I have written about the Ledbury on numerous occasions, so we won’t repeat ourselves here anymore. The only thing that can be said is that Brett’s cooking is progressing quicker than that of any other London chef. He is moving so quickly, that one can eat here twice a week and be served a completely different menu on each occasion. That is something not many chefs can say do, even fewer if the food is of a consistently high quality. Autumn is probably one of the best seasons to eat here, as Brett’s game dishes are stunning. So, all I can say is that this continues to be London’s best restaurant, and only keeps on getting better.
Archive for the ‘restaurants-England’ Category
Gauthier in Soho has it all. A great location, great service and a pretty decent reputation so far, one has to look hard for anyone who has not enjoyed their time here. A few weeks back, we went to have a go ourselves as it seems to be an interesting place. After all, the chef Alexandre Gauthier worked at the Louis XV for a certain time, and the menu read fantastically. Upon entering you notice how beautiful the room and decoration are. Clearly, a lot of money and care has been put into making it into one of the more beautiful rooms around. It looks as though one tries to aim very high, and in terms of the décor one can hardly say that they don’t get what they want. It’s a nice room.
Service was top notch too. We were greeted quite friendly, and were well looked after throughout the whole evening. Roberto della Pietra, the great sommelier seemed to function as maitre (at least in the upper room), and did his job with great charm. We were looking forward to the food!
However, not everything is perfect here. The wine list, which lists a few decent bottles, has hardly anything of interest in the range of £50-100. In addition, most of the interesting wines are far more expensive than say at the Square or Ledbury, so we decided not to buy anything off the list. Instead, we bought a bottle of our own, which proved to be submitted to a corkage fee of £25.
Now, to the food. The menu read gloriously! There was pretty much everything that makes autumn great, and the dishes looked very Chapel- or Ducasse-like. So far so good. Price-wise it was rather fair too: 5 courses were charged at no more than £55, which is pretty competitive. Furthermore, you are able to pick from 5 different parts and compose a menu of your choice. That is a refreshing concept, and dare I say it sounded great. We chose and off it went.
First up came a little set of amuses, all of which were very tasty, and seemed to look quite promising. Things looked good.
My first course was Gauthier’s signature risotto with chicken jus and truffles. This was much better than I would have imagined. The truffle was there, if not quite as pungent as a black or white truffle would have been, the risotto seemed to be cooked properly and didn’t lack flavour. Very good.
Next up came a dish consisting of quail and eel with autumn vegetables. It read beautifully, but when it arrived, one had trouble finding the quail, which was perfectly cooked and tasty, but hidden underneath the collection of vegetables. The combination might not have been the best, but that was not the problem. Rather, it seemed more like a vegetable salad, which lacked seasoning and was totally overpowered by an acidic vinaigrette. Thus, the whole dish was disjointed and lacked coherence. Pity, as the eel was of fine quality and the quail more than tasty. Mediocre.
Next came a plate of roast scallops with sauce Choron and Swiss chard. The scallops were fine. More than fine, well-timed and well-seasoned they were hard to argue with. Unfortunately there was one major problem with the dish: The saue Choron was again too acidic. So much so, that even the tiniest amount of it ruined the flavour of all the other elements on the plate. What the red onions added to the dish was a question I did not find an answer too, but they definitely did not do much. Sadly, this course was a letdown too.
The final savoury course was a breast of wild duck with dolce-forte sauce, salsify and figs. Great products, and great combination I thought, especially since I had a superb duck with the same sauce at the Louis XV last year. Well, when the plate came, it was lukewarm at best. The duck was cold, and therefore a bit tough. The sauce was more dolce than forte or anything else, and masked everything in its sweetness. Were it not for the stunning bottle of Sine Qua Non that accompanied us throughout the evening, we would have been a little disappointed by now. Mediocre.
Funnily enough, dessert turned out to be on the same level as the risotto: It was a slightly more elaborated apple mille-feuille, which was perfect. Fresh, indulgent and light at the same time, it provided a number of contrasting textures and flavours, making it quite an excellent dessert.
The Louis XV here was not quite on the level of the one in Monaco. Too big and somehow cloying and heavy, it was far from the light, delicate sweet end to a meal that the original gives.
So, what do you make of such a meal? Well, as I mentioned earlier, the sommelier was more than welcoming and nice, so I sent him an e-mail with a few of the issues I had with our meal. He directly forwarded it to the chef, but so far (it must have been 3 weeks ago) I have not heard back from him. I had no intention whatsoever to write about it, as it might just have been an off-day, but restaurants that do not even acknowledge criticism are hardly serious. What do you make of it, when you don’t get a reply after letting a restaurant know how you liked your experience (positive or negative)?
Andrew Edmunds is a cult institution in Soho. Tucked away next to the owner’s antique shop, the little restaurant has the charm of times long gone. The food is not exactly modern neither, but cheap and very good for what it does. The big thing here however is the wine list. Constantly changing, it can feature such things as Meursaults from the Domaine des Comtes Lafon for well under £100, Fourrier Gevreys for around £40, and what we drank a 1997 Jean Louis Chave Hermitage for as little as £75. Compared with other restaurants, where this wine costs at least 5 times more, I was incredibly happy finally discover this legend. To be honest, it did not give me any emotions. A bit on the acidic side (don’t know if that will disappear with more bottle age), the other flavours did not really shine through. I found none of the fruit-forward, opulent character that Mr. Parker ascribes to it, but well, that being said it was a decent wine, just not up to its reputation.
The food was pretty good, much better than I had hoped in fact. Starting off with beetroot salad with smoked eel, you had good quality eel, very aptly seasoned beets and a nice, refreshing cream. All one needs, and at around £4, one can’t ask for much more.
A game terrine with pear was a little on the dry side, but with bags of flavour. Without being mind-blowing it was a tasty little plate, again priced more than fairly.
Much better were the cod fritters with a herb salad. Simple, but very well made, these were tasty, warm and crispy. They did what they said, and we were able to move on to the mains.
A fishcake was quite impressive (£12). Deep-fried without even a hint of grease on the coating, it came with wilted spinach and a kind of tartare sauce. The crunchy coating made way for the intensely flavoursome and creamy filling, where the ratio between the various ingredients was just right. Very good indeed!
For meat we chose a roast pork belly with cabbage and crackling. Boy, this wasn’t only a big portion but also a very very good piece of pork. Meltingly tender, with a nicely caramelised skin, I couldn’t help but polish the plate. Very good.
All in all it was a great meal here. All of the dishes tried were simple, tasty and very well executed (with the exception of the terrine possibly). The atmosphere was great and even the service, which seems to get some less glowing reviews was more than friendly. The wine list must be the best in London, and it makes sense. An equally young couple on the table next to us was drinking one of Dominique Lafon’s very capable Meursaults. Great for a casual, relaxed dinner or lunch and fantastic wines.
I must admit that the first lunch I had at Viajante was good fun. The food was very good and there were only a few issues that bothered me. However, those were probably due to the fact, that the restaurant had been opened just a week before. So, when I decided to go back a while ago, I was looking forward to what I expected being an even more polished experience.
First of all, service was indeed better and more confident. We were greeted warmly, and had nothing to worry about throughout the entire evening. The team and style of service fitted in perfectly with the style of the food and the restaurant’s concept.
The food too had some very strong points to make. Take for instance the fantastic bread and butter served here. It is unlike anything that is being served in London. Whilst some may find it gimmicky, I find it addictive and quite good for a change. Equally excellent was a vegetable dish. With lots of different elements, the dish did not only look beautiful, but also tasted very well. Every vegetable was carefully prepped and seasoned and thus had something to add to the picture. It was sensible, modern cooking that worked. Not really inventive, but very well done.
Another very good dish was an egg yolk with asparagus and lobster meat. The runny yolk worked brilliantly with the nicely timed crustacean and the al dente-cooked asparagus. The omni-present tapioca-enriched sauce was of course also on hand.
A third dish I very much enjoyed on the last meal too was the skate with yeast, brioche and nut-butter. The dish itself was just as good as on the first time, however what startled me was that the fish quality was also on the same level as the first time: Mediocre. Now that is something I can’t really understand. Why does a serious chef, such as Mendes, not get better fish? Surely people like Brett Graham, Phil Howard and Jocelyn Herland manage to find fantastic produce, so it might be worth doing the same. At least if the restaurant has the ambition to be amongst the city’s very best. I for my part was a bit disappointed by what was served here.
The same goes for some of the other dishes too. Obviously no dish was bad, all safely 1* material, but some just didn’t work. A good example for such a case was a combination of pork neck and prawns. Served with nothing else but a few braised leaves, the two products lacked a combining element. Each was prepared without any technical mistakes, but the dish as such did not really seem like something into which someone had put a bit of thought. Furthermore, none of the two proteins was of impressive quality, thus making the dishes’ success even more questionable.
However, desserts better than on the first visit, and we thus ended on a more positive note to say the least. All of the desserts served were tasty, fun and light. What they proved yet again is the precision that reigns here, and the kitchen’s technical dexterity.
Overall, one can say Viajante has reached cruising speed now. The restaurant seems to be busy, and has found the customers that fit into the concept. The food is mostly very capable, without any technical issues, and generally speaking entertaining and fun to eat. For modern cooking, London hasn’t got much to offer than can rival Nuno’s food, so I would not be surprised to see it get a star in the next edition of the Michelin guide. But, a major issue can still be worked on: The quality of some of the produce served. Especially everything coming out of the sea is not always as fresh as it could be, in a restaurant of its standard. It might be a bit more expensive to serve constantly fresh fish, but with only one menu, and that menu costing at least the same as most 2* restaurants’ in Mayfair, one can ask for a little more rigor in that department. The lack of very good or outstanding products inevitably results in some dishes not working at all, such as the pork and prawn combination or in other dishes not being as perfect as they could be.
Nuno is a good cook, someone who obviously is ambitious and talented enough to belong to the elite of this city’s culinary scene. So let’s hope this issue will be dealt with, or has already been dealt with, so that we can have an even better time when we come back! And there will definitely be a return, as this is a very fine restaurant.
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.
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.
The Fat Duck lies in Britain’s richest village. At least concerning Michelin stars. Down the road lies another three star, the Waterside Inn. Still, despite having been in London for about two years now, I have never played with the idea of going to Bray. Too many people who are into their food gave me rather negative feedback from Heston Blumenthal’s cooking. Well, after having received the impressive big Fat Duck cook book a while ago, I was interested somehow. The approach to cooking here seemed genuinely different from most other restaurants I know. Therefore, three of us set out to have lunch in Bray.
The room is very pretty. It’s incredibly elegant, with some rustic features reminding you that you are in a listed building. It might well be one of the most attractive dining rooms in the UK. Service is great too. The brigade is faultless, knowledgeable, but at times, the explanations seem a little overdone. Some appear like being lessons, which are not really needed, unless you ask for it. However, I don’t let that spoil the fun, and fun I did have.
The wine list is a dream. Leroy, Domaine d’Auvenay, Coche Dury, Hirtzberger, Egon Müller,… are all present, and sold at decent prices. We started with a great Riesling from Franz Xaver Pichler, it was a Federspiel, meaning that it has a limited degree of alcohol. Those wines are light, fresh and incredibly easy drinking. The big show came next though: a 2005 Bourgogne blanc from Jean Francois Coche-Dury. Now, white generic Burgundy does not get any better than this. ’05 was a blockbuster year for the Cote de Beaune, and this wine was arguably the best money I ever spent on wine. Incredibly powerful, divinely balanced, with very subtle oak on the nose and palate, a delicate fruity structure backing the whole thing up and a fine acidity, which held things together. Wow, I adored it. If I ever am lucky enough to taste one of his village, premier cru or Corton Charlemagne, I’d be in heaven I suppose… Finally, we had another great wine: a 2004 Sotanum, from Vins de Vienne. This is a cooperative from three of the Rhone’s most talented winemakers, who produce absolutely gorgeous wines. This is a Vin de pays, but could well be mistaken for a fine Cote Rotie or so. Great stuff!
On to the food: First up, we had the obligatory Lime Grove, Nitro Poached Green Tea and Lime Mousse. What is effectively a meringue, flavoured with vodka and lime is cooked in liquid nitrogen and dusted with matcha tea. It’s fun, but doesn’t really taste of all that much I felt. It was very… subtle. Let’s get on to the next one.
Red Cabbage Gazpacho, Pommery Grain Moustard Ice Cream. The beautiful ice cream, and intensely coloured soup worked rather well together. Tasty they were, only a bit on the tart side of things. There was a bit too much vinegar or other acid in the gazpacho, which with the sharp mustard from the ice cream, created a moutfeel, which was dominated by this acidity. Otherwise, it was good.
So far no revelations, but here came the next course: Savoury Lollies, Waldorf Rocket, Salmon Twister and Foie Gras Feast. These appeared on the Feast series (the ‘70s episode), so it was quite funny to actually be able to see what it tastes like. I started with the rocket, which didn’t taste of very much. In fact it was impossible for me to detect any flavours there. Moving on came the salmon. This was perfectly nice, with a piece of decent salmon wrapped around a stick and covered in apple (?) and cream twists. It was good fun and tasty. The last bit however was phenomenal. The foie gras had the most luscious texture, and perfect spicing. It was coated in cherry jelly, which gave it just a hint of sweetness, and an incredible depth on the palate. Hhhhm this was the first moment, in which I could see those three stars shining very brightly. Mediocre for the first two, outstanding for the foie.
Jelly of Quail, Crayfish Cream, Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast (Homage to Alain Chapel). Apart from the mist, created by liquid nitrogen underneath the oak moss film, which was fun, this was a very tasty course too. The truffle toast was useless, but the quail jelly and crayfish cream with the peas were very good. Fully-flavoured, very tasty and hugely enjoyable, this was not only a clever, but also rewarding dish. Very good to excellent.
Snail Porridge, Jabugo Ham, Shaved Fennel. This was the first real highlight for me. Very comforting flavours, and really clever construction again here. I don’t see why the British public is always amazed by the combination, as it seems perfectly harmonious and natural when you eat it. However, the snails are perfect, the porridge very tasty and the fennel gives it a little crunch and freshness. Excellent.
Roast Foie Gras, Rhubarb Puree, Braised Konbu and Crab Biscuit. Another picture on a plate, this featured exquisitely cooked foie gras. If you want to know the recipe for cooking it, it’s in his book, and rather lengthy. Combined with the rhubarb fluid gel, and the crunchy biscuit (which was devoid of crab flavour), it was a more than satisfying mouthful. Great stuff.
Mock Turtle Soup (c. 1850), “Mad Hatter Tea”. Arguably the most refined, and clever dish of the entire menu, this really is crazy. The plate is filled with braised pork cheek, covered with truffle and lardo, a mock turtle egg, and a few bits of cooked truffle. You are then presented with your “golden watch”, which is in fact the mock turtle soup (beef stock), covered in gold leaf. This is diluted in hot water and poured over the whole thing. Apart from the gimmicky side, it is a satisfying, incredibly tasty dish. The beef consommé is amongst the most intense, I’ve eaten and the combination with the other elements works perfectly. Excellent to outstanding.
“Sound of the Sea”. Another rather complex dish was about to come towards us. The ipod is placed in front of you, you are instructed to put it on, and eat the dish at the same time. Even if the fish wasn’t of the highest quality, and brined, it was a really great dish. With great intensity, you had a variety of iodine flavours, present in many different forms. Absolutely great stuff!
Salmon Poached in Liquorice, Black Truffle, Artichokes, Vanilla Mayonnaise, Golden Trout Roe and “Manni” Olive Oil. Well, this was probably the worst dish, I’ve ever been served in a 3* restaurant. If you were trying to demonstrate how something can be completely free of flavour, this piece of salmon might be it. It wasn’t seasoned at all, and as there was no other salty element on the plate, apart from the roe, the dish was very “thin” in the mouth. I don’t know why this is served here, but if one would take away the liquorice and serve the fish nicely seasoned with the other ingredients, it wouldn’t be that bad at all. But, like this…unpleasant at best.
We were rewarded though with the next course: Powdered Anjou Pigeon (c.1720), Blood Pudding Cream and Confit of Umbles. Boy, this was a contrast to the previous dish! Here, you had great flavours, rich, powerful and extremely enjoyable. The black pudding cream worked very well with the pigeon, and I can only count this among the finer pigeon dishes of my life. Excellent.
The dish of the day was next: Braised Pork Belly, Black Truffle and Pearl Spelt. A piece of Portuguese black pig was slowly braised, and served with spelt, cabbage and an incredibly concentrated truffle-jus. I could have eaten tons of this, as it was unbelievably good. The truffle was present, the pork meltingly tender and packed with flavour, whilst the spelt accentuated the earthy elements. Cabbage cooked in such a way is a joy too, making the dish count among the finest for this year. OUTSTANDING.
HOT & ICED TEA. This is another of the more playful courses, where Heston plays with your expectations. The cup contains two different teas, one being warm, the other cold. It’s fun, but probably only once, as the novelty factor dies away after it.
Taffety Tart (c.1660), Caramelized Apple, Fennel, Rose and Candied Lemon. This was great. Light, fresh and perfectly executed, it was a dessert that you are not likely to find in many restaurants. Excellent.
Galette of Rhubarb, Neroli Scented Yoghurt and Rhubarb Sorbet. Yet noe more picture on a plate, this dish was equally light, fresh and tasty. Rather classical in the flavours again, it was incredibly light, being perfect after such a long meal. Very good, to Excellent.
The “BFG”, Black Forest Gateau. Also featuring on one of Heston’s TV series, this little jewel is incredibly complex, and can’t really be compared to the classic Black Forest gateaus in Germany. It is again incredibly light, whilst maintaining all of the chocolate’s intense flavour, and strking the perfect balance between the cherries and the chocolate. I loved it. Excellent.
Finally, the Not-So-Full English Breakfast, Nitro-Scrambled Egg and Bacon Ice Cream. An ice cream, made with an obscene amount of egg yolks, roasted bacon, cooked to a higher temperature than usual is prepared, using liquid nitrogen again. Paired with French toast, it is served atop of the latter, sitting on a bit of caramelised bacon. The only negative aspect here is the tomato compote, which is too intensive and somewhat doesn’t taste very nice here. Otherwise it’s a very nice dish, with a great ice cream, and a good French toast (not as good as Andoni’s though). Very good.
A few Whisk(e)y gums and a bag of sweets to take home make this experience complete.
So, what was it like? Uneven, like a ride in a roller-coaster really. There was great stuff, like the pork belly, the pigeon, the sound of the sea or the mock turtle soup, and there was tasteless rather bland food, such as most of the lollies, the salmon and the lime grove. However, I really enjoyed the meal. It was perfect in terms of technique, presentation and seasoning, if you take the salmon apart, and showed a really interesting cooking philosophy. What it failed to do, was to impress with product quality. The fish was rather mediocre in terms of quality, especially the salmon, which was watery in taste, and wasn’t quite the freshest piece around. For the world’s third best restaurant, it should be possible to get better quality of seafood. Apart form that, I can say that I will happily go back, not tomorrow, but give it a few months and hopefully a change in the menu and I’ll pop down with pleasure.
Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant doesn’t get a lot of good press. At least not from those, who eat in better restaurants rather frequently. Many claim that the food is too clinical, without any emotions, without much interest. I’ve had one lunch at this restaurant, about 18 months ago, when I ate a few of his classics. Those were all decent, without being moving at all. Would I pay £90 for three courses there again, not for the ones I ate last time. But, a friend and I decided to go back to see how things are around Royal Hospital Road. Lunch isn’t as pricey, at a mere £45 it must be one of the friendliest 3* lunch menus around (even if JG’s in New York is still cheaper).
One of the annoying points of my first visit here was the service. The famous Monsieur Breton was there at that time, and service was the stiffest, most annoying that I’ve ever had in a 2 or 3* restaurant. You were treated like you were an idiot, not knowing how one roasts a pigeon, or what polenta is. This time, it was refreshingly different. Robert Rose was running the show on our lunch, and he was doing it, as good as one can hope it to be. Service was efficient, friendly and there when needed. There still are some silly things like them announcing a surprise, especially prepared by the chef, when it’s a simple amuse bouche, but well, that’s how it is I suppose…
As it was a lunch, and I still had a dinner with quite a bit of good Champagne to look forward to, we decided to skip the apero, and go for a bottle of 2000 Scharzhofberger Kabinett Riesling from the truly amazing Egon Mueller (the IV. at this point in time). It was decently priced, amongst a list of rather erratic mark-ups. There were some steals, like this one, and some outright foolish, silly prices on there. The wine in question was stunning, for a Kabinett Riesling, you really can not expect any more. It’s concentrated, powerful, fruit-driven, if backed by a finely balanced acidity. Lovely, really, really lovely stuff.
We had a selection of nibbles, which were all decent, and perfectly harmless. I wouldn’t mind having a bit of it again, but I wouldn’t ask for them neither. This seemed to be like the stuff we had last time…
Bread was very good, I really enjoyed the black olive, and honey breads, which were made in Ramsay’s federal bakery. Very good.
The amuse today was a deep-fried frog’s leg with potatoes and a wild garlic soup. Now, the frog’s legs were really nicely cooked, quite tasty, but the portion was too small to really taste much of what was going on in there. The soup was decent, if not remarkable by any means. Compare this to the stuff one serves at other 3* restaurants, this seemed a little weak, Good.
To start with, I tried a version of Ramsay’s classic tortellino. This time it was filled with crab and prawns and drowned in a lemongrass consommé. Now this really wasn’t bad at all. Tasty, well-seasoned and featuring good pasta, I rather enjoyed it. It was already a notable step up from the previous bites. Very good.
Next up was a porchetta with lardo, confit tomatoes, olives and basil. Hhhhm, if you have a copy of Ducasse’s outstanding Grand Livre de Cuisine lying at home (either the haute cuisine, or Mediterranean) you’ll find a recipe which looks pretty similar to this one. This is not to say that Ducasse invented this dish, but to use rabbit in it, and serve it in this way is reminiscent of the way a certain Franck Cerutti used to serve it… However, I don’t really care about copies or not, this was the best dish of the day. It was tasty, beautiful, well made, and really enjoyable. This was a straight 3* dish, one which was great. Only thing I’d have liked was a mention of the fact that it was a rabbit porchetta on the menu. Excellent.
Next came two meat courses (the fish dish on the lunch menu looks not interesting to me). First was a beef cheek, braised in red wine, and served with a jardinière of spring vegetables. On the side came a great creamy polenta. It is always great to see things like this well made in a good restaurant. However, for a lunch menu it was pretty good I must say. What was great about it, was the Polenta. It was creamy, powerful in taste, and very deliciously fatty. That’s all a polenta should be, and that’s how I love it. Very good.
Next up was my second favourite dish of the day: A porky treat with fillet, black pudding (very nice), Saucisse de Morteau, and that outrageous smoked belly, they serve with the pigeon too. It came with Sauerkraut and a Madeira jus (hhhm sounds a bit funny nowadays). This one really was tasty. Everything was tasty, as pork often is, and perfectly cooked. The Sauerkraut worked well with it, and the sauce bound things together. With the rabbit, this was my highlight. Very good.
As a pre-dessert, we had a great little Eton mess. This one was very pretty, and very very good. I really enjoyed the various textures and preparations in this, and found the little Ramsay sticker on the ice cream sandwich rather amusing. Excellent.
Dessert came in two parts. First up I had asked for a pear tatin with Stilton and a walnut ice cream. Boy, this tatin was really great. Far, far better than the pretty poor tatin (sorry guys) at the Square a few days earlier, this had the perfect amount of sweetness, great puff pastry, and the right amount of caramelisation. The Stiltion wasn’t really added in big enough quantities, but gave the whole thing a little bit of saltiness. Excellent!
A rhum baba was decent, if a little over-cooked and therefore not all that great. The addition of the citrus fruits certainly was a nice idea, but couldn’t save things at the end of the day. Good still.
Petit-fours are funny, the little tree of chocolates is great, while the ice cream balls in liquid nitrogen seem a little bizarre in this restaurant. Looks like one is trying to suddenly be very modern. It doesn’t add anything to the dish, so the point of it’s use escapes me. They are tasty though.
Overall this was a faultless lunch, even if the baba was over-baked. Everything was perfectly executed and presented, the food was very good indeed, if that lack of emotion really could be seen as a valid point. What I found interesting was the close similarity to the Louis XV’s food. In terms of presentation and cooking, quite a few of Clare Smyth’s dishes really look like someone has tried to transplant that restaurant to London. It might not be the best of ideas in the long-run, as the Louis XV is what it is due to it’s location, and the products of the area. For me, this might be the only thing Ramsay and Smyth could work on a bit. However, I can see that this is a 3*, that is worth the rating despite the criticism.
The Capital Hotel has changed its chef a while ago, and now the kitchen is turning out much more classical simple dishes, which Eric Chavot probably wouldn’t have served. A while ago I decided to head over there for dinner, which proved to be remarkably good as you shall see.
The wine list is very refreshing here: Mark-ups on wines that are bought in at £100 or more are minimal, and the rest is very fairly priced too. Raymond Boulard’s Petrea costs a mere £56, until recently they had a 2000 Ramonet Chassagne “Vergers” for a very fair £89, and at the top end of the range, there was a nice selection of Leroy wines: 2000 Echezeaux cost no more than a bottle can cost you in an auction, around £450. We decided to drink a bottle of the brilliant 2005 Kistler Dutton Ranch, which must still count as one of the top Californian Chardonnays. It is a great wine, concentrated, balanced, very floral and fruity on the nose, and not as heavy or over-oaked as some other wines of that area. A complete winner.
To start us off, a rabbit tart was served with a little pepper jus was served. It was tasty, light and well made, not really exciting, but hard to criticise. Good.
Up next came a very well made terrine of pork, duck, foie gras and pistachios. Served with some kind of jelly and a few marinated micro-shoots, it was just what it said it would be. The flavours were all there, and worked well together. A really good terrine, for the rather attractive price of £14. That’s the way we like it. Very good.
My main course was a lobster Thermidor, slightly more pricey than the terrine (£34). However, it was pretty much a whole Scottish lobster on a plate. If not served in the head, or anything like that it was a very good plate of food nonetheless. The lobster was perfectly cooked, and had great texture, the creamy sauce was just gratinated, and the spinach was rather agreeable too. I was surprised by the level of the cooking here, as product quality, execution and presentation were all of a high order. Very good.
As a dessert, we had a roasted pineapple with some kind of crème brulee inside. What the sorbet on top was made out of, I didn’t write down, but it was a good dessert. Maybe a tad too sweet for my taste, but nonetheless very well done. Good.
Overall it was a very enjoyable evening. From the drink in the cosy bar to the food, the great wine and perfect service, everything was far better than I had hoped it would be. I also found the pricing incredibly reasonable on the whole, given the hotel’s status. For a good classical meal, with great wines on the side, this is certainly a safe haven.
Viajante is Nuno Mendes’s new restaurant. It is set in a rather interesting location, close to the Bethnal Green tube station. The room is beautiful, and fits the cooking perfectly. During my first lunch here, (no more than a week after opening!) service was great. It might not have been as polished as in some of the more established starred restaurants, but it was friendly, warm and brought us all we wanted. I don’t ask for more, especially if the food is as good as it was here today.
We drank a great 1999 Duval Leroy Blanc de blancs, which had good depth, and concentration. After that we moved to an Australian wine, composed of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. It was a beautiful pairing for most of the food, and very fairly priced at £44 a bottle. The following wine was the best of the bunch, a 2006 St. Joseph from Vins de Vienne. This cooperative, made up of some of the finest winemakers of the northern Rhone, produces some great wines, and this was no exception.
First up were Crostini de romesco and gordal olives, almonds and Jerez. This didn’t only look beautiful, but it had great intensity of taste too. As careful as the presentation was, it was a beautiful combination too, where the olives gave just the punch they should, no more, no less. Very good.
The second amuse wasn’t bad neither: A smokey aubergine with soy milk. A crispy sandwich was served with a few jellified preparations of aubergine and soy milk. What I liked about this was the freshness, and the intense, deep flavour of the dish. This was another very enjoyable amuse. I was looking forward to the rest…
The final amuse was simply called Thai Explosion II. A bit of confit chicken was served between thin sheets of philo-pastry. It was tasty, well-seasoned and fresh. All I want in a restaurant, great stuff. Very good.
A word about the bread and butter. Both were stunning. The bread had an incredibly light, airy, fluffy texture, with a very thin, crunchy crust. It felt like eating very tasty air, or nearly, and was a highly accomplished piece of baking. The butter is made in a rather complicated process. First it is browned, then frozen, and whipped, to make it lighter. Sprinkled with violet potato powder, it was great to be eaten with the bread. Like a little bon-bon. Excellent.
Squid tartare and pickled radishes, samphire and frozen squid ink jus. This was another incredibly fresh, light dish, which might have been influenced by some Nordic chefs’ cooking. The squid, pine nuts and frozen ink jus combo was very enjoyable and worked beautifully. Excellent
Textures of beetroot and crab, green apple and whipped goats curd. I considered this to be the “weakest” dish of the day, although Laurent of GOT really enjoyed it. My problem was the beetroot, which slightly overpowered the delicate crab. The apple, goat’s cheese and crab combination was great though. Good.
Roasted Celeriac, tapioca and S. Jorge Cheese. Another picture on a plate, which really impressed me visually. Not many restaurants in London go into such detail in the plating, so this really was a great plate of food. The flavours and textures were just as good as the look, which made me count this as one of the best dishes of the day. Excellent.
Lemon Sole, brioche, yeast and cauliflower. Another very well thought out combination, this dish really showed off the product’s quality. Compared with another Lemon Sole dish, I’ve had at Inter Scaldes, this was much more interesting and better. This was another highlight, just like the next one was too… Excellent.
Up next was a Pigs Neck and prawns, Savoy cabbage and anchovies, fried capers and grated egg. This was an intriguing combination, which brought together quite a few diverse elements into a rather well-composed plate. The elements all worked very well, and the pork was quite exquisite. Beautifully braised for 24hrs, it was tender, tasty and simply delicious. The combination with the egg was very good, and the other elements, like the slightly grilled salad, gave it some crunch and herbal taste. Excellent.
A beef dish with Miso was added, as we still had some red wine left. This featured a great piece of tender, and tasty beef, very well cooked and beautifully presented with great garnishes. Simple, and very well executed, this was great modern food, which really adds something new to London’s restaurant scene. Excellent.
We moved on to the sweet part of the meal with a glass of Tocolato from Maculan. A Thai-Basil and lemon sorbet was a capable palate cleanser, which prepared us for the dessert. Very good.
The dessert itself was a Dark chocolate and hazelnuts, praline powder and blackcurrant gel. I didn’t expect a fondant au chocolat in such a modern restaurant, but this one was complemented by a whole bunch of complementing elements. Not only was it very good, but it also was incredibly beautiful and well done. Another very good plate of food.
The petit-fours and the coffee (from Square Mile) were just as good as the rest, and further solidified this restaurant’s serious commitment to count among the best in town.
Overall this was a great lunch. Just one week after opening, the kitchen seemed to work perfectly, and the lunch was of a very high standard. It’s hard to identify a favourite course, as most were great. The experience was rounded off by a nice, if short selection of wines, and great relaxed service. If you really like food, take the trip down to Bethnal Green, where you’ll be able to have some of the most interesting meals in London.