Archive for juillet 2010

The Capital – Roast beef, London

juillet 27, 2010

After a very good first meal here, it was time to have a look at how the roast beef they serve here compares to other restaurants in the city. The internet advertised the beef being carved from the trolley, which did sound intriguing and sparked my curiosity. Upon arriving the staff immediately recognised us and we were shown to our table. Throughout the enitre meal, the service proved to be as good as on the first time, maybe even more welcoming.

Wine-wise, the list still offers some incredibly well-priced finds, although a large number of interesting bottles have already disappeared (and been replaced by less exciting, much less friendly priced ones). We drank a 2003 Saumur “Breze” from Clos Rougeard. This wine is a legend, and I had looked forward to drinking it for quite a while now. It might not be what one usually drinks with a piece of beef, but the lady was eating fish, and I was smiling all over the place when I saw the bottle and the price. Hence we went ahead.  And boy was I glad I did! It showed beautiful concentration, a rather full body, rich floral and stone fruit aromas. I loved it. Chenin blanc probably does not get much better. Shame that this is rather rare and pricey nectar…

The roast beef menu is priced at £35 for three courses, and they omit the extras on this menu. No problem for me, as the quality of products was very high.

Roast scallops with curried lentils were the first course. The dish didn’t read very interestingly, but it surely was quite surprising when it reached our table: The scallops were huge, and seemed to have been prepared incredibly simply, without any unnecessary garnishes. The deep-fried fennel was a little on the fatty side, meaning that it wasn’t really perfect from a technical point of view. The lentils had just enough spice from the curry, to caress the scallops’ delicate flesh and add an earthy element. What really impressed though were the beautiful scallops. Of impressive size, they were perfectly cooked and seasoned and quite simply a joy to eat. Very good.

Now however, it was time for the beef. The trolley slowly approached our table,  and I was asked, if a pink or rather well done piece would be more to my liking. Of course requested a pink slice, which was cooked just as you’d want it to be. Portion-wise, it was generous as two thick slices were drowned in nice roasting jus, and were served with the best roast potatoes of my life, some very well cooked green beans and rather bland carrots. The beef was tasty, tender, and very enjoyable. It wasn’t a show-stopper, but was pleasant enough. The real stars were others though: The potatoes were stunning, and the Yorkshire puddings were even better than the Harwood’s (sorry guys). Another winner then,  Good for the beef, very good for the rest.

As a dessert I chose a Guanaja sponge, with caramelised white chocolate foam. This seemed incredibly daring for an establishment like the capital, but my choice was a good one. A rather neat composition allied many more elements than were listed on the menu, combining into an excellent dessert. The caramelised white chocolate foam was of particular interest, as one rarely comes across caramelised white chocolate. It added a more nutty, complex note to the often overly sweet chocolate, and proved to complement the other elements more than well. Very good.

So, after a good coffee, and a few very civilised hours, we moved back into the real world. Happy, sated and ready for the rest of the day. I must say, that this place really has charm. It’s small, rather relaxed, and has a great wine list, and a more than competent chef. He might not be among the more inventive cooks, but then you are in a very traditional environment here and something like Viajante would have a tough time fitting in. Whilst not being as charming as the Gavroche or something like that, the atmosphere in this dining room has something very comforting about it.

Sushi of Shiori, London

juillet 18, 2010

Sushi of Shiori is not the kind of place that looks like you absolutely have to have a look inside, when you walk past it. Rather, it looks very understated, very much like a Japanese sushi bar. The size is similar too, as there is space for something like 7 people at most. However, once you sit down there, you are immediately greeted by the owner who makes you feel most welcome directly. At the same time her husband is in charge of the cooking, which completes the list of the staff here.

A omakase menu can be pre-booked, which should be done in any case, as it is much more interesting than the regular a la carte. We specified to be on a budget of around £50, which got us a very decent variety of dishes.

Starting off, we had a bit of eel wrapped in thinly sliced cucumber. This little bite was to set the scene for the rest of the evening, as it was beautifully presented, very precise in terms of flavour and texture, and showcased products of great quality. The slight crunch of the thinly sliced cucumber worked extremely well with the quite soft, sweet/smoky meat of the lacquered eel. It was a match made in heaven, and a fantastic amuse!

After this arrived a very good Miso soup. It was tasty and warm, that’s all I can ask for in a cup of clear soup. Very good.

The first real plate was very thinly sliced Aji (Japanese horse mackerel). Served with a light ponzu sauce if my memory serves me correctly, it was fantastic. Not only the knife skills had to be applauded here, but also the quality of the fish, and the purity of flavours. It was a very good plate of food.

Next up came the sashimi selection, there was scallop dusted with uni (sea urchin) powder, a slice of scallop which was wrapped around a sea urchins tongue, some mackerel, tuna and salmon. First of all, the quality of the fish was again fantastic. I was most impressed to finally find a sushi place in London, which cares about the quality of the fish they serve, and prepare it with the needed attention and skill. Of course, the most decadent bites were the sea urchin and scallop preparations. The powder was a little less successful, as not entirely dry or crispy, thus one had a bizarre texture. But, flavour-wise it was phenomenal. The sweetness of the scallop worked beautifully with the dried sea urchin, which gave a very powerful iodine and rich flavour. However, even better was the piece which saw the sea urchin tongue wrapped around a slice of scallop. This brought out the contrast even better: The scallop sweet, and a little firm (due to the freshness) gave a contrast, both in flavour and texture, to the rich, creamy, iodine and “off-sweet” uni. It was glorious! Excellent.

Sushi was present in a large selection, with sweet shrimp, tuna, scallops, squid,… Notable here was again the quality of the fish, but also the rice, as it was cooked perfectly, and had just the right amount of seasoning to support and magnify the flavours of the respective topping. It was without doubt the best sushi in London. Excellent.

Finally came a piece of grilled wagyu sushi and an added piece of unagi sushi, which both were very tasty and indulgent. A great finish to the meal.

However, as dessert, we were offered an ice cream made with Sakura blossoms. Now, I have eaten a lot of ice cream in my life, but this was just a completely different story. It had a salinity, somewhat close to what one finds in a wine such as the very mineral Wnninger Uhlen from Heymann Löwenstein, but at the same time, this salinity was very subtle, hardly noticeable, but giving the sweetness a counterpoint, that made the flavour so much more complex. Also, the fact that entire cherry blossoms were introduced in the sorbet gave even more intensity to the flavour. If such cherry-petal ice creams can sometimes taste a little chemical, this had such purity of flavour, that it was outright incredible. If it was more of a sorbet than an ice cream in texture, it was the best sorbet of my life. Outstanding!!

Wow, this was quite a ride. The whole meal was exceptional. From the great welcome to the incredibly precise and tasty cooking, it was a perfect evening. Such a place is just hard to find, which makes one feel reluctant to give it away. All I can say is that I absolutely loved it, and can’t wait to go back.

The Square, London

juillet 11, 2010

Before getting into my exams and taking off to China, I decided to stop over at the Square for dinner, and say bye to the guys.

We let Phil chose what to eat, and drank superbly well. To get going, we had a half bottle (!!) of Selosse Blanc de Blancs, something, which is incredibly rare nowadays. The Champagne had a golden colour, which was rather pronounced and had a nose, unlike anything I have come across so far. It wasn’t pleasant, but not bad or anything like that. Just strange. However, a first sip was incredible. Boy, this was stunning stuff. I couldn’t believe it. it was pure Selosse, precise, concentrated for a Champagne, with intoxicating complexity and simply fascinating. I love his wines, and this one was no exception. We were in for a good start.

Next up came something enjoyable too: A bottle of ’04 Puligny Montrachet 1er cru “Les Pucelles” from Domaine Leflaive was just as interesting. Pucelles is said to be the finest of the premier crus in Puligny, and Anne-Claude Leflaive’s domaine’s wines are arguable the finest in the village. The wine proved this, as it was fantastic, despite it’s youth. After a while in the decanter it’s fruit came out, and started opened up, with beautifully integrated oak, and a lovely nose. It full-bodied, nor very rich, rather it had exemplary finesse and precision. Beautiful. Another of my favourite producers, so we were ready for the food to arrive.

First up came the only dish I had requested: Roast scallops with crushed Jersey royals, peas and Jersey royal foam. Simple and good. Visually, I really liked the look of this, and the taste confirmed that impression, Scallops at the Square are a safe option, as they always deliver. Excellent.

Following this came an interesting, very clever dish. Beneath a kind of crème-fraiche mousse lay a bit of wild salmon. The whole thing was dressed with crab and celery and a generous amount of caviar sat atop a quenelle of cream. It was another great dish, which paired masterfully with the wine. I loved it and was intrigued by the careful composition of it. The caviar and salmon were of fine quality, but that goes without saying in this house. Very good to excellent.

Next up was a composition, I had eaten a few weeks earlier, and absolutely loved: A tartare of venison with white radish and a kind of pesto. The presentation was even better this time, as the amount of crispy bread was slightly reduced. This is a great dish, which combines the venison meat with a truffled mayonnaise, and then wraps that “bon-bon” in a bit of pickled radish. The addition of pesto is ok, but I personally don’t really need it. I wish a slightly bigger portion of this was available. Great.

Before we moved into meaty territory, we started with a ’04 Gevrey Chambertin “Mes Cinq Terroirs” from Denis Mortet. A great wine, which has enough punch to accompany a number dishes, whilst having all that silky smoothness and finesse, one seeks in a well-made Pinot Noir. It didn’t reach the perfection of the previous wines, but was very good, to say the least.

First meat course was a piece of pan-fried sweetbreads with morels and a morel sauce. A few of my favourite products on one plate, well cooked, beautifully seasoned. Anything more? No, I’m fine. Very good.

A loin of lamb was crusted with herbs and served with potato puree and a few grilled spring vegetables was the main course. The lamb was good, but the fat-part wasn’t crispy, which would have made this absolutely perfect. The accompanying potato puree and vegetables were very good. A strong dish, here too, be it slightly less interesting than the previous ones. Very good.

Having run out of wine, I asked Marc if he had something by the glass, that was interesting. He came back with a bottle I know very well, a 2007 Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Auslese from St Urbans Hof. Still young, quite nervous and marked by acidty, it went very well with the rhubarb beignet and the rhubarb preparations in the glass. A good start for the sweet journey then. Very good.

Next up came the pear dessert, that I’ve had previously, and with it came a Monbazillac, which was too sweet and heavy for my taste. Well, the dessert was as good as last time. Excellent.

Following that came the cheesecake, which is always a winner.

Finally a tarte tatin came with a glass of Ice cider from Canada. Certainly nothing, I’ve had before, but interesting as such. It would have worked well, had the tarte been a little less sweet. That was in fact the only problem I had with it: an overpowering sweetness. Good.

A few coffees later, we were sated, and ready for bed.

It was another beautiful meal at the Square. This time, the starters were especially good. With all of them being somewhere between very good and excellent. The purity of flavours and clever composition that characterised all of them particularly fascinated me. Also the fact, that Phil had tweaked the venison tartare in the little while since I first had it shows how much work goes into a dish, even if it is already on the menu. The main courses were good, if less interesting tonight. The sweetbreads were pure comfort food, in the way the Square does it better than anyone else, but the lamb was not that inspired to my taste. In the dessert section, the only one I hadn’t known so far was the tarte tatin, which was a bit of a letdown I must confess. Otherwise they were as good as always, which means excellent. All in all, this remains one of my top 5 in London, and now that David left, it’ll be interesting to see how the black brigade will change the way it works. I still have to wait until I go back to London to find out.

Bar Boulud, London

juillet 4, 2010

Bar Boulud is an interesting concept: A French born 3* chef, who has the bulk of his establishments in New York opens a restaurant in London, serving traditional food from Lyon and other regions of France. That it is the only restaurant in London that does a serious saucisson brioche, gateau basque, and offers a nice selection of excellent terrines, is also interesting. After having read a few very favourable reviews, I decided it was time I have a look at what’s happening in the Mandarin’s basement. Boy, I didn’t think I’d be this enchanted by the food they serve here, the place itself and the service. There was only one problem: The wine list.

I don’t like to compare retail prices with mark-ups in restaurants, but if one looks at the prices here, and those, one finds in other restaurants in London, or Paris, it is rather frightening: To find, for instance, Jean Francois Coche-Dury’s village Meursault at a higher price than in the 3* Ducasse restaurant of the Plaza Athenée in Paris is frightening. But, there are also a few decently priced ones too: We drank a 2005 Coche-Dury Bourgogne blanc, which is always great, and wasn’t too expensive. There is a large choice of wines under £50, which is worth mentioning. On the whole, I thought that it was rather expensive for a bistro however.

Starting off, with a glass of Ayala Rose, we had a charcuterie selection. There was some cooked ham, a rosette de Lyon, a few terrines and pickles. All of the charcuterie is made in house, which shows in the quality. The tourte de canard, foie gras et figues was tasty, well seasoned and supremely satisfying. Just as the spiced leg of lamb, the braised beef cheek terrine and the pate grand-pèère. Excellent!

This was followed by a perfect cromesquis of veal head, served with a sauce gribiche. A classic, that was served in one of the best versions, that I have ever eaten. Glorious traditional rustic cooking, given a rather sexy contemporary look. What more do you want? The very fair price, £7 doesn’t seem over the top to me. Excellent.

A crab salad was a decent portion, featuring very fresh, perfectly prepared Devon-crab, which was served with artichokes and a few leaves. Just the way you’d like it, faultless and very well made.

Then came the sausage in a brioche (a more or less literal translation). A classic from Lyon, this dish is pure pleasure. It’s simple, but oh so very well made here. The brioche is warm, with a fine crust, and airy centre, whilst the sausage is amply truffled with pistachios and very tasty. Another winner.

But, but, but. The BEST part of the dinner was about to come: The burger. I haven’t ever had a better one. Even if I have limited experience with this American delicacy, I can hardly see how this could be made much better. The patty is made from the sirloin of beef, the bun is baked in house (three different buns for the various burgers), and the cheese from La Fromagerie. If you ask for it to be medium-rare, it comes as that, and not well-done, which is already much better than 99% of your burger joints can do. Finally, the fries are excellent: Crunchy outside, a little creamy one could nearly say inside. I’m already looking forward to the next one. Excellent to outstanding for what it was.

Desserts continued in just that direction. Perfectly executed, well thought out, and really really enjoyable as such. I enjoyed the chocolate and raspberry combo, which proved to be rather sophisticated, and very good.

A gateau basque was good, although the pastry wasn;t really what I have eaten in gateaux basques in the Basque country. That issue taken apart, it was a very capable tart. Good.

All in all, this was a great meal. Bar Boulud does what is say better than any other restaurant in London. That is, rustic French bistro food, with the perfect burger as a most welcome trans-atlantic addition. If you add the excellent service, and good if pricey wine list, you have a great new restaurant.

It seems on Sunday and Monday, the do the famous DB burger, now that’s good news…