Archive for avril 2010

The Square, London

avril 30, 2010

It was time to go back to the Square, which I find to be among the very finest restaurants in London. I won’t write anything about the general background of the restaurant, but I will just mention the food and wines we had, as I have written enough about this place before already. Service was of course brilliant, as it always is here, with David and the team looking after us really well. We were five, so I had asked Marc Piquet, the great sommelier, to organise a few courses around a couple of wines. We started with a very good bottle of 2002 Larmandier Bernier Vieilles Vignes de Cramant, which was beautiful, and really had a great depth and concentration for a 100% Chardonnay Champagne. Next up was a bottle of Selosse’s Exquise which was outstanding. Note, that this was one of the old bottles, which still have the old label. This means, that the wine has aged in the cellars of the restaurant for quite a while and was absolutely terrific. Rich, whilst not overly sweet or generous, it evolved throughout the whole night. By the end, it drank like a very well made, very fruity white wine. Gorgeous and unforgettable. Next up, we ran out of white wine, and therefore got a glass of 2002 Pulingy Montrachet Clos de la Garenne from Louis Jadot. This was merely alright, but I much more prefer, say a Carillon Pulingy villages from a less good year than this, as it was thin, pretty pale and uninspiring. Next up was another bomb though. A 2001 Grange des Peres. Not quite as good as the 1998, I had tried at the Harwood Arms a few weeks earlier, but definitely in great shape. It was serious wine, and all I can say, is that it really made me quite happy. The final blow was a great wine too: A 1995 Kracher Scheurebe No.6. Also dressed in one of the old labels of Kracher, this wine was incredibly intense, concentrated, oily and very well balanced. This was stunning stuff, and great with the desserts we tried.  All in all, we drank superbly well this night, and the food was to be just as interesting.

We started with the selection of amuses, which were very enjoyably as usual. However, I can only say again, that the prawn stick was a little dry again. Apart from that, these amuses are playful, fun and well made. Very good. After this we went straight into very serious territory. A nice Isle of Orkney scallop was placed atop a wild mushroom compote and pumpkin puree. This was topped with grated black truffles. Wow! I can hardly recall a better dish at the Square. Without doubt this was a very fine dish: Even better than the Cauliflower dish I had on my birthday.  Excellent to outstanding.

Next came the famous langoustine, which is always on top form here, and still the best quality of langoustine I have found. Excellent to outstanding.

Next came a fish course: Turbot with truffles, morels and gnocchi. Very good quality in terms of turbot, the cooking time was also perfect, as were the accompaniments. Another very successful dish here. Very good.

Our first main course was a beautiful venison with beetroot and other root vegetables. A dish, which played with smoky, sweet and sour elements, this was a very fine plate of food again. The only thing I found a little annoying was the beet root puree, which was a tad too sweet for my taste. However, with the other elements it came together quite well. Very good.

The second main course was a pork chop with rhubarb and a croustillant of the head or trotters. The croustillant was absolutely amazing, whilst the chop was cooked very well too. The rhubarb was quite a welcome addition here, as it brightened things up, both visually and in terms of flavour. Very good.

After a delightful pre-dessert, with that fabulous beignet, we were ready for dessert.

I chose a crushed pear with truffle ice cream. Very simple, but incredibly nice. The dessert was served luke warm, and had quite warming, earthy flavours. Not bad at all. Excellent, and a worthy partner of the Kracher.

The second dessert was just as good, a rhubarb based plate, it featured a whole number of things, all of which were very good. Excellent.

All in all, we were extremely lucky today. The wines were magnificent, apart from the Puligny maybe, and the kitchen was on top form too. There was hardly one dish, which lacked some kind of interesting twist, and all were perfectly executed. After the slightly less successful meal on my birthday, this was the Square back on top form. In terms of modernised classical food, one is very safe here.


2000, Vosne Romanee 1er cru « Les Suchots », Domaine Prieure-Roch

avril 27, 2010

Prieure Roch’s 2000 Vosne Romanée 1er cru “Les Suchots” moved me, from the first sip to the very last drop. This small domaine, based close to the village of Nuits St. Georges is run by Henry-Frederic Roch, who is a descendent of the Leroy family, which makes the expectations are rather high. The fact, that he co-signs the bottles of the Domaine de la Romanee Conti doesn’t hurt neither. He should know how to make good wine with his partner and regisseur Yannick Champ.

The wines are not filtered, and biodynamic if I’m not mistaken. This explains the cloudy, quite bright and shiny colour of these beauties. The wine in question is somewhat pale, and intriguing. The smell of this nectar is intoxicating.  Such an incredible nose is just hard to describe, there is truffle, you find very ripe berries, the wood’s slightly sweet smokiness is also there, and some leathery, earthy smell rounds things off. A first sip confirms this nose directly. The balance is just right at the moment. There is a fresh acid note, the fruit is still there and very present, and the tannins are so smooth, you could think you are drinking silk. It took me two days to finish this bottle, something, that rarely happens to me. But this was so good, I simply wanted it to go on and on and on. Wow, wow, wow. I loved it.

Le Gavroche, London

avril 25, 2010

I had a very good meal at the Gavroche last year, and as part of my friend’s visit to London, a visit here was arranged. We got lucky and secured a lunch table two weeks prior to the date, which I didn’t expect. Upon arriving we were warmly greeted, and had quite a lunch before us. In fact, none of us expected such a good meal to be produced here. Service was great and incredibly relaxed. We were allowed to compose our own little tasting menu, simply by sharing a number of dishes. This way we had the opportunity to try a number of interesting dishes, from the menu, which read incredibly well I must say.

Wine-wise we settled with a half bottle of Guigal’s Condrieu, then had a glass of Chateau “La Croix St Georges” and to finish some Sauternes, whose name escapes me. I didn’t write the vintages down either, but the wines were all very pleasant.

To start, a whipped cream cheese quenelle with herbs was served on toast, not exactly very interesting, but you can eat it. Next to it was a tart with celery remoulade. This was a little heavy for  me, but otherwise good.

The amuse itself was a smoked eel with carrot salad. Now, this was similar to what I had last time, and was pleasant again. Good.

But, things started to kick off seriously with the first starter. A tartine of calve’s head with a herb salad was a straight 3* dish for both of us. Masterfully prepared, this dish was quite clever in its composition. The bread was just there to support the creamy, richly flavoured calve’s head, and add some crunch to the preparation. The salad gave the whole thing the fresh note one needs in such a plate. I love this kind of cooking, and when it’s done this well, you can hardly be anything but tremendously happy. Excellent.

The second starter was a signature dish of the house: Langoustine and snail gratin. Simple, featuring a spinach puree (?), a large snail and some small langoustine tails, this dish is as classical as it gets nowadays. That means that it is also immensely satisfying to eat, as it is decadently rich and strongly flavoured. It would have been another perfect 3* dish, had it not been for the slight overcooking of the langoustines, which weren’t exactly of the same quality as those to be had in the Square, but were still of good quality. So, apart from the overcooking of the langoustine, this dish was another winner. Very good.

However, the dish of the day was about to come: artichaut et foie gras “Lucullus”. Another classic, this dish was a textbook rendition of one of the great French dishes. One could eat this for instance at Eugenie Brazier’s two 3* eateries in the first half of the last century, so to see it here, spiked my curiosity. And thankfully I ordered it. It was glorious. The artichoke was filled with a slice of foie gras, some truffles and hen wrapped in chicken mousse, which was also studded with truffles. The whole thing was sauced with a truffle jus, and then one was in heaven. Texturally, taste-wise and visually, this was pure pleasure. Outstanding.

As a main course, we shared the Bresse pigeon with a nut crust, and date puree. This was also very good, faultless in fact, but not quite at the same level as some other pigeon dishes, hence less special in the overall context of the meal. Very good to excellent.

As cheese, we had the famous soufflé, which was just as good as I had hoped it would be. Incredibly rich, very ugly, but simply great fun to eat, this really isn’t bad at all. No pic, as it was incredibly hard to focus on this white creature in the dark room.

Having ordered the l’assiette du chef, which was described to us as an assortiment of 7 different desserts, we thought that it would be enough, foolishly we did think it was. It seemed more like mignardises, rather than a collection of desserts. They were rather good, but some merely seemed like the sad little banquet bites one finds here and there on receptions and the like. Hhhhhmmm…

To rectify that problem, we played it safe with a classic, and had a portion of the omelette soufflé Rothschild. This was great. Texturally it seems to be close to a very airy and light soufflé, which is then drowned in abricot sauce. Very fresh and tasty, this was a good way to end the meal. Very good.

A bit of ice cream made the thing perfect.

I was impressed with this meal, really impressed. Products were of very good quality, cooking was interesting, and very good technically, and overall the dishes were excellent. Some even stood out as being very close to perfect. I will hope to be back here at some point in the not so distant future, as one has a very complete experience here with outstandingly good and joyful service, and very good classic food.

Hertog Jan, Brugge

avril 19, 2010

When Gert de Mangeleer contacted me via Facebook, I hadn’t really heard much of his restaurant. I had seen a few pics of recipes of his on the Flemish Foodies, and had known that he gained a second star this year, but that was about it. This meal was to be quite surprising as you shall find out. Hertog Jan is located in a quiet suburb of Bruges, and sits in a very pretty house. The restaurant is divided in a number of rooms, and must have around  9 or 10 tables. The kitchen, is not open, but can be seen through large glass windows. Tables are spacious, with very modern, Asian influenced elements here and there, and overall the feeling of the dining room is rather relaxed, but still quite chic. Service tonight was without faults, attentive, effective, quick and friendly.

The wine list here is fairly priced for a 2* in Europe, and is full of wines I didn’t know. However, as Joachim is the holder of the title best sommelier of Belgium, he’ll be able to guide you through the interesting list without problems. The only problem I found, was that most of the wines are rather young (say Cornas’ from around 2000), and not really approachable. However, I suppose that with time, this will become less problematic. Tonight, Joachim served a number of wines by the glass, of which I knew only three or four. What struck me was how well the wines went with the respective dishes. The most accomplished pairing was that of the eel with the Australian Semillon. This was a match made in heaven. Overall, I found the pairings to be very good. The meal tonight started with a glass of the house Champagne: Dehours brut, and a selection of small plates. First up was a Cherry Macaron with foie d’oie and coca cola crisp. A brilliant combination, that didn’t really resemble a macaron, but was a masterpiece in terms of flavour and texture. The cherry and cola gave the foie a sweet/sour background, which was great to start a meal like this one. Excellent.

Next up was a Foie d’oie cream with raspberry, yoghurt, lychee and roses. This reads a little like an Ispahan, to which goose liver had been added. Taste wise, it was one of the lightest, most refreshing foie preparations I’ve ever had. At the same time, the flavours were rather strong, and worked beautifully together. Very good to excellent.

Parmesan cream with tomato powder and olive oil. This was the weakest of all the amuses, at least in my taste. Whilst the flavours were there, and there was an interesting idea behind the dish, I found it to be a little dominated by the slightly heavy cream of parmesan. Good.

The nest one was great again: Pork rillette with peanut cream and pickles. I loved this. Effectively, it was a very well-made rillette, with an interesting addition of peanuts and the classic garnish of pickled cornichons. Very good.

Last came the best: Potato mousse with vanilla, coffee and mimolette cheese. This one was truly great. A very airy, light potato mousse was topped with some vanilla oil, and a grating of mimolette. The combination of these elements was absolutely outrageous, which I didn’t really expect. This was looking like the start to a rather promising meal! Excellent.

Sea bass: Marinated sea bass with cucumber, oyster flower, sea berry and ponzu sauce. First of all, one of the most intriguing dishes of the year for me. Everything was perfect here. The quality, seasoning and cutting of the fish, the ponzu dressing, the addition of the groseilles de mer, the herbs and all the other elements. The second point that struck me was the presentation. At first, one has only three little towers of marinated sea bass and cucmber. Nothing more. Rarely have I seen dishes, which were so complete, modern and at the same time distilled to the essence of what they should be. Outstanding.

Knoll Gruener Veltliner « Ried Kreutles » 2006 – Wachau, Austria

Next came the Green Perthuis asparagus: Green Perthuis asparagus with “Old Bruges” cream and grapefruit. A nicely sized asparagus came perfectly cooked with some cream made of vieux Bruges, marinated onions and grapefruit elements. Simple but, if the products are of such quality, and so carefully prepared, this is all one needs. A great asparagus, served in an incredibly light, and satisfying way. Very good.

Koehler Ruprecht Riesling « Klasstadter Saumagen » 2007 – Pfalz, Germany

Oosterschelde Lobster: Oosterschelde lobster with finger lime, sesame, wild sorrel and cray fish sauce. Half a lobster, from the Oosterschelde, which is said to deliver the best lobsters money can buy, and lies close to Bruges, came with a selection of herbs, some sesame crumble, finger lime and a creamy cray fish sauce. Light again, very fresh, due to the finger lime, this dish was simply delicious. The lobster was perfect, the sauce just strong enough to underline its taste, without being too far reduced, and the herbs giving interesting additional flavour. Great stuff!

Albet i Noya « elBlanc XXV » 2007 – Penedes, Spain

The following course also featured a product from the Oosterschelde: Eel: Lacquered eel with beet root, bergamot, dried Japanese plum and monkfish liver cream. A plate of strong flavours, Gert used fresh, rather large eels here. The accompanying monkfish liver cream had great intensity, and could best be described as foie gras of the sea. The eel itself, was very firm in terms of texture, and had great flavour. The beet root was just sweet/sour enough, to cut the richness slightly and made the whole thing very colourful. I loved this, and as mentioned before, the pairing on this one was unreal. Excellent.

Deen de Bortoli Semillon « Vat 3 » 2002 – South Australia

Morilles: Oxtail stew with potato cream, morilles and mushroom sauce. A ragout of oxtail was topped with a bit of potato emulsion, some morels, and Jerusalem artichoke sprouts. Hardly ever are restaurant dishes as satisfying and comforting at the same time. This was just very very fine comforting food, perfectly executed. Excellent to outstanding.

Domaine Gramenon « Les Hauts de Gramenon » 2006 – Cotes du Rhone, France

Limousin Lamb: Limousin Lamb with Zucchini, goat cheese, lamb and lemon sauce. A rack of lamb from the Limousin, was cooked to a beautiful pink, and served with a considerable amount of meltingly tender, tasty fat, which itself had a fragile, crunchy crust. On the side was some zucchini, and a bit of goat’s cheese. A rich jus was poured to finish the plate. This was another perfect beauty, and the taste was remarkable. I often find lamb to be rather underwhelming in restaurants, unless top quality is chosen, but here the fact that the fat was left on the meat made it even more tasty. The fat, combined with the crackling and rather lean meat made a very full, complex mouthful. The accompanying elements didn’t distract, and went very well with the meat. Excellent to outstanding.

Mercouri « Cava » 2004 – Peloponessos, Greece

We omitted cheese to start with desserts directly. First up was white chocolate with rice crispies, yuzu and coconut. Another picture on a plate, this was a dessert, of which all the elements had to be eaten together, as they complemented each other perfectly. The rice gave the crunch, the sorbet some cold, creamy element, and the yuzu gel an onctuous acidic part. A clever, refreshing little plate, which showed the very thoughtful composition of Gert’s plates again. Excellent.

With the desserts: Blandy’s Verdelho 10yr, medium dry – Madeira, Portugal

Combination of Pineapple, passion fruit, coffee and liquorice. Elements I wouldn’t have combined at first worked as if made for one and other. Again, this was an incredibly light, refreshing dessert, which only left you wanting more. Excellent.

The last dessert was the weakest, not bad, but a little less interesting than the previous two. Cranberries with yoghurt mousse and lychee granite. It was very very fresh, hardly sweet, maybe not enough, but a decent end to the meal. Good.

The following mignardises were by no means bad. Especially the deep-fried beignets were great.

Overall, this was one of the most interesting meals of the year. I hadn’t expected anything resembling this kind of technically perfect, and interesting cooking, so I was more than happy when one dish after the other turned out to be simply excellent. Products were carefully chosen, perfectly prepared, and prepared with great intelligence and thought. To add to this, service was exemplary, as were the wine pairings. A real revelation, which surprisingly enough, has had limited to none media coverage so far. Pack  your bags and organise a trip to Bruges, eat here and at another up and coming place in Belgium, it’s worth the trip.

N.B.: I was invited by the chef to review the restaurant.

The Harwood Arms part II, London

avril 14, 2010

Sunday roast can be eaten in a fair number of restaurants in London, but few do it better than the Harwood Arms. My previous post described their dinner menu, which changes a lot by the way, so don’t expect to see the same dish again. This time, I’ll write about the Sunday roast. The place was absolutely packed when we got there at 3.25pm (!), and people came until about 4pm, so book very early if you want to eat lunch here. At the moment they’re booked out 6 weeks ahead for lunch, and 4 weeks for the evening.

In terms of wine, we started with a 2005 Puligny Montrachet from the brilliant domaine Leflaive. This was a really stunning wine. It needed a little bit of time to get going, but after a good 15min, it was simply exquisite. Quite concentrated for a village wine (which you could expect at this price!), with well-integrated oak, and beautifully balanced fruit and acidity. Just the kind of stuff I like! After this, we moved to something I found at Berry’s, a 2005 Monthelie 1er cru “Les Duresses” from another legendary domaine: Domaine des Comtes Lafon. This was an easy drinking wine. Just right for a Sunday lunch.

To start off with, I had deep-fried brawn, which I was told was pretty much everything from the pig’s head breaded and depp-fried. I love these slightly more interesting parts of the animals, and this was no deception. On the contrary, it was a stunning little cromesquis, as one would call it in French. Outstanding (not to mention THE ever brilliant egg).

Next up we were brought a pumpkin soup with a cheese stick. The soup was great, and worked beautifully with the Puligny. It was quite thick in terms of consistency, and well-seasoned. A few roasted nuts gave it some crunch, and the cheese stick was not to be left alone neither. Very good.

My starter was a roe deer and walnut terrine with prunes. As one could expect from a pub, sepcialising in game, this was very good. It had loads of flavour, and a beautiful soft texture, which still had some bite to it. Nothing to criticise here…

Up next was an intriguing dish: A braised shoulder of venison was breaded and deep-fried, upon it was sat a grilled chop. This was served with a bit of champ and a jus. The shoulder was simply decadent, unctuous, tasty and crispy on the outside: Great stuff! The chop was cooked perfectly, and was just as tender, as one would have imagined good venison to be! Excellent.

The main course was a roast pork belly with black pudding, some kind of mash, and a little salad. It was quite a substantial portion, but it was great. The belly was wrapped around a piece of black pudding, and cooked long enough to become nicely tender, whilst the outside was just about to be crispy (it could have been a little more crispy). The mash was served in a way too big portion again, but you simply can’t leave an unfinished plate, can you? That’s not what you do. Very good.

A bit of cheese was ordered to finish the red wine. There were a few fine British cheeses, whose purveyor I have omitted to write down.

Dessert today was a bit of poached rhubarb with a pepper sorbet. This was just what one needs after quite a big meal: Light, refreshing, a little tart and reminding us that spring is lurking around the corner.

What can I say about this meal? Food wise, there’s not much to criticise, the pork belly could have been a bit more crispy, the rest was just faultless. This is food, you can’t really criticise, and therefore I love this place. Service isn’t like in most other 1* places, but relaxed, smiling, without any fuss and brings all you need directly. What more can one ask for?

The Harwood Arms part I, London

avril 13, 2010

Over the past weeks, I’ve eaten at this pub quite frequently, so I believe that I can give a solid assessment of the food here. This post will focus on two meals, a dinner and a Sunday lunch. This way, one gets both parts of the menu: The classic British tradition that is the Sunday roast, and the normal menu on offer here.

Let’s start off with the dinner. On a Monday night, I met with a friend, who had eaten here once before. We were warmly greeted and had a glass of wine at the warming fireplace. This was most comfortable, and we were given all the time in the world to finish our glass before going to our table. In terms of drinks we had brought two bottles: A 2007 St Joseph, “Lieu dit St. Joseph” from Guigal and a red 2004 Chateauneuf du Pape, “La Crau”, domaine du Vieux Telegraphe. The Guigal was intensively smoky  on the nose at first, but later revealed to be less dominated by smoke on the palate. This was a very well made St. Joseph, that was a huge pleasure to drink. The Chateauneuf was quite powerful, as was to be expected, but again, was an absolutely beautiful wine. You can hardly go wrong with such wines. To finish we each had a glass of Taittinger’s basic NV Champagne. It’s a decent wine, but nothing that will blow your socks off.

To start off, one would be a fool if one wouldn’t order the Scotch egg. It’s just immensely satisfying to eat: Crunchy breading, thin layer of venison meat, and a creamy egg. With it came another of my favourite things here: The raw venison with a cream of foie gras on toast. Ohhhh, this is good, believe me, I’d love them to do a starter of venison carpaccio with a thin layer of this cream underneath it, and a few croutons on top. That would be one of the best starters in town. Divine.

Next up was a dish Stephen (Williams, the chef here) wanted us to try: A creamed chicken soup with chicken wings. This was one great bowl of rich, deeply-flavoured chicken broth, to which a bit of cream was added. When one drank it, one had both the cream and clear broth, which made a great, very rewarding sip of soup. The accompanying chicken wings were a little on the sweet side for the both us, but as this was a first try, I’m sure there’ll be some fine tuning done on this. Excellent for the chicken broth, less for the wings.

First starter proper was the confit salmon with broccoli. This was served cold, something I would not have expected, and was simply a plate of perfectly cooked food. You couldn’t argue about this dish: Very good salmon, cooked beautifully, a nice little herb cream to freshen things up a bit, a bit of broccoli salad, simply dressed and well cooked (with some bite to it), and a few slivers of this and that to add colour and texture to the dish. What more can you expect for around £6 or so? Very good.

Another starter was a smoked eel tarte with rhubarb and celeriac. This was simply great. One of the finest starters I’ve eaten here over the last months. The tarte had the perfect balance between the slightly sweet/sour rhubarb, smoky eel and crunchy puff pastry. The accompanying cream added a welcome little acidic kick, and one was very well off eating this. Excellent, and beautiful with the Guigal.

Up next was the first of the meat courses: a cutlet of lamb was grilled and served with a haggis croquette and green sauce. Boy, this croquette was a killer! Lusciously creamy, and intense in terms of flavour, the haggis (my first ever) was great. I don’t know if I will eat a better haggis than this in the future, but if I get more stuff like that, I’m more than a happy punter! The lamb was great too: the charcoal flavours from the grill were present, giving the meat a little smoky component. The accompanying greens (I think it was a bit of cabbage), was simply exquisite. I rarely get excited about this kind of stuff, but here I loved it. Excellent.

The next main course was a braised ox cheek with mashed potatoes and onions. Another winner, with meat that really didn’t neat a knife to be cut, and a great, hearty jus. The mashed potatoes are still used in rather generous portions, which is a little annoying for some, but that’s the concession to pub food they have to make I suppose. The onion rings were great too, with beautiful texture and flavour. Very good. (unfortunately I didn’t get a decent pic of that one)

The last main course was a slow cooked duck leg, with mashed peas or something of the sort and a delicious crunchy potato ring. Nothing wrong here then, great, very tender, braised duck meat, with the crunchy potatoes as counterpart and a beautiful confit of more meat and the peas underneath it all. Very good indeed.

Desserts today were their classic doughnuts, light and airy filled with some kind of slightly bitter citrus fruit marmalade, and dipped into honeyed cream. Great stuff.

Second came a rice pudding with Clementine (?) sorbet and grapefruit jelly. This was great, with the interaction of the creamty rich rice, slightly tart, bitter jelly and the very refhreshing sorbet. Very good.

Last of the bunch was the sticky toffee sandwich, which I love. A parfait is sandwiched between two thin slices of bread and eaten like an ice cream sandwich. Very good.

Now, part two about the Sunday Lunch will follow soon, so stayed tuned. Great wines and food were had there too…

The Sportsman, Seasalter

avril 9, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bereche & fils, Craon de Ludes, France

avril 6, 2010

I have become more and more fascinated with the wines of the Champagne over the last few years. From the rather boring, over-priced, mass-produced cuvees of the big houses, to the exciting wines from the best of the growers, this region has an enormous width and depth on offer. I was lucky enough to spend a day in the Champagne a little while ago, which started in Ludes, more precisely in Craon de Ludes. Here, the Bereche family is making wines since 5 generations. The face of this small, family-owned company, at least for me, is Raphael, who is young, dynamic and incredibly passionate about what he does. In addition he’s a lovely chap, who loves good food and cooking. That doesn’t seem like a bad starting point! When I arrived at the winery I was warmly greeted, and we went straight to one of his vineyards, where the taille was in full motion.

What fascinated me in Raphael’s approach was his desire to make wines that are close to the earth. He doesn’t speak of terroir, but of the earth on which his carefully tended vines grow. That’s also a part he considers vital in determining the wine’s character, and therefore puts great effort in looking after it in the best possible way. Furthermore, his perfectionism can be seen in all he does, up to the choice of his barrels: DRC barrels are used for the elaboration of red wines (they might produce a coteaux Champenois soon), and Pierre Yves Colin Morey’s for the white wines. Those are some of the finest domaines in Burgundy, and it’s interesting to see how the best growers in Champagne fall back on their southern confreres in the barrel choice: Selosse with his Leflaive oak, and Prevost using Coche-Dury’s old wood are but two examples. In addition, Raphael uses different ideas and techniques to elaborate his wines, and is playing with some highly interesting methods at the moment, the fruit of which we might be able to taste, if he is happy with it.

So, speaking of his wines, what do they taste like? What I found striking in them are a few characteristics, to be found in most of the wines. First of all, they are incredibly refreshing, precise and well made. If one tastes his Beaux Regards Chardonnay, it just feels like a fresh breeze in the summer. There is a very subtle oaky note in there, quite a bit of citrus fruits on the palate and a fine, creamy perlage. Drink this with some delicate sea food starter, and you’ll be in heaven. Raphael was speaking about a smoked scallop ceviche, and I couldn’t agree more with him.

At the same time, his wines are very pure. They have very little or no dosage at all. But, due to impeccable ripeness, and perfect vinicifation, one doesn’t miss any sugar. There is always a great balance between the fresh acidity, he so much likes and a intense fruitiness, coming from the lower yields (about a third less than average in the Champagne) and perfectly ripe grapes. This is best illustrated in his Brut Nature. Naturally, without added sugar, this wine is in the same line as the Chardonnay, but has a bit more punch to it. If one gives it sufficient time to open, this wine is simply exquisite. One can only fall in love with it immediately. It’s a wine that is incredibly enjoyable to drink.

However, the finest of his wines does not resemble any of the other wines in his portfolio: Reflet d’Antan is his top cuvee and deservedly so! Here, one has a wine of impressive vinosity, and intensity, which is a bit sweeter and richer than the rest of the wines. Raphael makes no more of 3000 bottle of this per year, and uses a reserve perpetuelle system, started in the late 1980’s to elaborate this cuvee. Although not everyone will love this wine, I believe that no one will regret giving it a go! It’s more than worth it, plus it can stand up to pretty much anything you can put on a plate (albeit a lievre or so might be pushing it). I adored it.

Raphael’s wines have fully convinced me, even if I wasn’t quite sure if his style (fresh, clean, fine) would be what I like (big wines). However, his cuvees are so well made, that they can hardly do anything but make you fall in love. They are among the best valued wines in the Champagne for the quality one gets,  so do give them a try.

The Ledbury, London

avril 4, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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