Articles Tagués ‘Stephen Harris’

The Sportsman, Seasalter

avril 9, 2010

The Sportsman was the third stop on my friend’s trip to London. After a lunch at the Square, and a dinner at the Ledbury, we took the train from Victoria to Faversham on a beautiful sunny day, in order to arrive just on time for lunch at Seasalter. After having opened our wines, we were greeted by Paul Weaver, who’s in charge of meat here, and cooks his stuff with incredible stability and precision. As Stephen Harris wasn’t in that day, I was quite interested in seeing how much the cooking would differ from days in which his presence graces the house. Let this be known, I wouldn’t have noticed his absence had I not known it, although he didn’t bring out the food, which he usually does.

Wine-wise, we started with a beautiful 2007 Grüner Veltliner Honigvogl from Franz Hirtzberger. Wow, I have tried a few GVs over the years, but this is a world apart. Incredibly concentrated, perfectly balanced with beautiful fruit as a base, this was a great wine. After this we had a bottle of 2006 Condrieu from Yves Gangloff. With an impressive 15% degrees of alcohol, this wine was a bomb. I absolutely adored it, and must say that I haven’t ever had a better Condrieu in my life. There was such an impressive structure in this wine, that I can’t say my words can describe it accurately. To accompany the meaty part of the meal, we had brought a 2001 Chateau Montrose. My first encounter with this wine, it was still a bit too young, but drank beautifully. One could see how much potential was in this wine. A great discovery.

The final glass as ordered from their list, a simple NV Pol Roger Champagne, which is a very enjoyable BSA and very fairly priced here at a mere £7 a glass. All in all, it was the third day in a row with outstanding bottles. Life can indeed be very enhjoyable!

But, the food here wasn’t bad at all today I must say, I’d even go as far as saying that it was the best meal I’ve had here so far. To kick us off, an oyster with apple sauce and a sliver of their own ham was served. A dish of immense beauty and great flavour, this was a beautiful way to start what was to become a memorable meal. The oyster, needless to say was simply exquisite, and the sauce worked magnificently well with it. Excellent.

Next up was the classic nibble board. As great as usual, this is always excellent.

The next little bite was one to remember. Look at the beauty of this simple composition, a baked oyster was topped with rhubarb granite and sprinkled with a buttery sauce. Absolutely perfect balance here, I loved this. Excellent.

The next course was no less good. A rather well-sized scallop came roasted, topped with morcilla and apple granite. If a dish ever featured 100% perfect balance, this was it. Every element was calculated to add to the whole, and made this an unforgettable little plate of food. The cooking and quality of the products was without doubt exceptional too, which made this a sublime combination. Outstanding.

The next scallop dish is disarmingly simple, even more so than the first we had. A single, large scallop came in its shell, dressed with some of Stephen’s seaweed butter. I’ve had it on my previous visit, and wouldn’t be able to tell a difference. Both times it was a very satisfying dish. Very good.

The last scallop was nearly as good as the first of the bunch: Roasted with a parsnip puree and crisp, it was another simply great dish. The parsnip’s sweetness matched the scallop perfectly and made for a very successful combination. Excellent.

Up next was the second time I had the wigeon. This time it was even better than the first, even if the meat looked a bit dry at first. It was more tender, juicy and the flavour was even more clean. This is a great piece of cooking, which is hard to beat. Excellent.

A few slivers of the Seasalter ham Stephen cures was better than on the last visit (it was cut thinner), and very pleasant.

One of the finest dishes of the day was this turbot. Of substantial size, the filled sat atop some cabbage, and came with caramelised fennel, crispy pork belly, and a Champagne sauce. Classical seafood cooking can not become any better! This was a truly perfect dish. The turbot had great flavour, superb texture and was timed in a masterful way. The sauce was so damn good, that I can’t say if I prefer this or the Vin jaune one. With the outrageous pork belly on top, I was in heaven. However, the cabbage underneath the fish was not to be forgotten, as it was cooked in order to have some bite to it, and was beautifully flavoured. DIVINE.

A welcome start to the meaty section of the menu was the deep-fried lamb shoulder. Just as on my first visit, I had to ask for more of this, only to find out, that we got the very last pieces of it. Hhhhhmm, sad sad, but well, it’s still bloody good.

I was glad to see the mashed potatoes disappear in the lamb dish, as they didn’t add much for me. This time all we had was great lamb (with the perfectly crisped skin I so much adore), and some hearty jus. A few greens, made this complete. Excellent.

Cheese today was very good again, with this great Ashmore. Very good.

A classic British dessert was to be the final part of the meal: A custard tart. Simple but delicious, this only confirmed my belief, that tarts are the finest desserts that the Sportsman serves. So far, the lemon, chocolate and custart tarts haven’t ever deceived me. Excellent.

Finally the mignardises tray arrived. This could still have some fine tuning done to it, as it has some weaknesses here and there, but it’s nonetheless very good.

A little walk on the beach made the day perfect. I would even go as far as saying that this might have been the finest meal, that I’ve eaten at the Sportsman so far. Everything was perfect, from the greeting, to the food, the wine and even the otherwise often lousy British weather. Such moments should be cherished and will not be forgotten. I love this place, and do so more and more.

The Sportsman, Seasalter

mars 7, 2010

Stephen Harris is passionate about the food he serves. He goes to remarkable lengths in order to serve his guests the best possible product in the most suitable way. There are no fireworks on the plate here, just perfect, simple dishes, that completely rely on absolutely top quality local products. By the way, local really means local here, as the vast majority of the stuff comes from either the sea in front of the restaurant, the salt marshes besides it, or the garden next to it. This is serious, and the experience of eating here is unique due to exactly this.

Whenever I go here, I come with at least one friend, and we all bring wines. This time I brought a 2002 R.H. Coutier Grand Cru Ambonnay Champagne which great power (100% Pinot Noir from Ambonnay), was vinous and just beautiful. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to let it sit and open up a little, but it still was a stunning wine, especially when one considers its price (I paid around £45 for this). After this we had a few glasses of 2000 Chablis Grand Cru Bougros from William Fevre, which was, just like many other Chablis’ quite closed at first, but then grew and grew in the glass. For  the meaty part of the meal my friend brought a 2003 Alion, the second wine from Vega Sicilia, which was a very very enjoyable wine, that fitted the game we were served today brilliantly. The crown jewel today was a 2001 Yquem. Now, I know that it’s quite young to drink Yquem, but in such a vintage, it already tastes bloody damn good.

The meal started with the inevitable pork scratchings with herring, apple and soda bread. These are certainly some of the most enjoyable little nibbles around, and the quality of the pigs, reared just outside the restaurant, makes these scratchings easily the best I’ve come across. Their texture is simply astonishing: Crunchy on the outside, nearly creamy within, they have a somewhat slightly sweet taste. The herring was top quality, and worked brilliantly with the apple and soda bread. Excellent to outstanding.

Next up was a scallop with Seasalter ham and apple. the products were top quality here, the scallop having a delightful texture, and great taste, that was somewhat overwhelmed by the apple mousse. When one put the latter aside, the dish worked and was beautiful, so the second scallop was great. I would imagine this to be brilliant, if one slightly warms the ham, so that the fat is just melting… . This was very nice.

The next part of the scallop tasting was one cooked in seaweed butter, and the other cooked in Espelette butter. This was exemplary cooking of scallops: Uniformly perfectly cooked, they were stunning, that’s all one can say. The seaweed butter (made by Stephen, just like the Espelette one and the ham, among many other things) gave the one scallop a slightly iodine note, reminding you of it’s origin, whilst the Espelette butter gave the other scallop a very warm, slightly spicy note, which was beautiful too. This was brilliant minimalism, that lets the product stand for itself. And only for itself. Excellent.

Following this, maybe a little too late, as the butter in the shells would have been brilliant with the bread, came the house made bread. The foccacia here is stunning: The bottom is caramelised, so that it is crunchy, and its taste is very broad and rich. The other two types of bread are equally well-made, and are simply brilliant. The home-churned butter is in the same league: Fully-flavoured, rich and beautiful. Stephen’s self-collected salt finishes this butter beautifully. Excellent.

Salmagundy- a salad of winter vegetable with a smoked egg yolk. A traditional Kentish dish, that is something similar to the Garguillou from Michel Bras, or any other vegetable dishes like those Ducasse serves in Monaco or Passard in Paris. Here, a smoked egg yolk adds brilliance, and each of the cooked vegetables just tastes of itself. It’s just very well made, and shows again, how interesting, and good one can make a few vegetables taste. One of the highlights of the meal. Excellent.

The next highlight was just about to come: Smoked wigeon, puy lentils and quince. A very rare, if not raw, wigeon, was slightly smoked and served with a few lentils and a quince puree. This was a melt-in-your-mouth tender piece of wigeon, which had remarkable taste. I’ve never even heard of such a bird before, and I was more than surprised by its brilliant taste. Marvelous!

A little taster of Stephen’s Seasalter ham cured in January 2008 was good, although it still is a little tough on the teeth. The last fine tuning will probably still need some time. Very good.

The next dish showed just how good Stephen Harris can cook turbot: Turbot with Chestnuts, bacon and parsley sauce. This was a beautiful piece of turbot, perfectly cooked and seasoned. All it needed were a few, supporting elements, that made for a brilliant dish. The combination with the turbot and bacon particularly made the meaty character of the fish more pronounced. Excellent.

The Roast Saddle of Venison with watercress puree, bread sauce and red wine sauce was another winner. Perfectly cooked, the very tender meat was accompanied by very convincing little sprouts of broccoli, creamy polenta (or mashed potatoes, I don’t recall exactly) and watercress puree. The sauce was exemplary in both texture and taste, and in general it was another dish, that just let the ingredient shine, and boy did it shine bright. Excellent.

Moving on, we had some cheese, which was very good, as usual. Stephen still sometimes goes to Calais to get the cheese he wants, which is one more sign of his incredible commitment to his products.

The dessert round started with the Pear ice lolly with ginger cake-milk, which was as good as ever. The milk giving the light, slightly sour sorbet a more rich foundation. Good.

The Chocolate tart with tangerine ice cream was beautiful, with the lemon tart probably the best dessert I’ve eaten at the Sportsman so far. This was very powerful, and didn’t really work that well with the Yquem, but it was excellent.

To accompany the Yquem, Stephen was so kind to bring us a little piece of a fascinating tarte tatin. This was a very fine tarte tatin indeed, and worked brilliantly with the Yquem. Excellent.

To finish this amazing meal, we had the usual selection of little desserts: Apple sorbet, gypsy tart ice cream, shortbread and chocolate mousse with salted caramel. These were all very good, only the chocolate mousse still escapes me. It’s somewhat not really interesting, even if well made. Very good.

This was another very fine meal at the Sportsman. Stephen pulled out all the stops and I spent a very happy few hours down in Seasalter. As I, and a few other people already said: The Sportsman is an experience. It’s about the incredible products, the simple but perfect cooking, the place, the very friendly, but uncomplicated service, and the stark contrast to London, from which a number of diners come down. Come here and forget the rest of the world. You’ll not regret the somewhat complicated journey!

The Sportsman, Seasalter – II

novembre 15, 2009
La table

La table

The Sportsman has become one of my favourite restaurants in the world. This simple British pub by the seaside offers a unique concept, that makes me look forward to meals here with the same excitment as some of the finer 3* restaurants do. After my fantastic lunch in June, shortly before returning to Luxembourg for the summer holidays, I was ready for a return. The crossing of the channel on the way back to London at the end of those holidays seemed to mark the perfect occasion for a return visit. So, after a long drive and a lovely ride on the ferry (with less a less lovely crowd), I was ready for another great meal.

At night the place looks even more cosy and warm. The wood reflects the candles’ light beautifully and bathes the room in a most hospitable light. Not much has changed here in terms of interior design, and those great Van Gogh toilets are still there too.

Wine wise the list has not got the widest selection, but does not fail to offer some real steals and most interesting wines. We went with some Pol Roger brut to start and finish the meal, a Pouilly-Fuisse and a fantastic Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses from William Fevre.

CHablis

CHablis

The first mise en bouche has not changed from last time: A piece of baked local oyster is served with gooseberry granite and a creamy sauce. The high quality of the oyster is apparent, and its iodine strength is curtailed by both the cooking process and the sweet/sour gooseberry granite. Very good.

Oysters

Oysters

Next up was one of the best snacks in England: The famous pork sratchings, served with mustard and a herring on soda bread, with apple jelly. The pork scratchings (from Old spot porks that are being fed apples at the moment) are delightful: Warm, crunchy, perfectly seasoned, a true delight. The herring is no worse than the scratchings, although in a completely different category. Here, freshness, acidity and the herring’s distinct flavour are the main protagonists, whilst the scratchings are a slightly richer affair. This is food, that so many English pubs could do without spending nor working much. After all, pork scratchings are an absolutely amazing thing. Outstanding, for both, although one could eat a few more of those little scratchings…

Pork scratchings

Pork scratchings

Another little snack appeared now. Angels on horseback, or deep-fried, lardo wrapped oysters. The lardo (pork fat, that is rubbed with salt and spices, then matured like ham in caves) is made by Stephen, and is absolutely great. Whitstable native oysters are, rather unique in shape (look at the shells) and taste, and do taste absolutely amazing. The combination is divine, and there is not even any overpowering saltiness here. It is perfectly balanced in every respect. The little dollop of apple sauce wakes things up a bit and gives it a little, very welcome tartness, that goes more than well with the dish. Outstanding.

Angels

Angels

Bread here is always a treat. This time, there was the classic focaccia, sourdough and soda bread. Together with Stephen’s own butter, it is quite simply outstanding. I probably have written about this already, but the crust of the focaccia (the bottom one) sees a beautiful caramelisation of the oil, that results in an absolutely outstanding texture. The sourdough was absolutely perfect too: Crunchy crust, nice, aerated centre and a very good taste. It’s a shame that many restaurants don’t manage to produce bread of that quality, but on the other hand: It is one more reason to come back for! Soda shan’t be forgotten, as it is no less well made. The butter has an incredible punch to it, that mass produced butters simply do not have. Divine. (no picture, but for those interested, look at the first post on the Sportsman).

As we came late, Stephen had to serve us one of the meat dishes a little earlier: The Local wood pigeon roasted in salt was fantastic however. Baked in a salt crust, it didn’t only retain its full aroma, but also the tenderness and moisture. Accompanied by a pigeon jus, cabbage and horseradish it presented a slightly modified version of a classic combination. I have very good memories of a Mieral pigeon, that I ate at Helmut Thieltges’ (3*) restaurant in Germany, with similar garnishes, and this one was very close to the 3* one. The incredibly concentrated pigeon flavour matched the jus and rather buttery cabbage perfectly and the horseradish gave the whole thing a little spiciness that complemented those rich, full-bodied flavours fantastically. Outstanding.

Wood Pigeon

Wood Pigeon

Next up was a very minimalist dish. The Slip sole in seaweed butter reminded me a little of a tradition Alexandre Bourdas has started in his Honfleur restaurant: the direct. He serves one product with one seasoning in the middle of the menu, to bring the diner the pure flavour of that product. This dish was very similar in conception and was very successful again. The only problem was the rather soft meat of the sole. Now, I do not know if that is due to the fact that it might have been matured or, to its tender age, but I do prefer the firm flesh of sole that is caught shortly before being eaten. Apart from this personal taste question, the dish was beautiful. The home-made seaweed butter (Mr. Bordier might want to have a look what’s going on over in Seasalter) gave the sole a much broader, complex and rich taste, that injected a full dose of sea into this delicate dish. It was incredibly powerful, but not overwhelming and was simply beautiful paired with such fine fish. I can imagine something similar with a nice, fat scallop… Excellent.

Sole

Sole

Following this, we got to the now well-known Seasalter Ham cured in April 2008. As mentioned earlier, Stephen wants to use every single part of the pig (the French have a saying that tout est bon dans le cochon) and thus started making his own ham. The fruits of this process are evolving, but the main problem remains the slightly dry meat. Compared to a good jamon iberico it lacks that incredibly luscious meltingly tender creaminess, but that certainly is no more than a question of time…

Ham

Ham

Steamed wild bass with smoked herring sauce. This sauce is a classic of the Sportsman, and one can easily see why. Not only is it incredibly fine, but also punchy and tasty. The concept must be rather similar to that, which Bernard Pacaud serves with his bar de ligne, only that the herring roe replaces the sturgeon’s. In combination with the rather soft, fine, but at the same time incredibly tasty meat of the bass, this sauce was a true winner. The slightly crunchy beens gave the dish the needed textural interest and thus acted as a counterpoint to the rather iodine flavours of the sauce and fish. Excellent.

Sea Bass

Sea Bass

I had asked Stephen if we could have some pork and pigeon, and he did oblige, as I was about to find out. Tenderloin and belly of old spot pork. Was an absolutely perfect dish. A nice serving of pork belly with its tenderloin, some mashed potatoes, a tiny courgette and a hearty jus is all one needs to be in heaven. The unquestionable star of the dish is the pork belly. With its incredibly crunchy crackling, it is likely to be one of the better bellies you will find these days. The braised meat, hiding under that lovely browned top gives way to a spoon, and thus makes that combination of incredibly crunchy top and meltingly tender meat absolutely divine. The person that cooked the tenderloin deserves special praise. Such juicy, tender and tasty filet mignon has never been put in front of me. This really was a mind-blowing piece of meat (even though it couldn’t steal the belly’s show). The mashed potatoes were very good too, but somehow didn’t stand out in the way the other elements did. The jus had a very enjoyable, highly concentrated, pure pork flavour that was phenomenal. This really is a 3* dish, without question. Divine.

Pork

Pork

Cheese was omitted this time, and we got straight to dessert. First up was an espresso cup, filled with “cake milk” and wild blackberry sorbet. This cake milk is rather interesting, as Stephen lets a classic pate sablee or pate sucree infuse in milk, giving it a very rich, sweet taste, which accompanies the slightly tart blackberry sorbet marvelously. Very good.

Cake milk

Cake milk

The actual dessert was an Apple parfait with wild blackberry sorbet. A healthy serving of bramley apple parfait was topped with a tuile and a quenelle of wild blackberry sorbet (for whose repeated use, the chef himself apologised). Around it was a little caramel and some home made popcorn. The remarkable thing about this parfait was the incredible taste. The apple’s tartness (Bramley apples are very tart, as far as I’m aware of) came through despite the heavy taste of cream. Here, one had a very strong, but not unpleasant flavour of apple, in a most interesting form.  The acidity here really was quite intriguing, as it cut through despite the healthy dose of cream, eggs and sugar in such a preparation. The parfait’s texture was a little hard, due to the fact that it was too cold, but once it was left on the plate a little it was just as airy, creamy as it should be. Very good.

Apple

Apple

To finish the meal, a small selection of little desserts is brought to the diner. On the menu these are inappropriately named Rhubarb sorbet, but in reality there was some chocolate mousse, a plum, slightly glased with sugar and a sponge, infused with the plum’s cooking juices. With it came ice cream made from the plum’s pits. The concept of using every part of an ingredient is fantastic, and Stephen really makes use of pretty much every bit there is in a plum. But let’s start with the rhubarb sorbet. This is a bit of a classic here, and does taste of pure rhubarb, with good texture and all one can expect of a sorbet. The chocolate mousse was less interesting, but the plum was fantastic. The fruit’s flavours seemed to be concentrated by the slightly higher temperature. The sponge wasn’t bad at all, and had a present, if less pronounced taste of plum. The absolute highlight was the ice cream though. I suppose the pits are cooked and infused in milk, which is then drained and used to prepare the ice cream mix. The flavour was incredible, and the texture very fine. This was great ice cream! It somehow reminded me of a fig milk ice cream that Andoni makes at Mugaritz, which also uses parts of a fruit, no one else uses anymore. Very good.

Mignardises

Mignardises

A final little nibble was brought out to accompany coffee and we were ready to go to London.

This meal was probably the best way of coming back to England. Not only is the cooking here incredibly regional, but it also has a purity, maturity that is rare and can only be attributed to the very great chefs of the day. In addition to this Stephen’s cooking makes the best of local products and the British culinary history. Dishes like the angels on horseback (oyster fried in lardo) or the pork scratchings show only too well, how one can make the best out of English cooking, without necessarily touching or changing its foundations. My favourites this time were the wood pigeon, fried oyster and the pork dish. These were absolute masterpieces in terms of precision, taste, product quality, and everything else. The other dishes were not less amazing, as the report hopefully demonstrates. The only room for improvement I can still see are the desserts, which can be a little less amazing than the rest. This being said, the plum ice cream was staggering.

ice cream

ice cream

It is absolutely great to see someone like Stephen driving things ever further. There is a passion for the job, a real dedication to delivering the best there is. I can only call on your reason, and urge you to go here. You will have to look far in England to find better food, and a more enjoyable dining experience. Service really is as uncomplicated and charming as it gets.

The last bite

The last bite

The Sportsman, Seasalter

juin 11, 2009

 

le bar

le bar

 

Yea right…, that’s what I thought, when a certain Paul (now in charge of mains here) invited me to make the way to Seasalter for a meal at the restaurant he was working at. Why would I want to go to place that is this far from London and that I had never even heard of up to then?

This was sometime in October last year. I had just come to London, didn’t know anything about the place and found this on their website: We saw no limit to what we could serve at The Sportsman and happily sent out food that matched for flavour what we had eaten in 2 and 3 Michelin starred restaurants.

It sounded relatively pretentious to me. Somehow, it seemed quite like the nightmare British restaurant, where some fool thinks very highly of himself and serves absolutely horrible food (think kitchen nightmares’ worst cases), but as time progressed I heard more and more from some very knowledgeable sources. What was interesting, was the fact, that all of them had only one comment to make about the place: Fantastic, outstanding, best meal of the year,….

 

la salle

la salle

So, having written three of my four examns, I  made a trip down to the coast to enjoy a day away from the books. Taking the train down to Faversham was actually nearly as expensive as the meal I had, which should tell you a lot about this place’s pricing policy. The tasting menu here is a mere £55. Now, in Paris, that might by you a dessert in restaurants of the same quality, or a lobster claw. Certainly no more. Here, however, you get what I could say was among the best, if not the finest food served in the UK these days. 

la table

la table

 

The reasons that make me rate this place as highly as The Square, The Greenhouse or Ducasse at the Dorchester, are very simple: Products far better than anything the earlier mentioned restaurants use, in fact some of the stuff was as good as it gets, even on par with the best Parisian temples. Also, Stephen Harris, the chef, is someone who goes out in the morning to pick up some herbs by the sea, makes his own butter (not that that’s a great achievement, but it makes a hell of a difference!), his own ham, his own salt, grows his own vegetables,… Recently, he even started making the farm across the pub raise the breed of pork, chicken, veal and lamb that he wants to use. I don’t know how you would describe this, but it is somehow like L’Arpege, with the garden right behind the restaurant and prices that are around five times lower.

The house isn’t what I would call ugly, but it certainly isn’t in the best of shapes. Do I care? No, I certainly don’t in this case. Especially, since the interior is lovely, like the pub you always dream of as a foreigner in this country. Wood dominates it, which creates a very warm atmosphere. In winter, they have a lovely fire burning, which will heat up anyone coming through the doors. There are no Riedel glasses, nor is there Limoges porcelain, or silver cutlery, but do we need that? We may, if the food is not good enough to stand up there for itself. Read on, and you will see why this place doesn’t need it.

All in all, service was absolutely fantastic: Sweet, attentive and charming. They might not pour you wine, but why do we have two arms for? However, you do get more smiles than in a great deal of other places and they do make sure, that you feel well there!

As I said already, having made the journey down from London, I was in for the full show, nothing less. So tasting menu it was, £55 and a hell of a ride! Anyone coming down, be prepared for one of the best surprises you’ll have in your food life. And one of the most enjoyable meals ever.

 

Roederer

Roederer

To start us off, we had brought a bottle of Louis Roederer Brut Premier, which was as great as this fine non-vintage Champagne usually is. To not leave us without anything to go with it, we were given a first round of snacks: Oysters with gooseberry granite and beurre blanc. The oyster was poached and trimmed and tasted as good as an oyster can possibly. Together with the slightly sweet granite, it was the perfect start to this meal. I guess, that this is one of the best ways for anyone to get accustomed to oysters, even if they don’t like them. Very good and already highly indicative of Harris’s style: local ingredients, cooked in simple, technically  perfect ways, paired with some interesting, sometimes unusual elements.

 

poached oyster

poached oyster

Next up, came some serious stuff. Unfortunately, the portion barely sufficed, so we had to ask for another roun. The pork scratchings however, were truly fantastic. This was as good as pork gets, crunchy, tasty, tender, fatty (not too much though) and simply delicious. I love any part of the pork, and this was just what I had hoped to get here.With it came a pickled herring on bread. I can’t recall any better herring. Fantastic.

 

pork,  herring

pork, herring

Good lord, I thought, these guys do some real amuse bouches, send out little mouthfuls that are better than an entire meal at other restaurants in London. Why didn’t I listen to Paul in October and followed his advice? I began to realise that their description of the cooking wasn’t that pretentious after all, rather it was as fitting as it could possibly be.

Anyways, we continued with the butter that is churned in the kitchen and seasoned with the home made salt. This was some seriously good butter. I can’t really follow all of this butter craze going on, but in this case, I must make an exception. It was simply enormously tasty, rich, perfectly seasoned, creamy butter, that was as good as Arpeges famous Bordier butter. With it, came the house made bread. Three kinds were served : Sourdough, focaccia  and buttermilk bread. All of them were fantastic, but by far the best was the focaccia, which was as good as the one Mauro Colagreco or Illario Mosconi serve. It was drenched in olive oil and had a fantastically crunchy, nearly caramelised crust. This bread is listed as part of the menu, and, as ulterior epicure said, rightfully so. It really is fantastic.

 

les pains

les pains

Just in time for the first course, we opened a Luxembourgish bottle I had brought: A Riesling from Mathis Bastian, Premier Grand Cru from 2006. A wine from a very fine winemaker, who makes some fantastic vin de paille and vendanges tardives. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the best of his wines, but all, I had over here. It certainly was enjoyable and disappeared as quickly as the bottle of Roederer.

The next course was simply called Rockpool. It reminded me of Olivier Roellinger’s marine broth, in which he takes a mussel broth and infuses it with all kinds of herbs that grow on rocky coastlines. Here, Stephen got the basic idea from Pascal Barbot, on which he then created a very different dish. He went out early  in the morning to collect the herbs at the seaside. That is something not every chef can nor would do, but it certainly shows what passion he puts in his work. The stock itself, was made from the bones of a very large turbot, of which we were to see more later on. With it came some extremely juicy cockles and crab. The cockles were simply the best I can recall to ever have eaten, as they were not only juicy, but also extremely tender and tasty. All in all, this was the sea at it’s best. It just epitomised what one expects of a marine broth, and maybe went even further. A very delicate spicing with star anise, preserved mandarin, liquorice and lemon verbena awoke the dish and made it even more complex. Due to these touches, every mouthful gave you a different nuance. What can you say, fantastic and puzzling at the same time. Why do you have to eat this kind of food in a 1* pub, when a 3* in London can’t even serve you anything remotely close? Just look at the effort that went into this: Perfectly clarified, powerful, divinely spiced, truly outstanding!

Rockpool

Rockpool

I though the last dish was great, but what came up next surpassed it: Crab Risotto. Simple, slightly overcooked Arborio rice, mixed with brown and white crab meat and topped with a nice serving of more white crab meat. Some have already said it all: It tastes like the essence of crab. Pure, rich, decadent, great, iodine, outstanding… In this case, even the overcooked rice (deliberate choice, as Stephen told me) made sense, as the rest of the dish was quite creamy. This turned it into the best comfort food one can think of. Outstanding, even though I would prefer a risotto to be cooked al dente.

crab risotto

crab risotto

Next up, was another curiosity: Seasalter Ham cured in December 2007. I like a good piece of jamon iberico, or pata negra as it is often called in these waters. However, since I came this far north, I haven’t bought any, as I didn’t find anything that equals the quality you find in Spain. Plus, most people cut it on a machine, which ruins the whole thing. I guess that Stephen, obviously being an amateur of good, real things, wanted to have some nice ham for himself and went on and did it, like he does so many other things too. The result is not as good as a nice 36 month old Iberico de bellota de bellota 5J, but I was quite surprised at how good it was. The fat was deliciously tender and melted away, the flavour was deep, nicely salty and the whole thing had some very subtle sweetness. Only, the meaty part was somewhat drier than I had hoped. Don’t worry though, I am fairly certain, that these guys will get it right pretty quickly. In the end you might have some of the best ham in the made outside of Spain or Italy by the British seaside. Would you have ever thought that to be possible? So far, they aren’t quite there, so we shall come back from time to time, to see how the ham develops. As you can see, any excuse is good enough to go back here.

 

Ham

Ham

Just before reaching the fish course(s), we opened a very nice bottle: A Kistler Dutton Ranch, 2006. A fantastic wine, which had a great complexity and subtle smokiness, that accompanied the turbot beautifully.

Kistler

Kistler

Ah, this one was interesting. Seeing that the turbot was relatively large and had a substantial amount of roe on it, we were served a unique treat. They smoked the roe, which gave it a fantastic richness and went beautifully with the fantastic Kistler. It was the first time I ever had turbot roe, and I hope it wasn’t the last. The texture was highly interesting and I simply loved the full, smoky flavour of the eggs. Eaten with some of the buttermilk bread, it was a simple delight. Very good.

turbot roe

turbot roe

So, this was what we all waited for: Turbot braised in vin jaune with smoked pork. Good boy, look at the size of that fillet (it is only half of the fish, as they only served the top fillet). It was caught the day before, but already had this gelatinous feeling and it’s firmness started to break down. It wasn’t quite as firm as the one I had at ADPA, which must still be the benchmark turbot for me, but it certainly wasn’t very far away. This was one hell of a piece of fish. Also, it was cooked better than you could ever hope to have any restaurant cook a fish like this. The accompanying vin jaune sauce was as good as a sauce of that kind gets: rich in flavour, creamy, perfectly balanced. Truly outstanding in every sense. The asparagus were cooked to delightful texture, not as mushy as they often are, which I absolutely love. Don’t forget the piece of smoked pork though, it was yet another crunchy/melting piece of heaven. The smokiness and powerful richness was undoubtedly fantastic. Just to remind you, we had the juices extracted from the bones, the roe and the filet. I absolutely adore having a great variety of cuts or parts from any animal, as it allows you to get an idea of the different textures and tastes. Divine.

 

turbot, pt.3

turbot, pt.3

For the meat courses, a friend had brought a bottle of Chinon, whose producer I failed to note. It was certainly enjoyable and disappeared as quickly as the other bottles before it.

 

The Monkshill farm lamb we ate with great pleasure grazed in the fields around the pub a few days earlier, which is a great feeling, as you won’t have the possibility to eat such a product every day. To tell you that this is some good salt marsh lamb wouldn’t do it justice. It was truly fantastic and came in three instances.

First up was the deep-fried neck or belly (don’t remember which part it was) with mint sauce. I had waited and prayed for this dish to come up, so I was delighted to see it land on the table. Only problem, the pictured portion was for two. Hardly enough for me, seeing that it was better than any words can tell. This was seriously, exceptional and outstanding (again). The lamb was braised before being fried, which gave you the meltingly tender meat as a contrast to the crunchy breading. Here, the classically British mint sauce gave the otherwise relatively rich piece of meat a delightful freshness. Truly divine.

lamb pt. 1

lamb pt. 1

Next up, came the roasted rack and the rolled, braised shoulder. The shoulder was fantastic, as it had both the lovely tender texture braised meat has and a crunchy crust, which just must be the best combination of textures one can possibly have on this earth. The rack was very good, in fact much better than the one I had a week earlier at the Square, or indeed a great deal of stuff I have had up to now. Just to let you know, they can cook meat in a way, that would make any 3* restaurant proud. But, this dish wasn’t only the perfect meat and jus, no, it came with some of the best broad beans I have had this year. Bursting with flavour, double chucked, and cooked to perfection, these went beautifully with the lamb. They came, as so many things here from about 10m away from the restaurant, which does make the difference. Stephen chose them very carefully, taking only the smaller ones, which obviously are the best. The only thing I could have done without was the cabbage. It was nice, but the lamb, jus, and beans would have done me just fine. Excellent.

 

lamb pt.2

lamb pt.2

A second meat course was a piece of pork, well two actually, of which one was truly spectacular. The pigs were raised right next to the pub, as most of the rest was too and were as good as Joachim Wissler’s porky masterpieces. Especially the belly had amazing taste and a crackling that was simply to die for. The loin was less mind-blowing, but that is nothing new. The better the cut, the cheaper it (usually) is. Especially, if you have someone as good as Harris prepare it for you. This was a seriously divine dish.

 

pork

pork

To end the savoury part of the meal, we had some cheeses. Apparently, Stephen drives to Calais in order to get some decent cheeses over to the island. That’s probably what one calls commitment. They certainly were good, although less extraordinary than the rest. The best were the Sainte Maure, which was wonderfully creamy, the Calvados marinated Camembert and an Ashmore. No large selection, but one that was carefully chosen, in order to let the diner fully enjoy it.

 

cheese

cheese

To go with the dessert, we had a bottle of Chateau Climens,, 1999. This was another very satisfying wine, which I certainly shall not forget all too soon. 

 

chateau Climens

chateau Climens

To get us going, we had a truly British dessert. An eldeflower posset. I must say, despite being very British, it was very close to a (very good) panna cotta. Not that this is a bad thing, but it shows us once more, how the name of the same dish differs from one place to the other. Very good.

 

elderflower pt. 1

elderflower pt. 1

Here again, this was only one part of the Elderflowers dessert. It continued with deep fried elderflowers and an ice cream lolly dipped into some custard or cake milk(not sure about that part). The deep fried flower was truly great, the custard/ice cream lolly was good fun too. All in all, a very pleasing little composition, which once again showed the diner the different elements of the main protagonist. Very good, and excellent for the deep fried elderflowers.

 

elderflower pt. 2

elderflower pt. 2

To follow this, we had Rhubarb Sorbet. In fact, it was much more than that. The rhubarb sorbet was very well made, and with it came a very boring and uninspiring chocolate mousse and a very good custard/raspberry tart. Apart from the strangely out of place mousse, this was a fine set of mignardises. In the background one can see some gooseberry granite and a lemon posset ice cream, which was a lovely, refreshing finish.

 

rhubarb

rhubarb

Being a gourmand as much as a gourmet, I couldn’t miss out on the famous lemon tart, they make here. In the end, I must say that I was very happy to have asked for it, as it was a very fine example of this glorious dessert. Maybe slightly less divine as Keller’s version (which one can find in his French Laundry cookbook), but certainly among the better ones. The only problem was the pastry, which became slightly soggy on the bottom of the tart. With a nicely crispy bottom, this would have been outstanding. The ice cream, dusted with concentrated seawater spray was great. It sat upon some crushed meringue, which gave it a nice textural counterpoint. The seawater spray was a great invention. In a way this combination of lemon, salt, sugar reminded me somehow of the great thing that they have on the Riviera and the whole Mediterranean: Citron confit. The salt gives it a much more complex taste, and balances the sweetness. Excellent.

 

lemon tarte

lemon tarte

 

Looking back, it is hardly credible. One of the best, if not the best, meal(s) I have had in the UK was in an unassuming pub, somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Kent. The products were simply the very finest one can possibly hope to find anywhere on this Island and were prepared with the greatest attention. The cooking here does not need any decoration, it will literally be 3 elements on a plate in many cases, in some even less. It is such a welcome change, especially after seeing that incredibly complicated, often rather mediocre food one might find in many restaurants anywhere in the world. The fact, that Harris can rely on his products with such confidence, and his passion for what he does, make this a special place.

To dismiss his style as simply simple would not do it justice. There is much more to it. There is, for instance, this theme of using various parts of the animals, in order to give the diner a wide spectrum of these. For instance, the slightly less common bits, like the turbot roe, the lamb belly or the elderflowers make it even more unique. That aspect of his cooking particularly appeals to me. Some had various servings of scallops or brill which look equally tasty. The concept of his cooking is further driven to constant new heights by his travels to the absolute best restaurants in the world in order to have an idea what his colleagues concoct in their corners. However, instead of simply copying a dish, he might take an idea (Barbot’s broth) or association and work with it to eventually come up with a resolutely different dish (rockpool). It is good to see, that he actually admits that he got that idea from that guy, this one from another guy. Some other people would claim to be the most creative geniuses the world has seen. 

Apart from the great food, there is the fantastically cheap wine list, which certainly isn’t comparable to that of the Greenhouse, but does have some interesting bottles amongst the selection. In terms of price, you look at mark ups that are in the area of £15-£30. If one wants to drink a specific wine, one better bring it (corkage is something like £5 or £10).

Finally, there is the great service, uncomplicated, smiling in a sincere way, attentive and always there when you need anything.

All of these factors, make of this restaurant the great place that it is. Probably, the only restaurant in the UK, that is truly worth traveling for.

 

I should have listened to Paul, but at least I finally found out and will visit them much more often…


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