Archive for mai 2009

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.

Hereford Road, London

mai 27, 2009

Hereford Road is supposedly Thomas Keller’s favourite restaurant in London. This was reason enough for me to give it a go. Upon entering the kitchen, one walks past the chef and his assistant, who run the show all by themselves. Tom Pemberton, who formerly served as chef de cuisine at St John Bread & Wine, doesn’t look like a typical chef. But, don’t be afraid, he can cook better than a large number of people (and chefs) in London.

 

The restaurant sports a very modern and welcoming design, which is quite impressive if you consider that the place charges you somewhere around 5£ for a starter. The toilet for instance, looked more stylish than that of many Michelin-starred restaurants.

 

Another thing you might like to find in a larger number of haute cuisine restaurants is home made bread. Here, they served only one type, but at least this was perfect bread. It seemed to have been made with some semolina flour and had a lovely crust, which I always enjoy. The butter was the only thing they were stingy with during my meal. After bringing new portions of bread every couple of minutes (yes, I do eat a lot of good bread), I reminded them of the very empty looking butter bowl.

 

The menu is another great thing: It changes at least once a day and no dish was more expensive than £18 (most around 13), with most starters and desserts somewhere around £6. 

I went for the Cuttlefish with rocket and Aioli to kick things off. This was a real winner. Deliciously tender octopus, marinated and topped with some rocket was strong on flavour and very well made. The aioli gave the thing a rich finish. I don’t know if you can ask for more than good products, well prepared and seasoned? Excellent and simple.

 

To follow this, I chose the Duck Livers with beans. This was another great dish. A salad of perfectly cooked beans served as support for a healthy portion of pan-fried duck livers. The livers were cooked very well, and less fatty than the usual foie gras. They somehow had a more pronounced flavour and a bit more bite to them, which I really enjoyed. Despite not being gras, they were still quite a rich affair, which was countered beautifully by the vinaigrette of the bean salad. Another excellent dish.

 

The third starter was a jambon persille, which is a classical dish from the Bourgogne in which pork meat is cooked and then pressed with some parsley. Here they made a decent version of it, maybe not as good as some I had on the other side of the channel, but still very convincing.

 

The fish was a grilled hake with shrimp and spinach. Again, this was a simple association of 3 elements on the plate, which worked beautifully. I mean, you simply can’t beat a fresh piece of good quality fish, cooked to perfection and served with some equally well made accompaniments. It was simply satisfying food, unpretentious, unpolished, natural. Somehow, some of the dishes could possibly have been served in l’Arpege, if they carried another 0 at the end of the price, of course. Excellent.

 

For meat, I chose a roasted guinea fowl with endive and bacon. First time I came across endive in an English restaurant, which I somehow regret, as I consider this to be one of the finer winter vegetables. Yes, you read right there, on the Continent, we use endives more in the winter, which made me question the dishes’ seasonality a bit. But, fair enough, it certainly tasted delicious, larded with little strips of bacon and braised in poultry jus. The accompanying guinea fowl (a large piece of thigh and breast came roasted) was very good. Unfortunately, the skin could have been a bit more crisp. What I found impressive is that they told me that the bird was wild. Don’t know if it’s true, but it certainly did have lovely flavour. Although I kind of regret not having gotten the veal liver, which looked fantastic. Very good if not quite as good as the starters.

 

To finish things, I had a simple vanilla cheesecake with some poached rhubarb. Now, I had poached rhubarb at Ambassade de l’Ile a day earlier, and I can say, that this piece was no worse. Although I have trouble with rhubarb that is poached until it nearly is mushy, it served as a kind of marmalade in this case. The cheesecake itself was very well made. The vanilla clearly present, the cheese filling nicely creamy, and not too rich and the base deliciously crumbly and buttery. Excellent.

 

All in all, this was a hell of a meal, if you take the price into account. Everything was well cooked, well seasoned and left the way nature intended it to be, which shows that (a) they use good products and (b) they are confident enough to not hide behind complex sauces or garnishes. What I wrote about l’Arpege shouldn’t be taken 100% seriously, but some characteristics are shared by both restaurants. These little places are a real find for me, as you always spend a hugely enjoyable time, with friends when coming to such a restaurant. Also, the moment at which the bill appears on the table isn’t coming close to a death sentence (for your wallet at least), which makes you let yourself much freer to just enjoy the whole thing.

Anyone interested in cooking will be hugely enjoying this little place, as it carries a large number of assets!

Ambassade de l’Ile, London

mai 24, 2009

 

la salle

la salle

 

 

Ambassade de l’ile lies in a most appealing part of London, in South Kensington. Life here seems somewhat more tranquil and definitely less hectic than in other parts of the city. Another feature that both the restaurant and the surroundings share is the very French atmosphere. Here you’ll see a few French children playing in a garden, there you have a chef who comes from Lyon, where he holds 2*. In London, he defends his city’s heritage in the capital of the « rosbifs ».  On a beautiful sunny day, yes these do exist in London, and are in fact quite frequent these days, I sat on the terrace of Ambassade sipping Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque waiting for the menu and the meal to come my way. Instead of the menu came the chef, Jean Christophe Ansanay Alex, a good looking man, who left a very good impression on me. Just that you know, he had to suffer from even harsher criticism than Jocelyn Herland had, over at the Dorchester. One of these incredibly gifted British food writers went even as far as attacking him personally in an incredibly unpleasing way. I don’t see what can drive you to go to such low levels, but these guys obviously have to fill their pages with something. So, if you don’t have an idea of what is on your plate, or how it is prepared, well, then you better find some other things to write about. I for one, don’t really care about the means, as long as the end gives me what I want: Pleasure.

Having done my fair share of research, I found it quite interesting to have all of the more well-eaten people rave about the place, whilst my good friends, you know who, absolutely hated it. I don’t think that I need  to mention, that this was one of the meals I eagerly awaited, if with mixed feelings.

 

la salle 2

la salle 2

 

 

The room, about which my dear friends have of course written their fair share of words, does appeal to me. It is very modern, certainly not to everyone’s taste, but I loved it. Somehow, it seemed very refreshing and somewhat in the style of Sketch (if less crazy). Another nice touch is the wide selection of newspapers and magazines available in the lounge, which you rarely see, even in restaurants of such standards. Even a German magazine was available, and that in a French restaurant! The European Union does have some effect on our everyday life!

 

la table

la table

 

 

The little terrace is lovely and whilst I sat there drinking this very nice Champagne and talking to the chef (who seems to be a very interesting and generous person), I was approached with the first little amuses: Different fried herbs and vegetables, coated in the lightest, crispest of batters that I have encountered up to this day. The fine flavours were able to stand out clearly, while the crunch gave the whole preparation this exciting side. Apart from this, the whole thing was well seasoned and provided a very, very good start for this meal.

 

fritto misto

fritto misto

 

To follow this, the second amuse bouche consisted of a little croquette of goat’s cheese and a kind of marmalade and a cod brandade with beurre blanc. The croquette was, once again, very well made and powerful in flavour. The coating was thinly coated, crisp and nearly greaseless, something I can only recall in this quality at Les Ambassadeurs, where J.F. Piege serves a divine croquette. The brandade, a classical Provencal dish, was equally well made and the beurre blanc made this (olive oil ladden) mouthful even more decadent. The original dish consists of salt cod that is flaked and mixed with potatoes and olive oil, in case you want to know. The level of the cooking was very high, which these two delicious mises en bouche clearly showed.

Amuse 2

Amuse 2

 

A few words about the bread. It is home made, which always is a delight, especially if it is as well made as in this case. Only two kinds were on offer, but they were good. They were excellent if I’m honest. Light, with a crunchy crust, a delightfully moist mie, and well seasoned. A delight. I wish, the meal could have gone on like this, but there came a few questionable dishes, which I didn’t quite understand.

The first was Consomme de Tomate au Basilic comme un Irish Coffee. A tomato consommé was covered in basil foam and in it bathed a cherry tomatoe covered in caramel. The consommé had nice flavour, but didn’t impress (after all we’re in May).  I guess the usage of Magiquo tomatoes from Spain would have helped this dish quite a bit, but then these are as expensive as a good piece of foie gras. The problem was the overpowering sweetness, which also came from the tomatoe. This little thing was entirely covered in a caramel, which definitely was too thick. The only flavour one retained was the caramel’s sweetness, which would be nice, if the dish would have served as a dessert or pre-dessert, but as a starter, it wasn’t quite my thing. The froth was pleasant, but basil was only hardly distinguishable.  Unfortunately, I must say that this was a mediocre dish. Honestly, it would be worth serving this as a very light, refreshing dessert, which would then be very good. 

tomates

tomates

 

 

The following one, Ravioli de St Jacques et Langoustine, Agrumes, Asperge et Lait au Poivre, was another of these strange dishes. The filling of the raviolo was not seasoned enough and therefore tasted relatively bland. Or, if you prefer it this way, it was very (very) subtle. The citrus fruit sauce was, yet again, overpoweringly sweet, which I didn’t understand. The sauce just seemed to be entirely made out of caramel. It might have been the kind of dish that would have lived on the salty/sweet contrast, if it was well seasoned, but here it didn’t deliver. Mediocre again. After these two poor dishes, I began to question the whole praise the place got. After all, scallops and langoustine are among my favourite products and I can’t recall having them in such an uninspiring way.

 

raviolo

raviolo

But, things looked up. The Dos de St-Pierre tigre de Basilic, Curry, Courgette, Tomate confite et Olive de Nice featured some very good John Dory. The fish was cooked in a most precise way, resulting in a delightfully moist, firm texture, that really showed, of what this kitchen is capable. This seriously was a fine example of great product quality and precise cooking. It lacked any dryness that John Dory often has, if it is overcooked. The accompanying sauce was seasoned in a way, that didn’t overpower the rest, but gave the whole dish enough punch. The vegetables were nice, but the olives could have been pitted, especially in such a restaurant. Overall, the dish got somewhat closer to the amuses, but still wasn’t anywhere near of my initial expectations. It didn’t wow me at all, but at least it was a decent dish, which was well executed.

st Pierre

st Pierre

The following dish was certainly one of the strongest of the day. Carbonara de Homard. The title was deceiving, as I couldn’t detect any egg yolks nor bacon (the basis of Carbonara and not cream as so often wrongly assumed). Still, it was worth trying it for a few reasons. Firstly, this was some very fine lobster, not as perfectly cooked as the one at the Greenhouse a couple of days earlier, but still very well made. Also, it represented only three elements on the plate: Lobster, pasta and sauce, which shows, yet again, how much can be achieved with so little. Finally, the association with the sauce and macaroni turned it into some very comforting food. This certainly was a very strong dish.

 

Homard

Homard

 

 

Luckily enough, the meal did present me with one memorable course, which is all I ask for, even if two or three of those in a meal don’t hurt neither. The Pomme de Ris de Veau lentement braisee au Pamplemousse rose et Petits Pois certainly was one of those that didn’t fail to impress. This was the kind of food I had hoped to get here: Bold, simple, strongly flavoured and well executed. It was stricking to have the sweetbreads served not pan-fried, but braised. This results in a very different texture, that one could describe as being even more tender, but less creamy and rich. The cooking technique used here also features on a French classic called Ris de veau braise a la Crecy, a recipe, which also involves oranges, making me wonder if the chef might have used it for inspiration?

Wherever he got the inspiration from, he certainly did a most convincing rendering of that dish! It was fantastic: the croutons providing a lovely crunch (which obviously couldn’t come from the braised sweetbreads), the grapefruit giving it some acidity and tanginess and the peas some creamy, clear backdrop. I guess the perfect jus didn’t hurt the dish neither. It showed yet again, of what the kitchen is capable. This dish alone might have been worth coming for, even though some of the rest wasn’t quite my kind of stuff. Excellent.

ris de veau

ris de veau

 

Unfortunately, no cheese was offered to us, which we would have gladly accepted (I for my part at least). But dessert (mark the singular) did make up for this. I had a Mille-feuille de Rhubarbe, Crème Anglaise Vanille et Fraise des Bois. Having been told that desserts were this restaurant’s Achilles’ heel, I must confess that I thought this to be one of the stronger parts of my meal. The pastry was fantastically well made, the cream also pleasing, the sorbet intense with only the rhubarb being a bit underwhelming. It wouldn’t win any price for being highly inventive, nor very refined, but it was very well made and very enjoyable. I’d say this was very good and better than the desserts in most British restaurants.

fraises des bois

fraises des bois

 

Another very good dessert was the Souffle a la Peche blanche. A classic peach soufflé which was done in a most convincing way. All in all, this was excellent even if I struggle with soufflés, as you can throw one together in no time at home.

souffle

souffle

 

The petit fours must have been the highlight of the entire meal. They consisted of a Lyonnais classic: Tarte aux pralines roses de St Genix, lemon tart and two kinds of macarons. The tarte aux pralines roses is a real delight, which I absolutely love, I never had the luck to try Alain Chapel’s, but this certainly was a pristine version. The lemon tart too, was impressively well made and had spectacular flavour. The macarons were on that same exceptional level, which made me eat more than one probably should. This was all outstanding stuff, which unfortunately came a little late!

mignardises

mignardises

 

This was a strange meal. Apart from having been the most expensive meal I had in London (due to the Champagnes I had during the meal), it was also the most thought-provoking one. I couldn’t say I felt the prices to be exaggerated, nor could I argue much about the products, execution of the dishes or anything in that respect. The problems were the tomatoe dish and the raviolo. They just didn’t seem to fit into such a restaurant. I don’t understand,why the menu changes every month here, even if it makes it a very seasonal place. Serving tomatoes in May does seem odd to me, especially in a dish that relies on them being of stunning quality. The cooking certainly has capacity to improve greatly, but if such dishes do prevail on the menu, I don’t see why people could claim a second star for it. Nor can I understand anyone, who hates the place. The room is well furbished, the service lovely and the food can reach some (for London) impressive highs, at least if one chooses carefully. It is this inconsistency, that makes me question the meal I had here. I have no problem with a dish that just doesn’t do it, but if two get served, well then I start to wonder. Maybe shortening the menu even more would help to eliminate these odd dishes? What really does impress though is the honesty of the chef and his will to give something real to his guests. For instance, he is going through the menu with each customer to make sure they get exactly what they like and one can change things here and there. This is definitely a big plus, as no one apart from the chef will know better how things are done in the kitchen.

 

For those who are afraid of the prices, it is definitely not expensive for what you get.  A lunch menu here is 20 or 25£ (the latter for 3 courses), with wine, water and coffee only 37£. At dinner, the menu goes from 45 to 70£ (for the tasting) which is a steal for Michelin starred restaurants in London. After this meal, I accompanied a friend to a little sushi place where he had dinner. Being there, I had 4 little portions of sushi, which cost a whopping 20£. Considering that this wasn’t any special sushi restaurant, it really puts the prices these restaurants charge into perspective.

 

One of the friends who was dining with me here clearly meant, that this wasn’t his strongest meal here today, so I might have to go back to give them another chance?

The Greenhouse, London

mai 19, 2009

This, dear readers, will only be a short little review of a stunning meal I had here this week. Seeing that I only found out about my luck when a friend called me half an hour before the meal, I did not have my camera, which explains the absence of photos. For those, who will continue to read, you will be able to read about one of the most impressive meals I have had in London since my coming here in October last year.

 

The Greenhouse is situated in the heart of Mayfair. When approaching  the entrance, you walk through a little « garden », helping you step into a different world. This world doesn’t have much in common with the otherwise noisy, stressful and often tiring city that London is. Here, everything is peaceful, civilised, luxurious and made to give pleasure to the lucky diners. In some respect, Antonin Bonnet has used a lot of his old mentors (Bras) concepts. His kitchen is very different from other chefs’. You might enjoy a few courses, which don’t feature any stock based sauces, which use herbs, vegetables, grains in a most delightful way. Anyone who has been lucky enough to eat at Bras’ Laguiole restaurant, or knows one of his fantastic books, will know how natural this cooking is. There is no manicured carrot slice lying in the corner of a plate, nor is there much cream or butter. Both Bras and Bonnet use the purest, best products and serve them in a (relatively) simple way. What differs this cooking from, say Ceruttis (now Bardets) are the associations and the usage of « strange » sauces, products or unexpected combinations. A meal here might come as a complete surprise, as did mine, and might make you leave with only one desire: To go back and relive this experience.

We started the meal with one of the most fascinating wines that exist, at least if you are such a Champagne fan as I am. Krug Grande Cuvee, which must be the most amazing « basic » cuvees one can think of absolutely blew me away. Such intensive taste is hardly common with any champagne I tasted so far. This really deserves its frightening price, as you will hardly forget it anytime soon! With it, we were served some basil spheres and crackers with goats cheese. The basil sphere had a very bright, refreshing flavour, the goats cheese provided some highly enjoyable saltiness and crunch. Fantastic way to start a meal (although that is more due to the Champagne than the amuses).

The bread here is home made and very, very good. On offer today were four types: Olive, Lemon and Coffee (divine), tomatoe and a normal baguette. All were of very high quality but the service didn’t really want to give them away. I had to ask every time I needed another round, which shouldn’t really happen in a place of this standing. Butter was butter and very good. Don’t know if it was Bordier, but it was good enough to be eaten with the bread. This whole butter craze isn’t really for me, as I doubt that you will be able to tell the difference between the 5 or 6 best butters this world has on offer.

The first course came directly after the first nibbles had been cleared. No amuse or anything of that sort, which makes me quite sad, as I always see the amuse as the one piece of the menu, in which the chef can let his creativity run wild. If one just came back from Europe, where places like Oud Sluis  or Schloss Berg serve you a whole parade of stunning little creations, this seems especially dull.

The first course made up for the lack of amuse I must say. Scottish lobster was barely cooked (mi-cuit) and served with grapefruit, Champagne jelly, different beets and a black sugar sauce. The lobster was cooked fantastically, no hint of chewiness, just a slight crunch, which makes the European lobster so special. There is nothing better than a well cooked European lobster and this was a fine beast. It also tasted very clean, fresh and fine which helped this dish considerably. With this very delicate lobster came a few cubes of slightly bittersweet grapefruit and the star of the dish: black sugar sauce. This is a little flashback to his time at Bras and is made out of the lobster’s head, butter, lemon zest and black sugar. 4 elements create a fantastic balance of a sweetness, iodine flavours and some toasted spice flavours. Such simplicity that gives you such an interesting result is rarely seen in any restaurant, especially in Britain. This really was a fantastic sauce, which went brilliantly well with the grapefruit, lobster and Champagne jelly. This was cooking that was very capable from a technical point of view, featured stunning products and used a highly inventive apporach in conception. I don’t know, if many London restaurants can claim all of these for their cuisine. Excellent.

Following this, I had one of the chefs classics: Bresse Pigeon with baby spinach, pomme soufflee. The pigeon came perfectly cooked (rare) with a cream of the hearts and liver, some gently cooked spinach, a hearty pigeon jus and  a side dish with a barbajuan of the pigeon thigh paired with a herb salad. Furthermore, we were served a little bowl of pommes soufflees. How could I have known that I was going to have one of the best dishes of my life today, when I woke up and only expected this to be another dull day in the LSE library preparing for the upcoming exams? Let me tell you, this was food the way I love it. Simple (not really, but by appearance and perception), perfectly executed and inventive at the same time. The pigeon had extremly intense flavour and the accompanying cream and jus only enhanced this gaminess to elevate it to another level. Just think about it, 4 elements on a plate can create such a rewarding experience. I would be lying if I’d say that this pigeon was any worse than those I had at Oud SLuis, ADPA, Sonnora or any other European 3* (haven’t had any at Bau, where that might change). The accompanying pommes were equally well made and are always a treat. The barbajuan was no worse and provided the dish with a very refined rustic element. In the whole, this dish incorporated every single element of the pigeon, to give the diner the full spectrum of the product he enjoys. It is such a pity if people just use the fancy breast and let the delicious offal go to the bin or anything. It simply is amazing what such a nasty bird can delivers if treated well. DIVINE. This is the kind of food I’d travel for, which must be the first time I can say something like that about any London restaurant. 

The dessert was very pleasant, but nothing special. A milk chocolate parfait sandwiched between caramel tuiles served with chocolate sorbet. Perfectly made, but rather uninspiring. Can’t argue, but can’t be moved by such a dessert. My companion had a much more interesting dish: A reinterpreted lemon tart with basil and a few thousand elements. This was more on the level of the rest of the meal.

Petit fours are stunning though. The macarons were fantastic (had to ask for a second round of course!), the Coca Cola (?!) marshmallow was equally well made and the passion fruit chocolate praline was not the worst of mouthfuls neither.

 

What can I say in retrospect? First, I came here expecting a pleasant meal not more. What I got instead was one of the most interesting and inspiring meals I had in London so far (which only consisted of 3 courses). The products seemed of such high quality that I could probably say they are close to the kind of stuff you might find in a continental 3* kitchen. After all, he uses Mieral as his poultry supplier, meat from the Aubrac, great seafood and top notch vegetables. Furthermore, the way these products are treated reflects the closeness to nature that makes Bras so remarkable. They are treated with utmost respect, to maximise the pleasure of the lucky bastard who ingurgitates these heavenly creations. Thirdly, the kitchen, if in the spirit of Bras, goes its own, distinct way, which is without doubt one of the most interesting ones in London (the other being Pascal Sanchez at Sketch and Claude Bosi at Hibiscus). In addition to these assets, they have one of the biggest cellars in Europe here (somewhere around 2000 positions) of very reasonably priced wines. Of course they won’t cost as little as in your local Tesco’s but that should be clear by now, to those who read this at least. 

But, seeing that it is a restaurant run by humans, it has its flaws. When we arrived, the service seemed a bit nonchalant, didn’t really seem to care about us. However, after a few minutes things changed and by the end of the meal it was perfect. The sommelier deserves to be mentioned, as he does have some very good wines by the glass which fit the kitchen perfectly. For instance, if you always fancied having some Chateau d’Yquem, you can have some here for 45£ a glass (1997), which sounds reasonable for me.

The other thing they could get right is the amuse. It doesn’t cost much to serve a decent little plate of whatever you have lying around in the kitchen. Even if London restaurants often don’t really care about their amuses, a little effort would be very appreciated. The other food concern (if you can call it one) was the relatively boring dessert. In the end, it was just one dessert, so I can’t judge them on that. One more reason to be back as soon as possible!

I don’t really see why Bonnet doesn’t have at least 2*. The restaurant is luxurious enough, the cellar is spectacular, the service (after some warming up) is great and most importantly: The kitchen is absolutely fantastic. If people like Wareing, Herland or Bosi get their 2* why doesn’t this place get them. All I can say, is that I will be back as quickly as possible!

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

Franco Manca, London

mai 11, 2009

Most of you, dear readers, will be likely to travel for good food. I do so too, as far as I can. The restaurants I usually travel to are either in a very nice part of a city or nestled between lush green valleys or in some other idyllic location. Most of them are highly rated by the Michelin or some other guides, which usually makes such a trip something rather special, if only due to the fact that I can’t afford to eat that kind of food everyday. In this case, the story is different. Very different in fact. The restaurant I frequently « travel » to is located in Brixton. Not that I have anything against Brixton, but it probably wouldn’t be the place where I’d expect a restaurant of this quality to be. This being said, the restaurant in question doesn’t have any stars or other rewards from any other guide.  I only stumbled across this little piece of heaven after some friends continuously raved about it. 

 

La table

La table

 

 

The place is run by some very committed people. After all, not everyone will make his Pizza oven come from Naples, « import » his cheese-maker from Sorrento or make his own lemonade. Giuseppe Mascoli did go through all of this trouble, only to produce what could easily be the best Pizza north of the Alps. His dough is let to rest for at least 20h, his meats come from Brindisa, and the rest isn’t exactly coming from Tesco’s neither. 

Let this be clear. Don’t expect to be shown the way to the toilet here. The service is busy, but does smile- at least most of the time. Furthermore, there isn’t any Christoffle cutlery or Bernardaud crockery but you have your menu as « presentation plate ». Just like in Italy.

Here come the good news for all students and others, who don’t exactly have the cash to drink a bottle of Clos d’Ambonnay every day: The Pizze are about half the price of those at Pizza Express or something of that sort. They go from a mere 4£ to 5.90£. Filtered tab-water is offered a volonte and the lemonade (delicious, even for me who never drinks such things) is no more than 1£ for 250ml. Could you start any better way? I don’t think so.

Once you ordered, you can expect to be able to start eating after a couple of minutes (literally). Today, I went for the special: Pancetta, confit tomatoes and mozzarella. First off, the daily specials are always fantastic here, on another visit I had a fantastic rucola and prosciutto di Parma Pizza. Secondly, the dough is pure magic. It is as light as a good souffle, with a fantastically thin crust, amazingly intensive flavour and is quite « elastic ». It is the airiness  and the elasticity of the dough, that you rarely get elsewhere. I don’t think you can find any better dough anywhere but Naples. In today’s case, the toppings worked marvelously with the rest. The pancetta (smoked pork belly) was slightly crunchy in some parts, whilst being meltingly tender in others. Along with the mozzarella and the tomatoes it just creates stunning depth of flavour. Where does such simple food taste any better? Upon taking the first bite, you might never want to leave, seriously. I’ve been coming back here every two weeks to have either 2 or more Pizze. Outstanding.

 

Pancetta/tomatoes/mozzarella

Pancetta/tomatoes/mozzarella

 

 

same

same

 

 

 

To follow this, I had chosen a Pizza with tomatoe, anchovy, capers, olives, oregano and mozzarella. It was certainly another winner, if not as good as their white Pizze. The dough is a huge pleasure with every bite that is taken. It just is truly stellar to eat so well, in London, for no more than 5£!

 

Tomatoes/olives/capers/anchovy/oregano

Tomatoes/olives/capers/anchovy/oregano

 

 

If one finishes the meal off with a nice strong espresso (nearly a ristretto) from Monmouth coffee company, the day is perfect. One can indeed travel to Italy, even if one exits the tube at Brixton. Remarkable but true.

 

A few things that you should avoid or do. First, they only open for lunch (12-5) so turning up for dinner might leave you with a little creux. Also, Saturdays are pretty busy there. You can either be there in good time or you bring a book and read a few chapters before being seated. Third, their daily specials and white Pizze are always the best. The others are great, but do not reach the heights of the white ones. Finally, bring a few friends and have a good time. That’s what it’s all about in Naples and here too.

Anyone who wants to eat well in London should come here, at least once!

Steirereck im Stadtpark, Wien

mai 7, 2009

 

La maison

La maison

 

 

The Steirereck, although in a different location, was once the home of the brilliant Helmut Oesterreicher. This chef cooked Austrian food of the highest order. He now advises the bistro of the MAK, where he serves traditional Viennese dishes of all sorts.

 

La salle

La salle

 

 

A few years ago, Heinz Reitbauer and his wife have taken over the Steirereck and moved to the picturesque Stadtpark. The restaurant now lies just off the Wien and has the huge advantages of having two different terraces and being completely surrounded by trees. One of the terraces is facing the river, the other the park. Also, under the main restaurant, lies a Meierei, a cheese shop, where you can go for a quick bite or some Viennese classics. The restaurant’s design is quite modern and funky. The interior sports a vivid red, and the toilets must be coolest after Sketch’s unbeatable eggs. I had the luck to be seated on the terrace, which is something you rarely have in a restaurant of that class.

 

Les lavabos

Les lavabos

 

 

The service was lovely and had the Austrian charm, which doesn’t exist anywhere else. One thing they do like here are carts. There is an aperitif cart, a bread cart, a mignardise cart and a cheese cart. That makes up quite a nice collections of, you name it-carts!

 

The bread here deserves mention. It comes from four different bakeries and some of the varieties are made in the kitchen. The types vary from day to day, according to what is best at the moment. Usually, you will find around 10-15 types, ranging from classic crusty sourdough to something more interesting as chestnut, wine-leave and hazelnut. Butter comes from the restaurant’s own cows and does taste very nice. The two types on offer are a salted one from Steiermark and an unsalted one from Kärnten. On top of this, you are allowed 1 (?!) « leaf » of basil butter.

Les pains

Les pains

This should be noticed too: It was the first time I came across a restaurant, which has it’s own sheep, cows, pigs. They raise them right next to their Wirtshaus am Pogusch in the Steiermark. To have access to all of these great natural products is a real luxury these days and does pay off, as I was about to see.

 The wine list is done in co-operation with the Palais Coburg, a hotel which has one of the most impressive wine cellars in Europe. It sports a healthy number of Austrian and French top-producers at equally healthy prices. Especially for Austria, where you will normally find the prices in top restaurants to be slightly lower than those in London, Munich or indeed Paris.

 

To start the meal, I was offered a few crackers, which did look and taste very much like those you get offered in the Louis XV. The only amuse consisted of a few different “sandwiches” filled with a variety of creams: chervil, asparagus, cauliflower and lardo, avocado. All of them were very nice, but it seemed a bit je m’en foutiste. Compared with what you get in many top-restaurants around Europe, it was very poor indeed. Still, you have to acknowledge that the flavours were there and well balanced. Good.

 

Canapes

Canapes

 

amuse

amuse

 Following this came the first course. With it, and this was a very nice touch, came a little card explaining all of the different elements. That way, those who care can find out about what they eat, and the rest, well forget the rest.

I started with Leicht gepökelte Kalbszunge & marinierte Krake mit Hagebutten-Schalotten. The veal-tongue was cut very thinly, and then wrapped around a shallot confit and marinated octopus. The whole thing sat atop very thinly cut celery and was drizzled with the juice of the octopus and Bengal-pepper. The quality of the products was excellent. The execution faultless too, it simply was very good. Simple but delicious. Unfortunately, I can hardly say that I was wowed or moved by the dish. It might have been the plating, that did not seem too careful or the absence of overwhelming taste explosions that tamed my praise for the dish. All in all it was very good. 

 

Kalbszunge

Kalbszunge

 

 

To follow this I had another local product. Confierter Zander mit Zwiebel, Lauch & Schweins-Krust’l.  The fish was confit and therefore very soft and tender, which you either like or not. The only kind of fish where I enjoy this cooking technique is salmon or tuna. Other types of fish do loose the lovely firmness they have. Especially, if it is something like Pike Perch, which can have a lovely texture (if fresh, which this one was). This personal taste issue apart, the fish was cooked perfectly in spiced oil and served with onions, filled with cream and leeks. The whole thing was topped with crunchy pork belly fat (ahhhh, divine!). Around it, the waiter poured  a so-called “onion-spiced tea”. All in all, it was similar to the last dish: Delicious, simple and “easy” to eat and enjoy. Nothing too refined but perfectly executed with great local products. Very good. Of course, being a sucker for good pork in all forms and variations, I had to ask for a second helping of the pork crackling.

 

Zander

Zander

 

 

The next course was what I waited for: Gulasch vom Almochsen. Now you can write it as Gulasch, Gulyas, or whatever you might like. Fact is, the Gulasch here was delicious, excellent. The whole thing was just what I had hoped for: A refined Austrian classic, that every grandmother (Austrian grandmother, that is) does at home with great success made even better. They use a piece of ox, that I’ve not come across yet, but well in Austria you use a very large variety of very tasty cuts. The accompanying Semmel/Lauch roulade was fabulous to, as it was crunchy, soft, fluffy and well seasoned. It showed how much you can do with an age-old recipe. All in all this dish, which cost a mere 11euro, was probably worth coming for alone. Notice the sizeable portion though, which might be a bit rustic for a 2* restaurant. Excellent.

 

Gulasch

Gulasch

 

 

I decided not to have the classic Beuscherl, but: Gebratener Rücken vom Weide-Schwein mit warmem Wintersalat & Aromaten. Here, the product, once again, from their own farm, was great. Tender, tasty and simply succulent. The problem I had with this dish were the three little things that lay besides the huge pork chop.  The gigantic portion of meat aside, nothing else was on the plate apart from these three little things, that did not really do anything. The jus was great, as was the turnip cannellono  served a part. All in all, it would have been great to have a smaller piece of meat and some more expressive accompaniments, not just some visually unattractive little dots. Such big portions of a single cut of meat, not offering great textural variety do not make sense. Excellent for the meat, jus and turnip. Less so for the whole conception.

 

SChwein

SChwein

 

 

To finish off this rather filling meal, I had to choose the Oesterreich-Boehmische Mehlspeisen. This was one of the reasons to come to this restaurant so I had no other choice. To say that the plate looked rather uninspiring is the least. A massive tray filled with six little plates carried the various desserts. It would have made much more sense to serve them in little groups, giving you the time to eat the hot ones first, before the ice cream melts.  Also, the plating seemed to have been done without any logic, or thought behind it. This just seems sloppy.The individual parts must be treated individually, as each was a different classically Austrian dessert.

On the top left was a Geeister Kaiserscharrn mit eingelegten Rum-Rosinen. Well, this didn’t have much to do with a real Kaiserschmarrn apart from being ripped into small pieces. In the end, it was vanilla and chocolate ice cream with a few horribly alcoholic raisins. Such a lot of alcohol with nothing to compensate for it doesn’t make much sense. This was very poor as not even the ice cream was of remarkable taste or texture.

To the right was something much better. Topfenknödel mit Zwetschkenröster. This was like what you’d expect from such a restaurant. The Knödel was light, tasty and the plum marmelade equally intensive. Excellent.

Further right still, was the Marillenpalatschinke. Now, unfortunately, this was another letdown. The crepe was supposed to be filled with abricots, but when opened I didn’t even find a hint of abricot. Aprat from that, cold crepes aren’t anything I particularly fancy being served in any restaurant. Poor again.

The fourth might have been the best: Gekochte Mohnnudeln mit brauner Butter. This was as good as the Knödel and showed how much you can achieve when carefully preparing these traditional dishes. I’d rather have had only this and the Knödel than have all of the other useless stuff. Excellent.

Right of it lay the Michlrahmstrudel mit Hollerkoch. I had this Strudel the day before in their Meierei and found it much better back then. Still, this was very good.

The last was the worst: Dirndltascherl mit Dirndlsauce und Dirndlgelee. I could not even tell what filled this little raviolo, which didn’t have much taste at all other than being straight out of the fridge. This, as a general remark, is one of the most annoying things that can happen to you in any good restaurant. Why can such well organised kitchens not get their preparations out of the fridge earlier so that the diner can enjoy the actual flavours of these? Poor, sadly again.

Mehlspeisen

Mehlspeisen

 

 

The petit-fours came on a huge cart, which sure looked very impressive, but couldn’t really deliver anything great. The macaron was very good, the rest of the pralines forgettable. They were cut in a very sloppy way, the kind of way one might do at home when preparing christmas sweets. It just seemed a little ridiculous to have a cart of that size carry a tiny selection of chocolates of equally tiny size. 

 

Petit-Fours

Petit-Fours

 

 

I was somehow puzzled by this meal. It started much better than I had expected. The savoury dishes were tasty, delicious, well made and based on local ingredients. You simply can’t ask for more. The bread was fantastic I must admit. The only problem was, that problems appeared here and there. Some sloppy mistake here , some part served way too cold there. This is not acceptable from such a restaurant. The dessert was particularly disastrous. Had it been as well made as the Gulasch, I would have left the restaurant with only one wish: To return as soon as possible. This accumulation of poorly made dishes really didn’t make me want to come back anytime soon. Especially if you charge for couvert and a supplement for a dessert. I didn’t see any caviar, truffles, in it. Why charge a supplement then?

The last issue for me, was the plating. It seemed sloppy, not very well conceived and done without much attention or care put to it. It doesn’t take much effort to plate something reasonably nicely.    

 The positive sides have to be mentioned though. The meal was cheap. You can come here and eat for 50euro if you don’t have wine (or limit yourselves). However, at dinner, the prices look much more like those in any other big city. Also, the bread and service were great. Far better than that you often get elsewhere. Finally, some of the dishes, or parts of them were great. 

 

The fact that the Steirereck is on the 30th position in the 50 best list shows only too well  how ridiculous this list is. Where is Bau? Why are most of the Parisian 3*s either far behind the Steirereck or not even on the list?

a few more dishes from home…

mai 5, 2009

Here are a few more shots from stuff that I cooked during the past months in Luxembourg.

 

To begin with, a play on Barbot’s association of foie and mushrooms. This is foie gras, simply marinated with 40-year old cognac, 1982 port and later poached sous vide with piment d’espelette. The whole thing is served with a salad of button mushrooms, a piment d’espelette compote and a reduced duck jus flavoured with the same piment and port.

 

foie/

foie/

This are a few different root vegetables, mostly raw.

 

vegetables

vegetables

The next is the thigh of a Bresse pintade, poached and then cut into small pieces. This is associated with apple, foie gras and a consomme made out of the pintade’s carcasses. 

 

pintade

pintade

Finally a little winter treat: Poached egg, foie, pumpkin, Brussels sprouts and white pepper.

 

egg

egg