Archive for juin 2009

Summer cooking – I

juin 26, 2009

Here are a few dishes I cooked last week during a dinner I gave for a few friends. Some are more successful than others as all of them are spontaneous creations.

To start, I had made a bavarois of peas, which was served with raw foie gras, « Purple Haze » carrots, dried breadcrumbs and golden beetroot.

 

foie, petit pois, carrotes,...

foie, petit pois, carrotes,...

A piece of roasted foie gras from the Landes was paired with a cream made out of sweet onions and spring onions cooked with a little cinnamon and piment d’Espelette.

 

foie roti

foie roti

Also served was foie gras poached in red wine and a flat peach marmalade. This way of cooking brings the foie a whole new lighter feeling, which is particularly enjoyable in these summer days.

 

foie poche

foie poche

A seafood salad with Borlotti beans was based on the version Franck Cerutti serves at the Louis XV, with some alterations.

 

salade de coquillages et crustaces

salade de coquillages et crustaces

To finish the day, I had  made a dessert featuring peach marmalade, peach gelee, poached peaches, amaretto granite and almond foam.

 

dessert

dessert

Publicités

The Harwood Arms, London

juin 20, 2009

 

la maison

la maison

The Harwood Arms is not really a pub. Nestled in a cozy little street in Fulham, it has found a niche market. It specialises on one thing in particular: game. In terms of deer and wood pigeon, you are likely to get some very good products here. After all, the birds and animals are shipped from an estate straight to the restaurant. Another factor, which surely does help is that the chef, Stephen Williams, used to run the Ledbury’s kitchen.

 

la table

la table

 

 
 

 

In terms of design, wood is the main theme. It comes pretty much everywhere in the room and even serves as plate from time to time. Somehow, it is pretty similar to the Sportsman. The room we sat in was surprisingly light, making for a very welcome change to the usual darkness that reigns in almost any London restaurant. All in all, it is a very comfortable, warm setting in which one feels more than well.

 

la salle

la salle

The bread was pretty good as we came. White bread came with lovely crust, warm and with great flavour. Some kind of rye bread was very nice too and had a moisture, that often doesn’t appear on this kind of bread. After we emptied our first bag, the quality of the white bread dropped considerably. It suddenly lost all crust, and with it, all interest. Butter was fantastic.

 

les pains

les pains

One dish here, is an absolute must order. It’s not a real dish, as it only figures on the bar food menu, but it certainly was the best bite I have had during the entire meal. The venison scotch egg was as good as everyone says, if not better. This is a prime example to show, how Williams makes his food stand out from the usual gastro-pub food. The egg is boiled, peeled, “wrapped” in venison meat and then fried to order. The result is simply breathtaking. A perfectly crunchy coating envelops creamy egg white and slightly runny yolk. The whole thing is somewhat seasoned by the minced venison, which takes it to another level. The execution and coating were as good as any restaurant could ever hope to produce. Apart from the fantastic crispiness, the extremely thin coating was equally impressive. This was a truly outstanding appetizer (£2.50).

 

l'oeuf

l'oeuf

To start the meal, we shared the Plate of wild rabbit(£12.50, for 2). On it came pretty much the whole rabbit, albeit in various forms: A “tea” made from the bones with great, deep, highly concentrated flavour for instance was very good. Another part was a Schnitzel, a typically Viennese dish. Normally it is done with veal, but here it was made with the rabbit’s loin. The result was very tasty, and featured the fantastic deep-frying technique of the egg. The third part was a rissole. This was equally well made and very tasty. A terrine was a little bit on the dry side, but nowhere near being inedible. Also present, was one (why, if it is for 2?) piece of glazed shoulder. This was also a little dry at the edges. The salad containing cornichons, radishes, dandelion, apple and chives was refreshing but certainly a little light in terms of seasoning. Overall, it was a nice starter, where the concept of serving different parts of the rabbit really gave you quite some pleasure eating it. Excellent for the tea and Schnitzel, but the rest was no more than good.

 

le lapin

le lapin

A first meat course was back on the level of the egg: Whole Berkshire wood pigeon with Staffordshire oatcakes, smoked bacon, broad beans and soft lettuce (£14). This was a dish that could have stood up against the meat dishes of many 2* in this country and showed how much one can do for such a laughable price. The pigeon, as one can see, was beautifully cooked, extremely tender and with pretty impressive flavour. The two halves of the bird rested on, what effectively were blini and were accompanied by a fantastic broad bean, bacon and mushroom fricassee. I certainly could not find anything to criticise in this dish. Every element was prepared with great care, played a distinct role in the dishes’ composition and left you with a memorable taste experience. Excellent.

 

pigeon

pigeon

To follow this, I tried the other house speciality: Linkelnholt Estate Roe deer grilled on bay, with a salad of baked beetroots, grated horseradish and crispy garlic potatoes. (£15.50). What struck me again here, was the meat’s quality. The deer was cooked very carefully and had great flavour, coming both from the fire and the meat itself. It was simply seasoned with bay and came in its natural state. The dish as a whole however, was less cohesive for me. The salad was certainly not too bad, but it didn’t feel like the perfect partner for the meat. The potatoes were fantastic: Crunchy on the outside, liberally seasoned and creamy in the inside. One might take this for a very acceptable version of a steak frites  with a little salad for the conscious eaters. Excellent quality and cooking of the meat, good dish overall.

 

venison

venison

The dessert was highly praised by a friend who goes here regularly. The Bowl of warm lemon doughnuts with whipped cream and heather honey (£6) was pleasing to eat, but nowhere near what I had been served at the Square for instance, where the doughnuts are wonderfully light, airy, creamy, crunchy and not too sugary. The problem with these was the overly sweet combination of things: As they came coated in sugar, stuffed with pretty sweet lemon sherbet and  was supposed to dip them into sweetened cream with honey one was left quite a sweet mouthful indeed. Also, the dough was pretty firm. There was none of the airiness I had hoped to have. Decent as a dish.

 

doughnuts

doughnuts

 

So, what can one say? These slightly more elaborate gastropubs are pretty much similar in terms of concept. Whilst St John and Hereford Road will offer very simple stuff, this is a little more elaborate and carefully prepared. Overall, it isn’t any more expensive than the earlier mentioned, but certainly more refined and better. I would say that these dishes are on solid 1* level, with the egg and pigeon looking into 2*. I can only criticise the doughnuts, which in the course of a five course meal is a pretty good record. Service was absolutely lovely and deserves to be mentioned. The only real issue I have with it is the location. Being that far west, isn’t ideal for someone who lives on the other end of the city. However, as the food is as good and fairly priced, I’d certainly come back.

 

la deco

la deco

Eating in London on a budget, London (of course!)

juin 17, 2009

 

London has a reputation of being one of the most expensive cities in the world. That certainly is true for a number of things. Everything is that much more expensive than elsewhere, but the difference between good and mediocre (read bad) food isn’t striking. In fact, a meal in one of the chain eateries like Masala Zone, Pizza Express or others of the type will not be cheaper than one at Arbutus for instance. Here are a few places that will provide you with a decent meal, without breaking the bank. I will update it and add new addresses whenever I find anything noteworthy.

Arbutus:

In this restaurant, which sports a Michelin star, one can enjoy a very reasonable lunch/pre-theatre menu that costs no more than £16. Last time I went, I had some very good porchetta with Pecorino and apple puree. The rolled suckling pig was thinly sliced and placed on warm apple puree. It came topped with rocket and Pecorino slices, turning it into a very appealing starter. This dish was still on the menu a few weeks ago, and is there nearly all of the time.  As main, I had a black mullet fillet with gnocchi and pumpkin puree. Nothing, one can’t cook at home or hasn’t eaten elsewhere, but certainly as good as £16 can get you anywhere.  Dessert is often a piece of cheese or an ile flottante with vanilla custard. This classically French dessert is well executed and on the same level as the other dishes. All in all, the restaurant has good bread, effective service, competitive prices and pretty good food. A winning combination.

 

Princi:

 

This is a favourite of mine, a quick cup of coffee, some Pizza al taglio, a dessert or very good bread will cost you hardly more than at any supermarket and are much more rewarding. The cannoli for instance, are fantastic. At 80p a piece, they aren’t over-priced and will delight anyone who grabs a few. Another grea thing there is a bread studded with olives and tomatoes, this has a lovely crust and doesn’t need any butter, cheese or other condiment to be eaten with. The fashionable, mostly Italian crowd, makes it yet more authentic (the original is in Milano). It is quite surprising, that one can have a filling meal in such stylish decor for less than £10. 

 

Franco Manca:

Speaking of Italy, this is certainly one of the best price/quality ratios anywhere in the world. A meal here (provided you’re not as greedy as I am) will not cost you more than £5. I like this place so much, that I make the way to Brixton every other week. Just for your information, avoid Saturdays, as it gets horribly busy. Also, don’t bother coming later than 4pm, as they close  at that time and finally, don’t expect much luxury around your plate. A few pics can be found here .

 

Barrafina:

 

 

la cocina

la cocina

 

 Frith street is an interesting one. Ronnie Scott’s is down there, Arbutus and Barrafina are too. All in all, you can spend a very entertaining evening on this street. A meal at Barrafina will certainly not be quite as cheap, as those I mentioned above, but it will most certainly be good fun and some decent food is likely to be involved too. I recently had some delectable ham croquettes (£3), which were perfectly crispy, filled with creamy potato puree and ham. Another winner was a pig’s trotter (£6.95), filled with shrimp, squid and oyster mushrooms. This was deep-fried, and served with a tomato/almond sauce. The coating wasn’t as perfect as the one on the croquettes, but it was a most tasty dish. Some chips ( pommes frites for anyone not from the UK) served with some garlic salt and tomato sauce (£3.50) were on the better side too: crispy, tasty and served with a lovely sauce on the side. Pair this kind of food with some Cava or Sherry and you’re in for a pleasant night. Only thing, that is hardly Spanish is the closing time of 23h (last orders). 

 

la cocina, 2

la cocina, 2

Sketch: The Parlour, London

juin 15, 2009

 

la maison

la maison

 Sketch is an odd collection of reoslutely different spaces and concepts. The Lecture room & Library offer a light version of Pierre Gagnaire’s cooking, the Gallery is not only contemporary art gallery, but also restaurant and club at the same time. The Parlour is the perfect spot for an excellent breakfast, afternoon tea or drink later during the day. All of the different rooms share one common characteristic: Crazy, over-the-top, refreshingly outrageous design. I know that many hate it, but I love those “egg” toilets, the little touches here and there and the fact that the place is indeed a sketch, that constantly evolves.

 

la salle 1

la salle 1

la salle 1

Today, I wasn’t going to dine in the starred restaurant, where I first met Pierre Gagnaire, but rather, I was having a quintessentially British ritual: Afternoon tea. I must admit that, it is a bizarre idea to go to a French 3* chef’s patisserie for tea, but after having sampled a variety of their little pastries, viennoiseries and breakfast creations, I must say, that they definitely know, what they’re doing. The pastries are easily the best in London, and are always interesting. I remember one particularly delightful pineapple/rum creation, which was simply exquisite. The croissants and lemon bichons are certainly as good as anything I have tasted in Paris (maybe not quite at Herme’s level) and are surprisingly fairly priced.

 

la salle 2

la salle 2

 For tea, one has the choice of three different “menus”: One at £9.50, one at £24.50 (which we took) and a Champagne tea at £35.

 

la table

la table

 The savoury part of the afternoon consisted of egg, cucumber, salmon and crème fraiche and ham and mustard sandwiches, which were all enjoyable. The best were the salmon and mustard, with the cucumber being the most boring. All in all these were all very fine, without being particularly impressive. After this, I had some scones with clotted cream and raspberry marmalade. The scones were very good. Much better than I had expected and better than any I have tasted before. The only letdown was the pastry section. Not that the pastries were bad, they were very good for most, but I had hoped for a selection of their signature pastries and not some boring light version of what they do. The best were a violet éclair, a tarte with berries and a chocolate creation. The rest was rather forgettable, especially the little pineapple sticks and the gingerbread cylinder. The latter didn’t have any reason to be amongst all of this and was quite irritating. It was spiced too heavily and too heavy in terms of texture.

 

tea, for 2

tea, for 2

 Coffee (yes, I had coffee for my “tea”) was very good. I find £8 for a pot of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee a little excessive for a place like here, but if you take either tea menu, you can choose any coffee you desire.

 

Overall, the Parlour has some truly terrific pastry and viennoiseries: The lemon bichons, croissants and other cakes are outstanding. The afternoon tea did seem a little stingy. After all, £25 will buy you a menu in some 2* restaurants, which is a little more satisfying than a few cakes. Also, these were hardly more than the petit fours served in some restaurants. This being said, the quality is pretty high, especially some of their sweet miniatures.

 

quelques sucreries

quelques sucreries

 

 

I must say, that I wouldn’t take this “menu” anymore, rather, I’d take a selection of pastries and order some tea with it. You feel ripped off in a way, as it seems a little stingy in terms of portions.

 

la sortie

la sortie

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…

Hakkasan, London

juin 6, 2009

 

la maison

la maison

 

 

Hakkasan is a bit of an odd place. It must be one of the very few restaurants that attracts both a very fashionable crowd and some, who go for the food. This taken aside, Alan Yau’s flagship restaurant is quite a unique creature. The first thing that you might find odd, is the location. The restaurant lies at the end of a dodgy little street close to Tottenham Court Road. This street certainly doesn’t invite you to hang out after your dinner and enjoy the summer night. There is even a little sign saying: « Please leave Hakkasan quietly ».  Second, the restaurant has a bouncer. Now, the guy never created any problem for me, but I do find this strange. It might tell you something about the previous points I mentioned, or about the whole concept of it. Thirdly, if you come here on a beautiful sunny day, like I did at my last visit, you will be transported to quite another place. Upon descending into the cool, dark, blue/black space that is the restaurant, you somehow feel like being in a movie, set in Hong Kong or Shanghai during the 20’s.

la salle-1

la salle-1

 

The hostesses are stunningly beautiful (which they are at Yauatcha too) and great you with a charming smile. Funny thing, I was there about a dozen of times now (in a few months) and you always get treated like everyone else. This must be the most impersonal restaurant I know. But, here, it fits in with the rest of the atmosphere, which is somewhat close to a night club.

la salle-2

la salle-2

Once you are being shown through to your table, or the bar if you’re early, you can have a beer. But think about it, as the beer here is the most expensive I have come across (£9.50). Not that there’s something wrong with that, but you can have a glass of the very pleasing Louis Roederer Brut Premier for a few pounds more, which I do find more pleasing. The cocktails are also worth trying, if that is your thing.

The design is very much to my liking. The place has its charm, which the photos might show.  The only problems, which it shares with so many other London restaurants are the incredible loudness and the absence of light. When I stepped in, on this beautiful sunny day, I had trouble not missing the steps, as it was so dark. If you don’t like someone’s face, take him/her here, you won’t see him/her, nor hear much of what they say. It might be romantic, but a little more light couldn’t hurt.

 

la table

la table

Now, to the food. Just for your information, if you want to spend big money, you can do it here better than in any other restaurant: They have a couple of dishes that will set you back far more than £200. I for once don’t fancy that kind of stuff (in a place such as this), so I went for the dim sum menu today (only at lunch), seeing that I practically know the whole carte by now. Prices on this are refreshingly student-friendly, which is always a pleasure.

 To kick things off, I had the pork and prawn shumai. Four little rolls of pastry filled with a well made mix of shredded pork meat and prawns came steaming hot in their little wooden steamer. This was a very nice start, especially if eaten with some soy sauce, as the filling wasn’t as salty as it could have been. Pleasant start.

pork/prawn shumai

pork/prawn shumai

Up next was, what was the dish of the day for me: A crispy smoked duck and pumpkin puff. Boy, this was good. Excellent is the least I can say actually. Look at the stunning beauty of these little things. The crispy coat hid a delicious layer of pumpkin puree and slightly smoked, braised duck meat constituted the centre. I always liked the food here, but this was just stunning for such a restaurant. The duck was nearly creamy and the smoke barely noticeable. The pumpkin provided a cushion for the whole thing and the fried batter was nearly greaseless and fantastically crunchy. If eaten with some chili oil, it was like heaven on earth. A touch more smokiness would have made this outstanding. Fantastic.

smoked duck

smoked duck

Next up was a thing I had on each of my previous visits here and at Yauatcha. It is something like the house signature dish, the scallop shumai. Some halved scallops sandwich crabmeat, are topped with Tobiko caviar and wrapped in pasta. Now, being a Chinese dim sum restaurant of relatively large size, you might expect the cooking not to be that precise, but here the opposite was true. The scallops were cooked perfectly. Very evenly cooked, juicy, plump and sweet. Beautiful quality of scallops and crab made this a lovely mouthful (if a very big one). The “caviar” provided some textural contrast, which gave the whole dish another dimension. Another excellent dish.

scallop

scallop

After a little break, I ordered another round of food. First up came the Fried Satay beef and bean curd roll. This was, yet again very pleasing. The beef was wrapped in some kind of thinly cut pastry ( a bit like kataifi pastry, but of different consistency) and then deep-fried. Inside it was some kind of slightly sweet bean curd.  The whole construction sat atop a pool of Satay sauce and tasted, you might expect it, very well. I didn’t remember the food to be that good from my last visits. This was as good as dim sum gets, at least in Europe, seeing that I can’t speak for China or any far-eastern country. If not, make me better ones and I’m happily trying them. Very good.

beef

beef

The following ones were something I had had before: The classic Shanghai dumplings. Some steamed, then pan fried pasta parcels were filled with delicious pork and other things. I could have used a little more seasoning, but once dipped into the very good soy sauce, it was certainly worth eating. Maybe these were less great than the rest, but certainly still good.

 

Shanghai

Shanghai

The following little dumplings were back to were I wanted them to be, in terms of pleasure. They were fantastic. Oh yes, it were the Char chui buns. Filled with scrumptiously good braised pork, they were made out of an interesting dough. The dough was made out of rice flour and had a consistency, which I could only describe as being close to that of a marshmallow or some uncooked meringue. It worked marvelously with the relatively rich, subtly sweet pork. To get such stuff at £3.95 does make it even more appealing. Excellent.

pork

pork

But wait, what might have been the other highlight of the meal was about to land on my table. A pan fried mui choi bun was a second divine dish. The green pastry was stuffed with lovely pork (again, but again, it was prepared in a different way) and then fried to reveal a perfectly crisp bottom. This was probably the perfect textural interplay. It was simply stunning and definitely the dish of the day along the smoked duck and pumpkin puff. Excellent.

another porky treat

another porky treat

The food being that good, I had to order a bit more, again. So I went for the Vietnamese Spring roll. It was as good a spring roll as I ever had had in my life. Seriously, perfectly seasoned filling, delightfully crisp and nearly greaseless rice pastry accompanied by a pleasing little sauce. What more is there to ask for? Very good.

Spring roll

Spring roll

But something much better was approaching my table after a little break (they had to cook and then fry the rice, which took a couple of minutes). The sticky rice roll was another fantastic composition. The deep fried rice was wrapped around a number of things including shitake mushrooms, young onions, chicken and nuts. It was, yet again, delicious. I just really like this deep fried stuff, if it is as well made as it is here. Excellent.

sticky rice roll

sticky rice roll

And finally, another signature dish was about to arrive: The crispy duck roll. They wrap some chunky pieces of duck meat in rice pastry and deep fry it. The whole thing is then served with a nice hoisin sauce and is very, very good. Can’t say much more about this kind of food. It certainly isn’t as complicated or work-intensive as that you might find in a French starred restaurant, but it certainly is as good as deep fried duck rolls can be. Excellent.

duck roll

duck roll

You’ve read it, dear readers, the meal here was much better than I had remembered it. The products certainly weren’t as good as in some 2 or 3* restaurants, but for a Chinese restaurant of that size, they certainly were of decent quality. I didn’t like the fact, that the food arrived much faster than in a European restaurant (all in all, we were there for about 1.30hr). Obviously, I can’t compare it to Chinese restaurants in China, but my sources tell me, that this is nearly as good as the best Chinese places. It might even be, that some of the dishes here are “westernised”, I don’t care, as long as they are good. And good, they are. 

The beautiful ladies served the food today with even more of a smile than usually, which certainly doesn’t hurt and knew a hell of a lot about it too. That did surprise me somehow, as I only expected them to be there to make the male clientele more willing to spend.

Another feature I like about it is the extensive wine list. This really is quite interesting for a Chinese restaurant as they have all of the big names from all over the world, but also feature some more unknown producers, all at healthy prices (unfortunately). I don’t quite see why you have to have trendy Voss water, but I guess part of the clientele does enjoy it and possibly even demand it.

 

All in all, a meal here can be quite a good surprise and much less expensive than at the other London * restaurants.

la salle-3

la salle-3