Montrachet Les Referts 1er Cru, 2002, Louis Jadot, Burgundy

Saint Pierre

Ah, now this was  special, something a continental European will not see in restaurants, as it is illegal, at least in France. Roast woodcock with white truffle spätzle. Simple, yet incredibly tasty, and perfect. The woodcock (Becasse in French) was roasted, and served with the head, out of which one ate the very tasty brain. The breast itself was very tender, with a unique taste. It was the first time I have tried woodcock, and I hope that I’ll come across a few more, as this really was special. In combination with the spätzle, and truffled butter/oil, the dish was a lesson in straightforward product-centred cooking. A great dish. Excellent.

Saint Joseph, 2007, Stephane Otheguy, Northern Rhone Valley

La Becasse

The main course was a play on an English classic, something which I always love here, as it is less common to have “English” haute cuisine that is well made and works. A venison Wellington was served with cabbage, beetroot and a simple jus. The venison was perfectly cooked, and tender, but the real star here was that cabbage. I don’t know what exactly was in there, but it tasted glorious. Nearly as good as some divine cabbage I can remember from a meal at Sonnora a few years ago, which has since then been my benchmark for it. Very good.

Barbera, 2006, Mac Forbes, King Valley

Wellington

It was the first time I tried cheese here, which is now supplied by Paxton & Whitfield. We had about 6 cheeses, which all were very good. None of them was life changing, but all of them had a very high standard. At the moment the restaurant is changing its cheeseboard, and experimenting with ageing, different cheeses and so on, so one might have to come back in a few months to see what they will be like then. Very good.

Alvarinho Superior, 2005, Dorado Moncao, Vinho Verde DO

Les Fromages

Vin de Voile, 1997, Robert PLageoles, Gaillac

As my companion has never been here before, she had to try the Passionfruit and lime cheesecake. It was as glorious as ever, and is only surpassed by Pierre Herme’s divine cheesecakes. Seriously, a meal with this, the langoustines, maybe some foie gras, a turbot dish and some meat will be as good as it gets in London, and on very safe 2* territory. This dessert is always perfectly executed, and never fails to impress me. Great stuff it is, and outstanding too.

Chateau Coutet, 1997, Sauternes-Barsac

Cheesecake

Being just before Christmas, we were in for a special treat. A Christmas pudding. Very British, many don’t like it, but when a place like this claims to make the best in the land, my curiosity is sparked. Here it was served with a custard and an ice cream. The latter’s components I have unfortunately forgot to note, but I can assure you, that it fitted in very well with the theme (there were hints of spices, and a most convincing texture). Anyways, it was a damn good Christmas pudding, although it remains one filling dessert. Not one for the calorie obsessed of our times. But, those will most likely not be amongst the readers of this blog anyway. This was probably as good as a Christmas pudding gets, so I can see why they put that on the website. Very good to excellent.

Pedro Ximenez NV, Ximenez-Spinola, Jerz de la Frontera, Andalucia

Christmas Pudding

As mignardises, we were offered clementines and some kind of special (British?) Christmas pastry. Nice play here  on the theme of Christmas, which is always nice to see, especially if the pastry is of such good quality.

Mignardises

This was my third meal here, and the third time I had a great time. The staff are great, and our sommelier Marc chose some very interesting, and very drinkable wines to go with our meal. One feels well here, probably just what Phil Howard strives for. For anyone in London, temporarily or permanently , a visit here is a must for the cooking here combines classical French elements with contemporary adaptations of British cooking in a most successful way.

The Square II, London

mai 30, 2009

 

La Salle

La Salle

 

 

The Square has become a favourite of mine. The restaurant, situated in the heart of London’s most exclusive part, Mayfair, has it pretty much all: Great service, great food, great wines, not quite so great décor, but well, that is something you can easily forgive. Furthermore, the cooking here never deceives, even if it might not be the most inventive. But then, they don’t wish to reinvent the world.

 

For those who have never been here, the restaurant has a bar, where one can enjoy an aperitif or a digestif and a main dining room. Simple, but all one needs for a meal. The room certainly won’t figure among my favourite ones, but they did what they could to make it as interesting and appealing as possible. Tables are well spaced, and beautifully dressed with the finest cutlery, crockery and glassware.

 

La salle 2

La salle 2

 

 

The service was as great as last time, maybe even better. Not only did David O’Connor’s brigade do a faultless job, but all of them were very informative and charming at the same time. Not a single time, did I have to wait for a question to be answered or for anything to be refilled (like an empty glass or something of that kind).

 

la table

la table

 

 

The wine list should be mentioned. Not only does it have an impressive selection of Burgundy wines, but it also proves to be an exception to the rule of British wine lists. This is so, because it is ridiculously cheap. Consider, for instance a Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, which costs somewhere around 42-53£ in a shop. Here, they charge a mere 62£. Have you ever seen such a thing? This kind of pricing will not even be found in any European (maybe a Spanish) restaurant. The sommelier, Marc, did a terrific job and chose a nice selection of wines to go with our menu. Note, that some of the wines were brought by me, so don’t wonder if you don’t find them on the list.

 

To start the evening in a good way, I had brought a bottle of Champagne Bonnaire Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru, 2000. This was a wine, which both my father and I found very delectable. It might have been the reason for its swift disappearance. But, before the bottle was emptied, we had the first round of little snacks:

They consisted of a Parmesan cracker, a foie gras cone, a beetroot “flag” filled with goat’s cheese, an arrancino and a puff pastry/anchovy stick. All of them were very good, with special mention for the foie cone and the arrancino. This is just what you need to get your palate started, whilst you peruse the menu. Very good.

Canapes

Canapes

 

 

Once seated, the butter (now from Bordier in St Malo) and bread made their appearance. The bread wasn’t quite as good as last time, which was mainly due to the lack of a real crust. Apart from that, the raisin bread remains my favourite, with the baguette coming last. It would be great to see one type of bread that changes throughout the year. That way both the cooks and the diners can maximise their pleasure.

 

les pains

les pains

 

 

To start the menu, I had to have a classic: Lasagne of Dorset Crab with Cappuccino of Shellfish and Champagne.  After the first bites were ingurgitated there was a short silence. One needs a bit of time after such a rewarding spoonful. This is a dish, a perfect one. Two layers of green pasta sandwich a filling made out of crab meat, which is then drowned in emulsified crab bisque and finished off with some Champagne foam. The whole thing lives of the intense flavour of the shellfish, which is always a stunner, if brought to you as clean as here. The sauce was remarkably intensive for being this foamy. I can really understand, why this is such a classic of the house and would urge anyone who comes here for the first time to include this and the following dish in their menu. Fantastic.

 

 

lasagne

lasagne

 

 

 

 

This was paired with a Riesling trocken, Forster Ungeheuer 2007 from Dr Von Bassermann-Jordan, which was already very enjoyable despite it’s youth.

Riesling

Riesling

 

The second course was another signature of the house: Saute of Langoustine Tails with Parmesan Gnocchi. Howard uses live Scottish langoustines, which really do make a difference (the fact that they are alive when shipped to the restaurant not their origin). The langoustines here must be among the very best that you will get in a long time. They have this incredible texture, only very, very fresh, perfectly cooked langoustines have. The gnoccho was slightly firmer than last time, but still better than almost anything I have had in London (with exception of Foliage’s gnocchi). To adapt the normal truffle topping to spring, we were served a few slices of morels with it, which probably was more powerful than the former truffled version. I don’t know,  why Howard uses such large morels, but they had much much more flavour than I had expected from such gigantic funghi. This remains one of the top 3 dishes in London along with the Greenhouse’s Pigeon and Ducasse’s Rose and Rasberry pleasure. Stunning.

langoustine

langoustine

 

 

This was served with both a Champagne Gosset-Brabant Blanc de Noir Grand Cru Ay and a Chassagne Montrachet 2006 from Bernard Moreau. The latter fit the dish much better, but I, being a huge Champagne fan, did enjoy the pairing with the Champagne too. In fact I’m waiting for a good restaurant to offer a menu, entirely paired with Champagne (Les Crayeres does it with great success).

Chassagne Montrachet

Chassagne Montrachet

 

A third and last starter was the Assiette of Foie Gras with Elderflower and Orange.

This was served in two parts. A little “ club sandwich” made with foie gras, smoked duck breast and orange marmalade provided a lovely mouthful. There was a fantastic constrast between the meaty duck breast, the smooth, creamy foie, the bittersweet orange and the crunchy bread.  The main plate contained poached foie with a duck consommé and an onion confit (not sure about the last part). The poaching of foie is probably my favoured way of cooking it. The liver will have a lovely texture and lose it’s overly rich appearance, if cooked properly. Just that you know, here, it was cooked perfectly. With the liberally salted, fully flavoured consommé, this resulted in a fantastic combination. Excellent.

 

foie

foie

 

 

To go with this, we were offered a very nice Jurancon moeulleux “La Magendia de Lapeyre” 2005 from the domaine J. Bernard Larrieu. This had a lovely balance between sweetness, acidity and a slightly bitter finish, which worked marvelously with the orange marmalade.

 

jurancon

jurancon

 

 

For fish, we had a Roast Turbot with a Sour Dough Crust, a Puree of New Season’s Garlic and Chopped Morels. This is another winning combination. After all, turbot, morels, hearty chicken jus, the crunchy sour dough crust and the lovely garlic puree deliver some highly comforting textures and flavours. It was simply fantastic quality of turbot, as good as I had a week earlier at Ducasse. Here too, the flesh was delightfully meaty and firm, which really marks a turbot’s quality for me. It wasn’t "matured" for very long, which I prefer to letting it hang, as it results in this really firm texture that makes turbot stand out from many other fish. Also, the piece came from a sizeable beast, which must have been much bigger than those you usually see in most restaurants. The only problem was the parsley foam, which made the crust become slightly soggy. Apart from this, it was another excellent dish.

turbot

turbot

 

 

On this and the subsequent course, we were served a Gevrey Chambertin “Clos  Prieur” 2005 from Marc Roy which I greatly enjoyed with the meaty turbot. It was interesting to see some red wine being served with turbot, the second time for (after ADPA) and I must say that it does make sense.

Gevrey Chambertin

Gevrey Chambertin

 

 

The one course I had to add to the menu were the Roast Calves Sweetbreads with a Crisp Potato Rösti, Crushed Broad Beans, Grilled Shallots and Morels. I did miss both the Rösti and the grilled shallots, which must have been forgotten. This was a bit of a shame, as I kind of wanted to try a Rösti from a 2* chef, but well, another time… The rest of the dish will certainly not be forgotten any time soon. This was a hearty spring dish, which was just lovely. Note that Howard does salt his sweetbread dishes at the level where some would call it over-salted, I for once, do like it, but a tiny bit more and it’s ruined. The sweetbread was cooked a little longer than last time or pressed more, thus less creamy and a bit firmer. This did work quite well, as the broad beans provided some creamy note. The morels were present, but could have been more powerful. All in all, this was an excellent, simple dish.

 

ris de veau

ris de veau

 

For main, we had a Herb Crusted Saddle of New Season’s Lamb with Spring Carrots. A generous portion of delightfully pink saddle of lamb (at least that’s what I guessed it’s colour might have been, seeing that the room as as dark as the night outside) came crusted with herbs. With it came tiny mint jellies, carrots and a Jersey Royals emulsion. Now, the lamb was very good, but not of the same quality as the other products. The whole dish however, worked beautifully and I was delighted to see this play on lamb with mint sauce. Especially, as it was a very good version of it. I really liked that the jellies were hardly noticeable as such (which is good), only giving their flavour to the dish. This cut the richness of the buttery foam and bound the whole thing together. Very good.

 

agneau

agneau

 

 

With this the sommelier offered a Barbera, Mac Forbes, 2005, Kings Valley, which was good, but maybe not my favourite wine of the evening. It did work well with the lamb though.

 

Barbera

Barbera

 

 

The cheese came in form of a Tasting o Barckham Blue. This was an intelligent construction around this blue cheese, which featured a number of preparations of it. All in all, I don’t quite remember what they all were, but the whole thing was a clever idea. Very good dish.

 

Blue Cheese

Blue Cheese

 

 

To go with this, we had a Marsala 10 y.o. Superiore Riserva. Marco de Bartoli which was enjoyable, especially with the relatively strong cheese. Maybe a bit sweet but interesting.

 

Marsala

Marsala

 

 

We paired all of the three desserts with an absolutely stunning wine, that you won’t see on the list neither. It was a Grande Cuvee Trocken Beeren Auslese N12, 1995 from Alois Kracher.  Good boy, this wine was a real winner. It is just hard to put into words, so I better leave it there and say that I can’t recall many wines that could match this one’s intensity. It certainly provided a good accompaniment to the end of this beautiful meal.

 

empty TBA N12

empty TBA N12

 

 

The first dessert to make it to our table was a classical Eton Mess. Of course, you wouldn’t get it in a way a British schoolboy might remember it, but rather, Howard does something quite interesting to it. He serves it in two parts, a bit more interesting than the original, if I may say so. The little glass contained a strawberry juice topped with a delightfully fresh Champagne foam. The main dish was made up of a strawberry jelly, fresh strawberries, a vanilla panna cotta, dried strawberries, meringue and some kind of crème mousseline or so. If all British food were that good, or done in such an interesting way, I would have to reconsider my judging of it, but at the moment, there are only very few restaurants in which British chefs cook British food, that really is that good. In this case it was spectacular. Again, it is such comforting food, as everyone (even a Luxemburger like me) can relate to the dishes or combinations. The fact that it was made up of such a multitude of layers made it only more interesting. Excellent.

 

Eton Mess

Eton Mess

 

The second dessert came in form of the famous Brillat-Savarin Cheesecake with Kentish Strawberries. The last version I had been served featured some tropical fruit, this one on the other hand featured truly British fruit. I can’t tell which version is better, as both are beautiful. Seriously, the only better cheesecake I have eaten in my life was made by… a Frenchman! Yes that sounds strange, but apart from Pierre Herme’s Satine, no one comes close to this cheesecake. It is quite rich, that is a fact, but the creaminess and crunchy base do make it a beautiful dessert. The strawberry-tea sorbet was very refreshing, which woke the whole thing up. The only not so convincing element on the plate was the little spherified ball of strawberry with some sponge underneath it. This just didn’t fit in with the rest. The sponge was too dry and the ball too big to be eaten at once (cutting it destroys the fun of the spherification). It also featured on the previous version, but I seriously can’t see any  reason for its long life. However, seeing that the cheesecake and sorbet were this good, one can easily forgive this.

 

Cheesecake

Cheesecake

 

 

The third and last dessert was the Mocha Souffle with “Dulce di Leche” Ice Cream and a Small Tiramisu.

The tiramisu looked like a funky battlefield. Not bad, but cool, in it’s own way. However, it had one huge problem: The little caramel tower was awfully sweet. Also, the sweetness of the other parts, and especially the pears, was just too much. The different textures made sense and made this little side dish interesting, but the exorbitant sweetness was a bit heavy at the end of such a great meal. The soufflé itself was very good, pretty moist, which seems to be the chefs’ style and not too sweet. However, the ice cream added some more sugar to it and the chocolate sauce, which came last (in a very generous serving) just killed the dish. After the addition of the sauce, all that prevailed was unpleasantly sweet chocolate taste. The other elements completely lost their role in the dish. To let you know, this was the first time I didn’t entirely finish a dish, which is a pity, as it could have been a very good one.

 

souffle post-ice cream, ante-chocolate sauce addition

souffle post-ice cream, ante-chocolate sauce addition

 

 

The petit fours consisted of the fantastic truffles and a little selection of different spears. All of them were very pleasing and provided a nice end to the meal. Coffee here is very good indeed, which isn’t always the case. To finish the evening in a decent way, we had some Armagnace from Helene Darroze, which was just as old as I am.  This most certainly was a very nice way to finish such a fantastic meal.

 

Petit fours

Petit fours

 

As I said already the Square is one of my favourite restaurants in London. The food here features some noteworthy British and French produce that get treated respectfully and very capably by a very good brigade. Another thing I like about Howard is that he sticks to classic combinations, which very often do work much better than throwing a stick and looking where it lands. He does serve the most comforting haute cuisine that I can think of, not overstretching his diners’ intellectual capacity, which makes a meal here relatively “easy” to enjoy. The fact that he introduces a couple of British dishes into the menu should be noted: On my visit he did a coronation chicken, the lamb and mint sauce dish and Eaton Mess. I didn’t have the luck to try the chicken, but the other two dishes were great, which makes me hope that their share on the menu will increase in the future. If he manages to cook some real British haute cuisine (which I don’t find anywhere else in London), it would make the restaurant stand out even more. So, the 6hrs I spent here featured one highlight after the next. I couldn’t really say which dishes were my favourites, if I had to, I’d have to say that the signatures are always outstanding, the Eaton Mess, Foie and Turbot were equally good. The only less interesting dishes were the sweetbread and the lamb. This might have been because two elements were missing, but the way I had it, it wasn’t as perfect as the others (the sweetbread that is). This being said, it was a perfectly executed dish, which I would say was very good as such. Apart from these, slightly less interesting courses, the only real problem of the meal was the very, very, very sweet last dessert. If one reduces the sugar in the caramelized pears, leaves the chocolate sauce away, this will be a fantastic end to a fantastic meal.

In conclusion, I can only recommend the Square to anyone, who wants to spend a great time, enjoy great wines at very good prices and have food that stays constantly at a very high level in terms of both execution and product quality. 

the colour of the Kracher

the colour of the Kracher

 

 

There will be one more highlight from the UK before I return to the Continent for some great places.

Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester-III, London

mai 15, 2009

 

 

La Salle

La Salle

 

 

Jocelyn Herland doesn’t have an easy job. Since he joined Alain Ducasse’s restaurant at the Dorchester not too long ago, he had to live with some vile, mostly unjust criticism from the British press. Of course, a restaurant doesn’t serve the most stunning food right after its opening, but considering that this particular restaurant bore the name of Alain Ducasse, expectations were,rightfully so, very high. When the critics ate their way through the menu they made it a sport to criticise every possible element of the restaurant. To be honest, one must say that he wasn’t the only one who was criticised without much reason. His compatriots Helene Darroze and Jean Christophe Ansanay-Alex had similarly negative reviews from most of the major British newspapers. In the latter’s case, it went as far as being very personal, the reason of which escapes me. But, Herland tries his best to deliver well-made, product focused food of the highest order, as far as it is possible. Being realistic, he acknowledges that  the comparatively low price they charge here limit his creativity. In Paris, the cheapest menu is a mere 260euro, in Monaco, you can expect to pay similar prices. This being said, one thing has to be mentioned. For prices as low as these, one can simply not expect the same products, amount of work or perfection than you have in these other places. Therefore, it would be wrong to judge Parisian restaurants on the same standard as those in London. Although, there are always sparks here and there, not many but they do exist. 

 

La Salle 2

La Salle 2

 

 

When one sets foot in the Patrick Jouin-designed room, one immediately sees how successful this refurbishment was. Jouin has created a light, warm, modern and welcoming room, where one feels more than well. This young designer is quite talented, as his various projects around the world show (amongst them are the famous Auberge de l’Ill and ADPA). For those of you, who want to spend a bit of extra money, there is the so-called table lumiere, a table for 6 or 7 people, completely cut-off from the rest of the restaurant by a wall of some fancy light sticks. In this little cocoon, you will see the (Hermes) crockery change according to the season and can expect to pay 1300£ for your meal (drinks exclusive).

DSCN0601

La table lumiere

 

 

The rest of us sits equally well in the normal room of the restaurant. At lunch, the sun (if it does shine) shines through the windows, and you have a lovely view on Hyde Park, which lies vis-a-vis the restaurant on the other side of Park Lane. The tables are widely spaced, which is a rare pleasure but the background music really isn’t necessary in a restaurant of that standard. However, they don’t have it running for dinner, which would not fit with the ambience that reigns here.

la table

la table

 

 

The service is as good as always and is remarkably knowledgeable which is always good. The sommelier presides over a nice selection of wines, that aren’t that crazy, in terms of price. Bottles start at 30£ and for 45£ you have a decent selection of interesting wines. Those who want to celebrate can decide to have various vintages of Yquem (up to the 1930′s), or any of the other big Burgundy or Bordeaux producers. I let the sommelier choose the wines for me today, and must say that he did a very good job.

A meal here always starts with very good gougeres. They are light, slightly crunchy and go very well with a glass of champagne. It’s just a classical combination that is hard to beat. Of course. this is nothing that you don’t find elsewhere but very well-made and very pleasing.

 

gougeres

gougeres

 

 

A few words about the bread. It came in four different varieties: Baguette, sourdough, olive and some kind of epi. It is baked in the house, which as we know, is a rare thing in London. The bread is probably the best you can find in any London restaurant and shows, once again, that it makes a difference if you do your job properly. With it came very good salted butter and Fontainebleau, which is very light, both in texture and seasoning.

Les pains

Les pains

 

 

After this, I got some barbajuans, little Monegasque ravioli, stuffed with squash and ricotta. These are then deep-fried and served piping hot. They always blow me away at the Louis XV, in Monte Carlo, and here they weren’t  in the worst of shapes neither. The little ravioli are unbelievably light, well seasoned and most importantly, extremely comforting to eat. Also, the squash/ricotta filling worked even better than the spinach/herb/ricotta version I had at my last meals in Monte Carlo. Excellent.

 

Barbajuans

Barbajuans

 

 

Following this comes the amuse-bouche. Today, it was a brunoise of courgettes, a cream of artichokes, an artichoke a la barigoule and a tomatoe emulsion. All flavours were there, and the elements were well cooked, but I didn’t understand, why they served this cold. It just tasted a little empty at this cool temperature, not as rich as it would have when served slightly hotter or at least lukewarm. Good not more.

Amuse

Amuse

 

 

The first course today was a guinea fowl consommé, guinea fowl and foie gras ravioli and crispy thighs of the same bird. All in all, the dish could have been great. The ravioli were of stunning quality, cooked perfectly, the crispy thigh was equally well cooked and the consommé had very clean flavour. It shows how much work is put into these dishes. Take the thighs for instance, they are slowly cooked, boned, de-nerved and then pressed. The skin is then pressed on top of these pieces and the whole thing is pan-fried until crispy. The only problem I had with the dish, was that the whole thing lacked  seasoning. Once sprinkled with a (rather substantial) bit of fleur de sel, the whole dish seemed much better and was very good.  I don’t know if the whole collection of herbs were needed, but they didn’t disturb neither. Very good if relatively uninspiring (with exception of the crispy thighs, which were lovely).

consomme de pintade

consomme de pintade

 

The second dish brought the meal back on track. Two very big scallops, left whole – thank god – came with grilled squid, primavera jus, black and white pasta and confit tomatoes. All in all, it was a stunning dish. The scallops were, as always here, of exceptional quality and cooked to the very best. The squid too, were very good and tender. The accompanying pasta and jus (made out of asparagus, peas and broad beans) gave it a bit of a fresh backbone, which justified the title. This truly was a fantastic dish, that shows, how satisfying such a relatively simple composition can be, if made well and based on the best products that is. Excellent. This is one tip I can give anyone who goes to dine here: Get a dish with (cooked) scallops! Over the last few months I tasted various preparations around them and all of them were stunning.

 

Les saint Jacques

Les saint Jacques

 

 

The main toady was another fantastic dish. Especially in London where you don’t necessarily expect to get such divine products. Turbot was coated in Champagne-sabayon served with green asparagus and crayfish. Now this is a classical dish, that never fails to impress if it is made from such amazing products. The turbot, cut from a huge beast, was delightfully firm and tasty, which I missed with the turbot I had here in January. Also, it was cooked in a way, that let it retain its "fatty", gelatinous side, which normally only comes after having cooked it on the bone. The accompanying crayfish and asparagus were equally fantastic. Note that the asparagus were pan-fried after having been blanched, which lets their flavour come out fantastically. Combined with the lovely sabayon, which still had the slight sparkle of the Champagne, this was one rewarding, perfectly executed dish. Outstanding.

Turbot

Turbot

 

 

Desserts here are easily the best in London. Even those who don’t particularly like the restaurant do acknowledge that fact. In general, I find desserts at Ducasse restaurants to be among the best you’ll find anywhere. Even in some of his less bombastic restaurants like Spoon at Marignan or the Abbaye de la Celle, they serve perfect desserts (the rest is less spectacular in those places). It always puzzles me, when you get served some mediocre dessert after a fantastic meal. After all, a dessert only needs a good recipe that is followed meticulously. Today, I had a lemon and strawberry dessert, that showed, once more, how good the patisserie here is. Sandwiched between layers of arlettes (thinly cut, caramelised puff pastry) came a lemon crème chiboust (a creme patissiere to which one adds some Italian meringue), marinated strawberries and a strawberry sorbet. This was just a perfect dessert. I couldn’t see why you would not go to this restaurant, be it only to try the desserts. In fact, one should sit down there and eat the whole dessert carte. Outstanding!

Fraises/citron

Fraises/citron

 

 

Seeing that I’m a bit too gourmand, I asked for a second dessert, which was directly obliged, with this little chocolate triangle. A tender chocolate mousse came with a thin soft biscuit and a crunchy coating. Very good, strong chocolate flavors in pleasantly different textures. A bit ordinary, but very well made. Very good.

 

chocolat

chocolat

 

 

The mignardises are equally good here. Macarons, the best you’ll find anywhere in London come along with piemontesi, little gianduja filled cookies, caramelised almonds, a few caramels and chocolates. At dinner, they also have a lovely cart carrying huge numbers of different sweet treats. All of them were perfect, as is quite a lot of stuff here.

 

Mignardises-1

Mignardises-1

 

Mignardises-2

Mignardises-2

 

 

 

I can’t really see, as I have written many times, why some people despise this restaurant as much as they do. You get some of the finest food in London here,  that goes without a doubt. Also, the service, wine (the list isn’t any more expensive than that of Ramsay, Darroze or any other restaurant of that class) and décor all add up to deliver something close to a complete experience. There is, of course, the odd dish, which will be a bit less good than the rest but I’d rather have one that isn’t as great and a few others that really work. The 2 stars are completely justified by now. If Pied a Terre has two, this easily deserves them as well. I can even see why you would give it an espoir for the third, provided you choose well.

Upon leaving, you always have one desire: Come back, as soon as possible! (Although, I will try a few different places in the meantime and give them some time to develop).

 

 

le lustre

le lustre

Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester-II, London

mars 17, 2009

I had another very good lunch here today. 

As the weather was a little more friendly today, the sun shone through the large (but dirty) windows, which illuminated the room beautifully. Service was pretty much perfect as usual. 

Amuse was a royale of broccoli with a few raw vegetables, and a olive sauce. Very well made, tasty little amuse, that sets the palate up nicely. Very good.

This was followed by a dish that quite simply blew me away: Scallops with Jerusalem Artichokes, Endives and Black Truffles. Now scallops can be good. They can be very good even, if they’re fresh and treated with enough respect. These on the other hand, were simply amazing. Huge pieces, cooked perfectly with the intensive truffled jus, the slightly sweet Jerusalem Artichoke and the very discrete bitterness of the Endive/Truffle poelee. I simply haven’t come across such an accomplished dish in quite a while. Everything was right here. You simply could not find anything wrong with this dish. The Truffles were very strong taste-wise and the whole was just very harmonious and sooooooooo pleasing to eat. Truly divine.

Main was a Braised Halibut with a Vin Jaune sauce, Shrimps and blettes. The tastes here were again very strong, perfectly balanced and very comforting to eat. The shrimps were quite simply delicious (slightly crunchy texture). The only problem I had was that the Halibut, due to the fact that the very tasty Shrimp/Nut crust was gratinated on top of it, was slightly dry on the edges. Now, for some this might have still been ok, but I found that it was slightly over-cooked. Apart from that it had lovely frim flesh and was very well seasoned. In general this is another very mature, tasty, gratifying dish to eat. Even if the fish was a little over-cooked, I would say it was very good, excellent if the fish were cooked to perfection.

The dessert was interesting. Having been to Monte Carlo (Le Louis XV) twice during the last 2 years, I tried to of their signature desserts, the Louis XV au croustilant praline and the glace au lait entier et a la fleur de sel. Both of these are amongst the best desserts I’ve encountered on my travels across Europe and are worth the trip to the Riviera on themselves. What Herland did in his version of the Louis XV is give it a much more beautiful presentation and adding the Milk/Salt ice cream a part. This was as perfect as the Scallop dish, simply unbeatable, even if the combination of both isn’t necessarily needed (I don’t complain though, as this ice cream is about as good as it gets). Amazing.

A few words about coffee and petit-fours: They are both of top-quality. The macarons are the best I’ve found in London (correct me if I’m wrong), the chocolates too, are very well made and tasty. 

In conclusion I can only say, that this is a very good restaurant indeed. After some starting problems Herland seems to find his way. Even if not every dish is on the level of these Scallops, the bar is slowly but steadily raised. If I had to look for one restaurant that could deserve three stars pretty soon I would point to this one. It just represents all you want from a 3*: Great food, very good service, luxurious room. 

The only thing Herland could maybe stop doing is doing dishes they do in Paris or Monte Carlo in a more elaborate version. This just doesn’t do him justice, as he definitely is one of the very best chefs in London, one who has the ability to produce perfectly executed, very mature dishes, who might be classical, but in the best sense of the word.

Pied a Terre, London

février 5, 2009

You will not find many restaurants, serving a lunch menu that is better, or at least as interesting as the (more expensive) a la carte menu.  I can think of Pic, Les Ambassadeurs, Le Louis XV and, in London Foliage. Pied a Terre is another one of  these. Shane Osborn’s cooking is often criticised as being too complicated, featuring a multitude of unnecessary elements on each plate. If one looks at the reviews of others (Food Snob for instance), one sees that Osborn isn’t exactly a minimalist chef. He much prefers to construct dishes consisting of many, small, technically perfect components. The menu du jour (24.50£ for 2 courses) features Osborn’s cuisine, without the extreme complication of the normal dishes. Here, he focuses on top quality products and relatively classic taste combinations. 

The restaurant is relatively small, cozy and  it’s atmosphere is quite relaxed for a 2*. It is also noteworthy, that it is one of the rare restaurants without a dress-code.

At lunch, one is greeted with a spoonful of pumpkin foam and ginger oil and a little foie gras spread between two sheets of philo pastry. Both  are very well made and set the palate up in a most enjoyable way, especially the foie. 

 

amuse bouche

amuse bouche

As the restaurant had run out of both of the menu’s starters I was offered a Jerusalem artichoke risotto. This was a very pleasing dish, were one could only criticise the slightly overcooked rice (I guess that it was cooked this way to adapt to the Brits’ taste). Flavour-wise this was strong, simple and very comforting. Not quite what you see on the starters of the alc menu. Despite the cooking mistake, I would still say this was a very enjoyable dish.

 

Risotto

Risotto

After this, we were offered a dish from the tasting menu, which let us enjoy a remarkable piece of fish: Poached Sea Bass, Truffle Crust, Romanesco, Chanterelles. Pinenuts, Broccoli Veloute. Despite the complete standstill of the British economy during the preceding days and Osborn’s allergy against fish (he can only touch it with gloves!) this was on solid 2* level. Perfectly cooked, beautiful sea bass, with a crust that reminded me of the one I had a week earlier at Foliage (sole) and different broccoli preparations. All in all, every element had a very precise role on the plate and resulted in one hell of a dish. Excellent.

 

Sea Bass

Sea Bass

Pan-Fried Cod, Ragout of Chick Peas, Chorizo, Red Peppers and Sea Kale, Parsley and Lemon Emulsion. Yet another excellent fish dish! This might have been the best piece of cod that I’ve had since Erfort last year. The cod was of pristine freshness and cooked to utmost perfection. One can hardly say a negative word about the dish, as it was the second brilliant, if rather classical, dish from a chef who can not even touch the main ingredient!

 

Cod

Cod

My companion decided to take cheese, which featured a beautiful Epoisses, a nice little salad, the quintessentially British crackers and some rather mediocre chutney. 

The pre-dessert was another part of the tasting menu: Apple Mousse, Rhubarb Veloute, Yoghurt Crumble. The second time that I come across this strange British winter rhubarb, although it was a very pleasant meeting once more. The freshness of the rhubarb, the very present yoghurt taste in the crumble and the apple mousse were yet again a very pleasing, excellent combination of flavours and textures.

 

Rhubarb

Rhubarb

Coconut Rice Pudding, Mango Jelly, Coconut Biscuits, Mango Sorbet. At my last visit, the desserts were not on the same level as the previous parts of the meal. This time, the dessert did not fail to impress. An amazingly intensive, fully-flavoured mango sorbet, very light, fresh rice pudding wrapped in a delicate jelly and a pleasant coconut emulsion created a simple but very refreshing dessert. Excellent again.

 

Mango, Coconut

Mango, Coconut

After this we had their top quality petit-fours and some coffee and at 5pm, left as they finally closed the place for a well deserved break.

 

What can I say after my second meal here? In general, the relaxed atmosphere, extremely friendly, warm and attentive service all add up to the great food that Shane Osborn serves. The sommelier, Matthieu Germond, always suggests very interesting wines to accompany each dish and can offer a wide variety of regions, not always present in the UK’s top restaurants: Luxembourg, for instance, whose great wines are hardly known outside of the countries borders. Another strength of the wine list is Austria, which is present with different regions.

It might be the small room, the lovely service or simply the great cooking, but Pied is definitely one of the most comfortable British top-restaurants.

Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, London

janvier 21, 2009

 

After having tried a few dishes at Ducasses’s restaurant at the Dorchester in October, I decided to go back to celebrate my birthday. Just a few days before my visit I came across the new Michelin rating: Jocelyn Herland (chef de cuisine) was awarded two stars and marked as a rising three star! Amongst the foodie world a hefty discussion broke out immediately. Most have visited the restaurant directly after the opening 14 months ago. Back then Herland told me, the dishes they sent were not at all what he expected and the constant improvement is clear today. But let us not rush things…

The most friendly staff welcome you very warmly and champagne is offered to accompany those extraordinary Barbajuans, little fried ravioli from Monaco, and Gougeres. The Barbajuans are just as good as at the Louis XV, the legendary 3-star in Monte-Carlo. The Gougeres are also very pleasan, if a little mildly spiced for my taste.

Next up, we were offered bread, all three types were excellent accompanied by very good butter and Fontainebleau. The latter didn’t really excite me, but my companion enjoyed it.

When we finished our champagne the first part of our menu arrived: Delicate royale de foie gras et potiron, emulsion fumee. A wonderfully rich royale of foie gras which interacted beautifully with the diced pumpkin and the smoked tea emulsion. A great way to start a meal.

 

emulsion de foie gras

emulsion de foie gras

 The first "real" course of the menu were the grosses langoustines d’Ecosse en salade tiede, jus coraille. Lovely, crunchy langoustines with (considering that it was January) fully flavoured tomatoes, chicken strips, a anchovy/parmesan mayonnaise and a langoustine jus. A very pleasing, refreshing dish, that portrays the kitchen’s understatement perfectly: These chicken strips are in fact the legs, which are cooked, boned, de-veined, pressed and then covered with the skin. This little package is then pan-fried until crisp. This immense amount of work behind the different components doesn’t show, unless you know it, or have some knowledge of the cuisine here.

 

langoustines

langoustines

 

To continue, we were served a stunning adaption of a classic from ADPA:  Noix de Saint-Jacques dorees, pommes et coings en beaux morceaux rotis au beurre demi-sel. The scallops replaced the lobster here, and the dish was simply one of the best scallop dishes I had in a very long time. Perfect quality of the products, extremely precise cooking and great combination with the sauce and the garniture. Along with the Barbajuans the best dish so far.

 

Saint-Jacques

Saint-Jacques

After such a strong dish, the following one had a big problem: I had tasted the "original" version of it in Paris in September. At ADPA it was probably the best dish of my life, but here the dish was slightly less complex. Also the turbot wasn’t of the outrageously good quality as the one I had in Paris. However, it was still very good, with a lovely sauce and delicious gnocchi. Would I have not had the original, I would have loved this dish right away.

 

Turbot

Turbot

As you probably noticed, the lighting suddenly became much darker. It seems to be trendy in London to make restaurants so dark that you barely see what you have in front of you. 

The meat for me was another star of the night: Filet de chevreuil roti, potiron et chataigne, sauce Grand Veneur. Perfect venison in another great sauce. The only slight fault here was the mildly seasoned punpkin, but that is an affaire de gout. Excellent, nothing that will change your life, just comforting enjoyable food on the highest level.

 

Chevreuil

Chevreuil

 After the four (plated) cheese, which in general were fine. We came to the best part of the meal, that is the sweet stuff.

I had the Barre coco-caramel, sorbet citron-vanille. Ducasse restaurants are sure to deliver some of the best desserts around, if you go to the trendy Spoon, the not quite so brilliant Abbaye de la Celle or any haute cuisine restaurant, you can be sure that the desserts will be better than many you’ll get in some 2 or 3-star places. Here this doesn’t really change. Perfect execution, very well thought out tastes, all you need.

 

Coco-caramel

Coco-caramel

 

My companion was served the dessert I had at my last visit: Carre gourmand framboise et rose. This is an outstanding dessert. If there is one dish to be tried here it is this one. It is really on the level of the best restaurants in the world, that should be enough.

 

Framboise

Framboise

 

 

 

The petit-fours are on the same very high level. Macarons are simply irresistible and only Pierre Herme makes better ones. 

What can one say overall?

The evening was a real pleasure. This is partially due to my friend, but the food certainly played a role too. It was perfect throughout: excellent quality products, extraordinarily execution, mature, well constructed dishes and reassuring combinations. It is clear that you won’t find the most inventive, crazy cuisine here, but that should not be what you expect of Ducasse (or in this case Herland). It might not be able to deliver one oustanding dish after the other, but there are more than enough excellent ones (desserts, scallops, foie gras, barbajuans). What you get here is simple cooking somewhat between the simplicity and strong flavours of the Louis XV and the refined neo-baroque of ADPA. Herland’s brigade is running like a watch by now and really deserves the two stars. Overall this was much better than Ramsay for instance, or any restaurant in London I’ve tried.


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