Archive for mars 2010

Helene Darroze at the Connaught, London

mars 26, 2010

My first meal at this restaurant dates back a good year and a half now. It was the first Michelin-starred restaurant I visited in London, and my meal was decent, but hardly great. Since then I looked at the menu repeatedly. The thing that always struck me with that menu is how well it reads. Its always full of tasty things like cepes, foie gras, game of all kinds, pigeons, and generally nice and hearty dishes. Just the kind of food, one likes in a cold winter in London. So, I decided to go for dinner, and try their tasting menu, with one added dish (XXL scallop). Menus here are priced from £35 at lunch to £85 for the tasting. Three courses are available for £75.

We had a bottle of 2008 Mas Daumas Gassac blanc, which was very enjoyable and proved to be one of the less crazy mark-ups on the otherwise stupidly over-priced wine list. They certainly have all the great names here, but to sell some wines at more than twice the price of other London 2* (this has 1 btw) is a little over the top. At least for me.

But lets not complain, I knew what the prices were like before, and was here to eat. First up were a few nibbles. There was the very good Basque ham, a rather dull cake with olives I recall correctly, and a Jerusalem artichoke veloute. Apart from the tasteless and rather dry cake, these were very enjoyable.

The first course came directly, without any amuse bouche: A scallop and black truffle tartar with Jerusalem Artichoke veloute. First of all, this was a very tasty plate of food. The scallops were well seasoned, of good quality, and worked very well with the soup. The only thing I didn’t get, was the mention of black truffles in the dishes title. There were maybe five tiny bits of truffle in this tartar, which one could hardly see (they were no bigger than bits of black pepper), and taste even less. This is something I generally don’t like: Mentioning an expensive product and then using it in such homeopathic portions, that you have to look for it with a microscope to find it. However, apart from this I very much liked this. Very good.

Next up was the scallop I added. This was wrapped in blettes and served with a few slivers of truffles, ham jus, and a braised cote de blette. First of all, the quality of the product here, as in most of the other dishes was quite amazing. The scallop really was “XXL”, and tasted beautifully. The truffle was just about noticeable, but the dish would have benefited from the shaving of raw truffles. I really liked this, as it was just like the previous course simple, to the point, and very well made. Excellent.

Next up was a slice of foie gras, with some kind of chutney. This was also very good foie gras, although I didn’t quite enjoy the garnishes that much. However, with such good foie, one really doesn’t need anything else. Very good.

Up next was another very good course, which came in a miniscule portion: A lobster raviolo with carrot mousseline and some sorrel. This wasn’t bad at all, with very good pasta, and well timed lobster meat filling. The accompanying puree and sauce went beautifully with it (they should do, as their signature elements of Darroze). Very good.

The next course featured probably the best sea bass I’ve been served pretty much anywhere in Europe. It was cooked with a chive crust, and served with a cauliflower mousseline and an oyster/caviar jus. First of all, the fish was stunning. Firm, tasty and cut from a thick piece of bass, this was truly delightful. The only trouble here was that the fish was slightly overcooked, and that the caviar looked a little bizarre. It was sold as Aquitaine caviar, but didn’t really look like sturgeon roe if I’m honest. Anyways, the sauce was tasty and went well with the fish. Excellent.

The main course was a pigeon from Racan, served with quinoa and a coffee jus. This was another winner. The pigeon was perfectly rare, very gamey and incredibly tender. The quinoa, to which pistachios and dates were added, worked well with it, and the jus was simply exquisite. This was another rustic, but great dish. Excellent.

I skipped cheese, as the three or four cheeses on offer didn’t look all that amazing.

Our first dessert was a rhubarb, Champagne and Sarawak pepper composition. Alongside a rhubarb compote, was served some rhubarb/Champagne jelly, a meringue, and a chantilly cream. This was a very pleasant, well-made and refreshing dessert, which was just what one needs after the rather rich and strong pigeon. Very good, Especially as the balance between tartness and sweetness was just right. However, there are no pics of the desserts as the light was absolutely horrible by then.

The second dessert was no revelation, but equally well-made: A chocolate cake was topped with a mandarin sorbet. This was harmless and most pleasant to close the meal. Very good.

The little sweets afterwards were most pleasant indeed, especially the great canneles.

All in all, I was quite impressed by what I had eaten here. It was very good food, without any pretention, and quite singular in its character. There were very good products involved, the food was very well executed and the dishes made sense. That’s about all one can ask for. The only problem I had was that one felt that the service (apart from a very nice young intern sommelier) wasn’t as good as it is in other places here. We were put in a little corner of the room, and especially at the beginning of the meal, the dishes came a little too quickly. However, this being said, there wasn’t anything I can really object, so judging from this meal, I would see, how this restaurant could get a second star next year.

Apsleys at the Lanesborough- A Heinz Beck Restaurant, London

mars 24, 2010

Heinz Beck was in London, so I had no real choice, but to go for a dinner at the Lanesborough. Apsleys, the restaurant, run by Beck and his chef Massimiliano Blasone, had just received its first Michelin star, and I had eaten a very good lunch there in November 2009. We were five tonight, and let the chef chose the menu. He certainly did choose wisely and I was about to have a brilliant night.

The room is still incredibly pretty, but the lighting is dreadful. It’s so dark that one can hardly see one’s plate. It’s a real pity, but well, what can one do really?

Service was brilliant tonight, with everyone taking very good care of us. Every little element was taken note of, and every wish directly obliged. It was exemplary service.

The meal started with a few glasses of Taittinger’s Prestige Reserve and a very enjoyable mise en bouche: A piece of skate wing was cooked a la meuniere and served with deep-fried aubergines and tomato confit. This was very well made, every element being perfectly prepared, the only slight issue here, was that the individual elements were not necessarily easy to combine. However, this was a fine little palate teaser.

Bread tonight was excellent, much better than on my previous visit, and offered in much greater variety. Two kinds of olive oil were offered and Italian salt, which worked more than well with the various types of bread.

The meal itself started with a Langoustine Carpaccio with Beluga Caviar. A disarmingly simple dish, that is a real treat. The langoustines worked simply beautifully with the caviar, salmon roe and croutons, which gave the whole thing a little crunch. It was perfectly seasoned, resting on very fine ingredients: An excellent start.

Ruinart Rose.

Next up was a signature dish of Beck: Scallops with amaranth and black corn. On a puree of red amaranth (a Latin American cereal, which the Incas used very frequently) lay a few slices of raw scallops, which then were topped with a few popped amaranth seeds. Again, this was disarmingly simple, but it worked beautifully. The puree reminded me somewhat of seaweed, and worked beautifully with the scallops. This was something like the slightly more daring creations of La Pergola, which cooks more modern food than many Italian 3*. Excellent.

2006, Verdicchio di Matelica Riserva, Beli Sario, Le Marche, Italy

Up next was a Lobster on aubergine with tomato confit. Somewhat reminiscent of the amuse bouche this dish featured a perfectly cooked lobster, a tasty aubergine puree and a good tomato confit. I found the absence of a sauce, or any form of textural contrast a little bizarre, but apart from that this was a good dish. Although it certainly wasn’t the highlight of the evening. Good.

2008, Cuvee Anna, Tiefenbrunner, Südtirol, Italy

The following course was a real highlight though: Monkfish spaghetti “De Cecco” with courgettes. This was exactly what I am looking for, when eating very good Italian food. The pasta was  brilliant, with just the right amount of bite to it, and enrobed by a beautiful sauce (made out of slowly roasted cherry tomatoes), it was simple yet delicious. The monkfish strips were very nice, and didn’t have that often annoying rubbery texture, this fish can have when not properly cooked. It should be mentioned that the pairing with the Chablis was more than great.  Excellent. If more Italian restaurants could cook pasta this well, one would be in heaven.

2006, Chablis 1er Cru “Cote de Lechet”, Denis Pommier, Bourgogne, France

This might have been the other highlight of the meal: “Cod Nero”, onion confit and green vegetables. A better piece of cod has rarely crossed my path (maybe the one Christian Bau served me in December was better, but that’s about it). This piece of black cod was poached in red pepper juice and topped with crunchy San Daniele ham powder. The combination of flavours was incredible. With the vegetables, who gave a very pleasant support for this magnificent piece of fish, one really had a 3* dish in front of one’s nose. This was quite simply exquisite and stunning.

2003, Meursault, Domaine Matrot, Bourgogne, France

It was time for the main course, a Barbary Duck in Tahiti vanilla sauce. Tahiti vanilla is easily the most expensive type of vanilla one can buy, hence the mention of it on the menu I suppose. This dish was with the lobster the only slightly less “interesting” one. Whilst being a very well cooked piece of duck, it was a little tough, and the accompanying vegetables seemed a little outdated. This seemed like a dish straight out of cookery school. The sauce was brilliant however, and it still was a good course.

2007, Nebbiolo Langhe, Produttori del Barbaresco, Piemonte, Ialia

The pre-dessert was a Banana granite with Raspberry sorbet. This was perfectly pleasant, fresh, well made, and very enjoyable. (no photo, as it was too dark)

The main dessert was excellent again: Apple and chocolate gianduja. A simple name was given to such an intricate construction. Every element on here was very good: The gianduja ice cream was excellent, the millefeuille quite fresh, and beautiful with the creamy Italian meringue and the little chocolate cylinder delightful too. This was a fine collection of three desserts on one plate I would say. Excellent.

2005, Aszu 5 Pottonyos, Royal Tokaij Co, Hungary

For a 1* restaurant, that has received an enormous amount of bad press from the rather ignorant British press, this was a stunning meal. I’d even go as far as saying that 2/3 of it were in safe 2* territory. The cod, pasta and both starters were at least worth 2*, and the rest was a very good * too. The only thing I noticed was the absence of sauces in most dishes. Whilst the duck dish was sauced with a stunning jus, the rest was more “dry”. This might be the style of Massimiliano, but in the lobster dish, it would have been enjoyable to have a little sauce of some sort. On the other dishes, I didn’t find it annoying at all, as the products were all beautiful, and in the cod’s case so well cooked, that one really didn’t need anything else. The wines worked beautifully too. Especially the Ruinart on the langoustines, the Verdicchio on the scallops and the Chablis on the pasta were exemplary pairings. Need I repeat that service was perfect, and warm? I don’t think so.

The prices here are amazingly reasonable for the kind of place it is, and I would urge anyone to give it a go. It’s more than worth it!

Aby Duhr, Chateau Pauque, Grevenmacher

mars 22, 2010

Luxembourg produces a rather substantial amount of wine, at least given the country’s miniscule size. But, apart from one single producer the rest is easy drinking decent stuff at best, and quite horrible at worst. This wine maker I am talking of is Aby Duhr. In his Chateau Pauque in the Mosel village of Grevenmacher, he creates incredibly interesting wines. The man is among the founders of Domaines et Traditions, a group of serious winemakers from Luxembourg, which produce selected cuvees for this label, and is active in the grand jury europeen. All of this taken apart, what interested me since I first tasted his wines in December 2009, was what the rest of his production tastes like.

So, after returning from London for a few weeks, I drove down to the Mosel to taste a few wines. We started with a flight of ’08 Rieslings. Whilst this was a more or less difficult vintage on the Mosel, Duhr managed to create wines, which still show an incredible balance, and body. Among the finest examples was a old vines cuvee, coming from two different sites. This was an incredibly powerful wine, which had dramatically reduced yields (his rendement is about a quarter of what is usual in Luxembourg) and was harvested in mid to end November. So technically, he could market this as a late harvest, but he decided not to. At around 15euro or so, this is a steal, and will develop gracefully over the next few years. Among the other great Rieslings was a stunning Sous la roche, from a newly aquired vineyard (harvested on the 20. November!), and a Grevenmacher Fels.

Moving on, we stepped over to something I tasted at Christian Bau’s phenomenal restaurant: Les Fossiles, which if I recall correctly is a Pinot blanc. We compared the ’07 and ’08, which showed the ’08 as even more dry and mineral. Both of these are incredibly well made again, and show what potential this type of grape has, in the hands of a great winemaker.

His top end cuvees- Clos du Paradis, Chateau Pauque and Clos de la falaise– are all well worth the price of around 30euro per bottle. The first and last are Chardonnays, which rival the very best wines of Burgundy in terms of power, balance, and finesse. To be honest, one of the greatest wine memories of last year was his ’05 Chateau Pauque, which I drank on NYE, without knowing what to expect. Upon opening, it showed as something of incredible power and grace. It had bags of fruit, underlined by a very fine acidity, and a very subtle sweet smoky nose from the barrel ageing. This is without doubt among the finest wines at that price, at least I haven’t found much better wine for this price.

If you can, try the Clos du Paradis. You will not regret it! It’s a pure Auxerois. A grape common in Luxembourg, but disregarded as something trivial, without much of an interest. Durh however, manages to elevate it to the very highest level. With a production of no more than 500-600 bottles per year, he makes this wine as his top cuvee. It is absolutely stunning. We tasted ’99 and ’03, with the former being more marked by evolution, possibly close to it’s maturity, and the latter displaying quite a rich basket of fruit. I would have had no clue as to what we were drinking, had he not told me that it was a 100% Auxerois. Unbelievable.

After having gone through a fair bunch of his wines, it must have been around 20 or so, we moved on to Dagueneau’s ‘04s. Starting with Pur Sang, which was quite powerful and mineral, we then moved to Damnatus Mons, without doubt the greatest Sancerre I have tried. Finally, a glass of Silex was poured. I prefer the ’07, but this was brilliant without doubt.

Last of the bunch, after 4 hours of tasting was a ’07 Chambolle Musigny from Meo Camuzet and a number of their white Hautes Cotes de Nuits “Clos St. Philibert”. The best was the ’97, whilst ’06 was quite rich, in contrast to the very mineral ’07. These were all much better than a ’07 Pernot Pulingy Montrachet, which served as contrast.

This was a beautiful afternoon. Aby Duhr should get much more attention, as he is a pioneer in Luxembourg, someone who is obsessed with what he does and does it brilliantly well. Throughout the tasting he stressed the point that he makes wines, that should be enjoyable to drink: “I want to drink my wines”. A point, many seem to forget. If you are in the area, do take the time to stop by and buy a few cases. It doesn’t get much better on the Mosel.

The Greenhouse, London

mars 13, 2010

After a slightly shaky last meal in the Greenhouse, I was dubious about coming back so quickly. However, the hare was still available, and that’s a dish I could kill for, especially Antonin’s version. So, here I was, sitting down in this gorgeous basement tucked away in Mayfair. I let Antonin put a menu together for me, and was more than happy I chose to do so: This was by far the finest meal I’ve had here so far. I would even go as far as saying that this was a straight 3* meal, at least compared to the other 3*s I’ve tried in England. But, let’s see how things went…

To start off, I had a glass of Bollinger Rose, which was just what I like: powerful, quite rich and dominated by Pinot Noir. After this I had a bottle of Coche Dury’s Bourgogne blanc, 2007 and a glass of Didier Dagueneau’s Silex (also from ’07). To finish the meal, I had a Riesling Auslese, from Daniel Vollenweider. The Coche was nice, but still way too young: Too acidic, and quite closed. It was not quite as concentrated and powerful as I had hoped it would be, and still a little nervous. This being said, for a generic white Burgundy wine, it was beautiful, and will certainly improve over the next couple of years. The Silex on the other hand was beautiful, outrageous and unforgettable: The nose alone was a pure delight, and just made you want to dive in. The taste was even more rewarding. One had a feeling the wine embalmed your palate with it’s full-bodied, powerful flavour. It was the first time I tried this, and I sincerely hope I can do so soon again, as I can’t describe how much I liked this.  The final Riesling was alright, but nothing I found incredible. In fact, I find that the basic wines of say, Egon Muller or Heyman Lowenstein are much more convincing than this as it lacked concentration for my taste. It was also the first time, that I found a pairing here to be imperfect.

To start the meal, the same nibbles were brought out again: A rhubarb sphere and a few stilton “sandwiches”. These are very pleasant and do what they are supposed to very well.

After this, we got a new amuse bouche. A piece of radish and a thin layer of squid served as wrap for a crab and combava preparation. This dish was brilliant. The look alone was beautiful, as pure as it gets, and so much in Antonin’s style. The taste was exactly what one hoped to get, if not even better. This was a stunning dish, one that was perfectly balanced, beautifully prepared and just excellent.

Next up was a Simmental beef tartare with kohlrabi and black truffles. This dish was also fantastic. The beef of excellent quality, mixed with truffles, a large number of different herbs, some raw pickled, and therefore crunchy kohlrabi and a little truffled sauce. It was a dish, which was not only very precise, and clean, but also very enjoyable to eat. A very fine tartare indeed. Very good to excellent.

Next up was a study in reductionism. A single scallop, cut in half sat atop a sliver of black truffle, and was wrapped in blettes, a type of swiss chard, common on the Riviera and other Mediterranean countries. Around it was poured a creamy, foamy Champagne and Yuzu sauce, and nothing else. The scallops at the Greenhouse have always been very good. This one was no exception to that rule, and was perfectly cooked and seasoned. The truffles were not very present, as there wasn’t enough of them in the dish, but the sauce and scallop combination was beautiful. The blettes leaves added a different texture and a slightly different taste, which only increased the dishes’ complexity. Eating such a dish with a few slivers of truffles grated on top if it, must be amazing, but I haven’t seen that in London yet. Very good.

The next course blew me away. A piece of Scottish lobster sat atop a few gnocchi, and was hidden under a couple of daikon slivers. With it came a few crunchy-fried strips wild mushrooms and a beautiful Amontillado sauce. Boy,  the sauce was brilliant, with a very subtle sweetness from the Amontillado. On a similarly pleasant level, were the gnocchi, which were very good too – fluffy, light and tasty – but it was the lobster that really stole the show here. I have trouble to think of a better piece of lobster. This was both tender and nearly crunchy at the same time. Without a hint of chewiness, this was very close to the lobster I had eaten at ADPA a few weeks before. Stunning.

It was time for a little foie gras. Not something I object, and in this case it was a re-worked version of a dish I already loved a few months ago. This time the hot foie was covered in something of a slightly crunchy crust made out of red wine, spices and other things that made me think of mulled wine. With it came a little beetroot juice, a tart piece of rhubarb (to be eaten last) a beetroot cream and a cooked beetroot. The foie was again stunning. Of such tender texture, it was hard to not love this dish, especially if one combined it with the earthy beetroot and had the spicy sweetness from the wine crust. Antonin raised the bar on one of his strongest dishes here. Excellent.

But, forget all the rest, now was coming something I absolutely adore, love,… The lievre a la royale sat in front of me. Beautifully covered with some truffles, served with truffled potato puree, I was in heaven. It was the second time I had this dish, and it was the second time that I was ready to end my life just there. Right on the spot. It is that bloody damn good, that I can’t wait to eat it again when the season starts this year. A better version than this one has rarely crossed my path, as Antonin manages to boil down the strength and power of this dish to create something that has all of the above, but at the same time remains lighter than one would think. The hare is marinated for only an hour or so, much less than the old recipe demands. For the sauce, he uses a light stock to give something very smooth, and not as cloying as the traditional sauce can be. It doesn’t get any better. DIVINE. (the next day, I still had this hare’s taste in my mouth, it’s just glorious).

Anyone who goes here without having cheese is missing out on what I would easily rank among the finest cheeses I’ve had the opportunity to try. Today again, all of the cheeses we tried were excellent, with of course the 4,5 year old Comte, which rivals that of Arpege, ADPA, or the Crillon to name but a few. Christophe also serves a very fine Camembert, which might be better than any other cheese of that type I have tasted. Outstanding.

The pre-dessert hadn’t changed, and I enjoyed it just as on my previous visits. Very good.

As a dessert I had requested the pear millefeuille, of which Antonin spoke last time. It is done in the same way as the Arpege’s, which means that it might not look quite as beautiful, as others, but it tastes bloody amazing. Here the praline cream was additioned with little balls of pear. A brilliant combination, which definitively made my evening perfect. The puff pastry was beautifully caramelised, which made it fragile, and outright delicious. Excellent.

In terms of the wine pairing, I was a little underwhelmed. The Riesling was too acidic, not rich enough for such a dessert. It lost all of its body next to this beautiful dish.

Petit-fours are always beautiful here.

Good lord, Antonin seems in very very good form at the moment. After a slightly less good meal on my last visit (which still featured arguably the best dish I had eaten last year: the hare), everything was back on track. Not only that, it was even better. From the first to last course, there was not one course ,I didn’t enjoy, or which had a slight slip or let alone mistake. He refined his cooking even more, serving the cleanest food in London, and developing his very own style even more. A brilliant start for the new year here. I can’t wait to go back, and will do so in a few days.

The Sportsman, Seasalter

mars 7, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ledbury, London

mars 2, 2010

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

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

Some of the wines of the night

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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