Posts Tagged ‘London 1*’

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…

Publicités

Helene Darroze at the Connaught, London

mars 26, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apsleys at the Lanesborough- A Heinz Beck Restaurant, London

mars 24, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ruinart Rose.

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

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


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

2008, Cuvee Anna, Tiefenbrunner, Südtirol, Italy


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

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


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

2003, Meursault, Domaine Matrot, Bourgogne, France


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

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


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

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

2005, Aszu 5 Pottonyos, Royal Tokaij Co, Hungary


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

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

The Greenhouse, London

mars 13, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Petit-fours are always beautiful here.

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

The Greenhouse, London, a second return

décembre 14, 2009

La salle

My third visit to the Greenhouse was a special one. I had asked Antonin Bonnet, if he wasn’t doing a lievre a la royale and he said that it would soon be ready. A few weeks later, I got a long-awaited e-mail saying that the dish was finally ready, so a table was quickly booked, and I was ready to go.

La salle II

Service was as usual, perfect, and it keeps getting better, although that might have to do with the fact, that I get to know them a little. After having put together the menu with Antonin, we were ready to start. A glass of Krug Grande Cuvee always comes in handy, and is indeed a huge pleasure, although this one wasn’t as good as the last I have had here.

The nibbles were as good as always, and the little parmesan crisps with some kind of truffle (?) cream were particularly enjoyable with the wine.  Bread was again excellent, as it usually is here. They really do have arguably the best selection in London, with ADAD maybe.

Quelques bouchees

Interestingly enough, the amuse-bouche, was much better than a few weeks earlier. This time the dashi jelly had much more punch, and the avocado and crab were also seasoned in a more enjoyable way. Now this made sense, and was a good start.

Crabe

Our first course was Scottish langoustines, smoked potato, Brussels sprout leaves, coconut oil and anchovy sauce. This was served with a 2007 Condrieu, Terrasses de l’Empire from Georges Vernay. Two perfectly cooked, rather small langoustines came with a smoked potato, which was filled with, what I presume was the anchovy sauce, some steamed Brussels sprout leaves and a langoustine bouillon. The langoustines were unfortunately not of the same quality as those one can find at the Square for instance, as one was rather mushy, whilst the other was good, with the slightly crunchy flesh, that makes them so special. The potato was very (too?) subtly smoked and a little bland, and the anchovy sauce hardly present. However, what was really great was the fumet. This broth had incredible punch, and great depth of flavour. So far the dish was nice, without being anything particularly memorable, but there was that wine sitting next to the plate. When one introduced the fantastic Condrieu into the picture, things looked decidedly different. Both supported each other, and created something that was pretty close to a perfect accord. This was absolutely fantastic, as the wine was already very nice on its own, but also turned the dish into something much more interesting. Compliments to Ronan Sayburn, who took care of us very well that night. Good for the dish, excellent if eaten with that wine.

Langoustines

Moving on, we saw the Line-caught steamed sea bass, Savoy cabbage, wild mushrooms, shellfish and beurre blanc land on our table. Here we drank a 2004 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er cru Boudriottes from Fontaigne Gagnard. This dish did somewhat remind me of the minimalist presentation of the brill, during my last visit. This time there was a little more on the plate, but it was hardly overcrowded. The steamed bass came with a chip of its skin, different mussels, clams and other shellfish and a cabbage roll, stuffed with wild mushrooms. Around it was poured a slightly creamy combawa sauce. First of all, the wine was again a very fine match for the dish, and in itself a great drop. But, this time the dish itself presented already much more of an interest. The bass was cooked masterfully, and seasoned perfectly. The chip provided the needed textural variation, to the otherwise very soft sea bass meat (unfortunately it is impossible in this country to send fish down to London directly after having caught it). The shellfish ragout was great, as was the little roulade. Bizarrely, this slightly Asian dish worked beautifully with the rather classical combination of cabbage and wild mushrooms. The sauce gave the whole thing a foundation, which was brilliantly spiced. This was again a highly successful Asian/French fusion dish, which didn’t taste as vulgar as such attempts usually do. It was a very good dish, which could have been excellent, had the bass had firmer flesh (which will not be found in the UK I suppose).

Bar

Things got serious now, really serious. Hare a la royale, Black truffle, mash potato was set on the table. Poured with it was a 2005 Vacqueyras “Doucinello” from the Domaine le Sang des Cailloux. The match was again highly enjoyable, which is all I can say about it. The real star here, was the dish though. Although I hate it when summer or autoumn truffles are sold as black truffles, I must say that this dish must have been one of the best dishes I’ve had in London so far. The hare, cooked more or less like the Ali-Bab version of the dish, was simply glorious. Falling apart, incredibly tasty and powerful, it was mind-blowing. What was also terrific about it was the incredibly light feeling it had. It wasn’t like other versions of the same dish, which often tend to be rather overwhelming. The sauce, Antonin, confessed later, did not follow the original recipce, but was based on a lighter hare fumet. Despite this, it was incredibly strong and tasty, quite simply a glorious piece of work. As the service sauced our plates, the rest was taken away, which is about the biggest crime there can be. When I asked for a little more of it, they had to reheat it, which took a little while. Why do I insist on this? Because it eventually limited our pleasure with the following dish. This however, was a divine plate of food, one for the history books. I could have just bathed in that.

le LIEVRE

The dish Antonin had wanted me to try was the Pithivier, Green salad. Served with a great 2001 Chateau Langoa Barton, this was one more great pairing. The pithiviers somewhat resembled that of Eric Briffard, in that it used grouse, partridge, wild duck and foie gras (although no honey, nor wild mushrooms are involved in this one). It is carved table-side, and simply served with a delcious jus perle. The sweet little green salad, with some hardly noticeable truffles, was perfectly fine, but hardly needed. The tourte itself was, unfortunately, baked for too long. The pastry was rather dark, and the grouse nearly well-done. Thus, the meat was dry and less tender than it could have been. This was a real shame, as the flavours were fantastic in this dish again. The few minutes that we waited for our second serving of sauce to be prepared during the last dish were probably all that nearly killed this dish. That is why I would urge any restaurateur to leave the little sauce bowls on the table, gourmands like me can serve themselves without any trouble, and without causing considerable time shifts for the kitchen. Good, but would have been exceptional if cooked well.

Pithiviers

La p'tite salade

Another reason (the third) for such a quick return was the cheeseboard. This really must be one of the finest cheese selections this world has to offer, as it eclipses most of the best French ones, not to speak of those in this town. With our selection we were served a 2005 Wolfer Goldgrube Riesling Spätlese from Daniel Vollenveider, a 2005 Pinot Noir, Te Mania from New Zealand, and a 1977 Blandy’s Bual Madeira. The few cheeses we had were yet again fantastic, in exceptional condition and quite simply divine.

Fromages

The pre-dessert was the same as last time: A coconut biscuit, banana sorbet and lime mousse. This was again very good, refreshing and not too sweet.

pre-dessert

The dessert itself was a Amalfi lemon tart, basil sorbet, lime jelly and meringue. This was a fantastic dessert. A perfect classical lemon tart was topped with a quenelle of great, intensive basil sorbet, and a light foam of lime. Along with the jelly and the meringue, this was an absolutely brilliant dessert, as the basil gave it much more of a complex, rich taste, which went perfectly with the lemon. It would be interesting to compare this with the lemon/basil dessert at Louis XV, although the latter uses the combination in a completely different combination. Excellent.

Tarte au citron

Mignardises were very good, and show how careful the pastry here works. Very good.

mignardises

All in all this was a stunning meal. Apart from the bill, which was by far the highest I have as yet had in London, the wines, food and service were fantastic. Every single pairing was perfect, made sense, worked, and elevated the dish to another level. In addition to this, the hare, cheese and dessert were among the best things I have eaten in London, and the pithiviers could have figured among those too, had it not been overcooked. The only problem I had today was the langoustine dish, which was a good distance away from the level of the other dishes, in terms of product quality, interest and composition, it was not at the level of the subsequent dishes. Whilst warranting 1*, it certainly did not qualify for any higher marking. Bonnet’s cooking was (the pithiviers taken apart) as precise, clean and interesting as ever, but the problems are clear: There needs to be more consistency. My dining companion has also eaten here three times, and had the exact same complaint. Another problem he has, is the difficulty of getting outstanding seafood and products in general is a problem, if one cooks in such a style. Bonnet does a fine job in sourcing the best possible stuff, but in some cases (especially fish), he can’t compete with what is on offer in other countries (at much higher prices) and some other British restaurants.

Zafferano, London

novembre 21, 2009

A room

Zafferano is nestled in one of London’s nicest parts- Belgravia. Around the corner you have Christian Louboutin, Bottega Veneta, Dior, Valentino,…and a few other things, that are nice and make you blend in with the rest of the crowd that lives here. The restaurant itself is pretty big for a starred-restaurant, but is cleverly divided into multiple rooms, which give you the feeling of a certain intimacy.

La tavola

Service was very good, despite a pretty full house (on a Monday night). From that side there was nothing to question, and in general everything was swiftly delivered and bread was refilled without me having to beg for it.The latter  however, was less grandiose. Typically Italian, everything (except for the grissini) was rather mediocre. It is certainly baked in the restaurant, but is devoid of crust, character or significant taste. The various types were all pretty similar from a textural point of view, which results in a rather monotonous bread basket. Olive oil was good, butter non-existent (as we were in an Italian restaurant, that was not a problem).

il pane

The first nibbles arrived promptly: Some mortadella, parmigiano reggiano, salami, and focaccia. These were all very enjoyable: The mortadella was of very good quality, as was the salami, but the parmesan was a little young to be served just like that. However, it did not hurt to have a little nibble whilst perusing the menu. Price-wise, three courses were around £45, whilst four are a tenner more. As, I came here with the purpose of eating white truffles from Alba, I had to add a further £35 to the bill for my truffled course. That is ten pounds more than at the Greenhouse for instance, but five less than the Square charges.

DSCN1558

Struzzichini

Another nibble was a cherry tomato, gratinated with pangrattato and fried parsely. This was pleasant and gave a good balance between sweet, lukewarm, rich tomato and crunchy breadcrumbs.

DSCN1559

Promodorini

A starter was a green bean salad with cuttlefish, tomatoes and olive puree. This was unexpectedly good. The products, I was told, are mostly bought in from Italy, and some have even argued that the chef has people photograph the vegetable stands in order to be able to choose. This particular plate was a perfectly acceptable bean salad, one would do at home too. The beans were good, well cooked, and perfectly seasoned. What was special about the dish were the cuttlefish. These were not only very, very tender, but also very tasty. Overall, this was a good dish. (excuse the burry picture)

insalata

My primo was simple: Ravioli di fagiano al rosmarino. A few pasta-parcels stuffed with pheasant meat came floating in a nicely reduced pheasant jus, which was infused with rosemary. This was a great autumnal dish, which combined the pasta’s rusticity with some rather well executed classic jus.  The ravioli were not as thin as they could have been, but that gave them a certain bite, which was more than welcome. The stuffing was most tasty, if a little on the drier side. A little foie gras or lardo di Colonnata would not have been unwelcome in this case. However, when sauced with the intense jus, it proved to be a most pleasant dish, that was very comfortably on 1*-level. Good.

Ravioli

But, the real reason for my coming was about to show up. A poached egg, with fonduta and porcini. There were also white truffles involved, which played the leading role in some sense. This was a great dish. Combining classical Piedmontese  fonduta with the white truffles and eggs is not really what one could call innovative, but in this case it was very well executed, and every element acted as a pillow for the truffles. These could fully express their magical aroma and taste, upon these rich, if not overly powerful partners. The combination with the porcini was very good, as the truffles do have a similar taste. In short, to have a plate set in front of you, and have a liberal serving of these little diamonds shaved on top of it, is quite an experience. The smell they create is simply unforgettable, and should be experienced by anyone. Not to forget the incredibly delicate, fine taste, which came out marvelously well in this dish. A truly fantastic dish.

DSCN1564

Dio mio!

DSCN1565

tartufi

Dessert was a chocolate fondente with gianduja ice cream. Simple, often the last thing on a menu I would order but very well done here. The ice cream was very different from the one at Louis XV, but not bad by any means. It was creamy, not too sweet, but unfortunately a little cocoa-heavy (for a gianduja ice cream). The fondant itself (invented by Michel Bras in 1981), was not much like the original, but very nice: Not too sweet, strong chocolate, and perfectly melting core. Not that this is particularly tricky from a technical point of view, but it is very enjoyable when well done. Very good.

DSCN1566

Fondente

Petit-fours were forgettable. They presented no real interest, nor did they impress with their extremely precise confection. Coffee was good, which should be the case in a better Italian restaurant.

DSCN1567

Petit fours

All in all, the truffle dish stole the show. Not that I expected anything else, but they are somewhat magical. The only time I have had some before, was in the kitchen of a Parisian 3*, which was an unforgettable moment. Here the dish gave them the perfect background to fully develop themselves. I absolutely loved the dish, which would have been most successful without them too.  Wine-wise, we had a Pinot Gris from Suedtirol (the Italians call it Alto Adige), and a few glasses of very nice I Capitelli from Anselmi.

This was a good 1* meal, with the addition of the truffles. It’s a good casual place, if one doesn’t want to go through the ritual of the more sophisticated French-restaurants. However, one shouldn’t expect any life-changing experiences here, only good products, well cooked and simply served.

Hakkasan, London

juin 6, 2009

 

la maison

la maison

 

 

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

la salle-1

la salle-1

 

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

la salle-2

la salle-2

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

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

 

la table

la table

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

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

pork/prawn shumai

pork/prawn shumai

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

smoked duck

smoked duck

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

scallop

scallop

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

beef

beef

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

 

Shanghai

Shanghai

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

pork

pork

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

another porky treat

another porky treat

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

Spring roll

Spring roll

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

sticky rice roll

sticky rice roll

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

duck roll

duck roll

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

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

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

 

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

la salle-3

la salle-3

Ambassade de l’Ile, London

mai 24, 2009

 

la salle

la salle

 

 

Ambassade de l’ile lies in a most appealing part of London, in South Kensington. Life here seems somewhat more tranquil and definitely less hectic than in other parts of the city. Another feature that both the restaurant and the surroundings share is the very French atmosphere. Here you’ll see a few French children playing in a garden, there you have a chef who comes from Lyon, where he holds 2*. In London, he defends his city’s heritage in the capital of the « rosbifs ».  On a beautiful sunny day, yes these do exist in London, and are in fact quite frequent these days, I sat on the terrace of Ambassade sipping Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque waiting for the menu and the meal to come my way. Instead of the menu came the chef, Jean Christophe Ansanay Alex, a good looking man, who left a very good impression on me. Just that you know, he had to suffer from even harsher criticism than Jocelyn Herland had, over at the Dorchester. One of these incredibly gifted British food writers went even as far as attacking him personally in an incredibly unpleasing way. I don’t see what can drive you to go to such low levels, but these guys obviously have to fill their pages with something. So, if you don’t have an idea of what is on your plate, or how it is prepared, well, then you better find some other things to write about. I for one, don’t really care about the means, as long as the end gives me what I want: Pleasure.

Having done my fair share of research, I found it quite interesting to have all of the more well-eaten people rave about the place, whilst my good friends, you know who, absolutely hated it. I don’t think that I need  to mention, that this was one of the meals I eagerly awaited, if with mixed feelings.

 

la salle 2

la salle 2

 

 

The room, about which my dear friends have of course written their fair share of words, does appeal to me. It is very modern, certainly not to everyone’s taste, but I loved it. Somehow, it seemed very refreshing and somewhat in the style of Sketch (if less crazy). Another nice touch is the wide selection of newspapers and magazines available in the lounge, which you rarely see, even in restaurants of such standards. Even a German magazine was available, and that in a French restaurant! The European Union does have some effect on our everyday life!

 

la table

la table

 

 

The little terrace is lovely and whilst I sat there drinking this very nice Champagne and talking to the chef (who seems to be a very interesting and generous person), I was approached with the first little amuses: Different fried herbs and vegetables, coated in the lightest, crispest of batters that I have encountered up to this day. The fine flavours were able to stand out clearly, while the crunch gave the whole preparation this exciting side. Apart from this, the whole thing was well seasoned and provided a very, very good start for this meal.

 

fritto misto

fritto misto

 

To follow this, the second amuse bouche consisted of a little croquette of goat’s cheese and a kind of marmalade and a cod brandade with beurre blanc. The croquette was, once again, very well made and powerful in flavour. The coating was thinly coated, crisp and nearly greaseless, something I can only recall in this quality at Les Ambassadeurs, where J.F. Piege serves a divine croquette. The brandade, a classical Provencal dish, was equally well made and the beurre blanc made this (olive oil ladden) mouthful even more decadent. The original dish consists of salt cod that is flaked and mixed with potatoes and olive oil, in case you want to know. The level of the cooking was very high, which these two delicious mises en bouche clearly showed.

Amuse 2

Amuse 2

 

A few words about the bread. It is home made, which always is a delight, especially if it is as well made as in this case. Only two kinds were on offer, but they were good. They were excellent if I’m honest. Light, with a crunchy crust, a delightfully moist mie, and well seasoned. A delight. I wish, the meal could have gone on like this, but there came a few questionable dishes, which I didn’t quite understand.

The first was Consomme de Tomate au Basilic comme un Irish Coffee. A tomato consommé was covered in basil foam and in it bathed a cherry tomatoe covered in caramel. The consommé had nice flavour, but didn’t impress (after all we’re in May).  I guess the usage of Magiquo tomatoes from Spain would have helped this dish quite a bit, but then these are as expensive as a good piece of foie gras. The problem was the overpowering sweetness, which also came from the tomatoe. This little thing was entirely covered in a caramel, which definitely was too thick. The only flavour one retained was the caramel’s sweetness, which would be nice, if the dish would have served as a dessert or pre-dessert, but as a starter, it wasn’t quite my thing. The froth was pleasant, but basil was only hardly distinguishable.  Unfortunately, I must say that this was a mediocre dish. Honestly, it would be worth serving this as a very light, refreshing dessert, which would then be very good. 

tomates

tomates

 

 

The following one, Ravioli de St Jacques et Langoustine, Agrumes, Asperge et Lait au Poivre, was another of these strange dishes. The filling of the raviolo was not seasoned enough and therefore tasted relatively bland. Or, if you prefer it this way, it was very (very) subtle. The citrus fruit sauce was, yet again, overpoweringly sweet, which I didn’t understand. The sauce just seemed to be entirely made out of caramel. It might have been the kind of dish that would have lived on the salty/sweet contrast, if it was well seasoned, but here it didn’t deliver. Mediocre again. After these two poor dishes, I began to question the whole praise the place got. After all, scallops and langoustine are among my favourite products and I can’t recall having them in such an uninspiring way.

 

raviolo

raviolo

But, things looked up. The Dos de St-Pierre tigre de Basilic, Curry, Courgette, Tomate confite et Olive de Nice featured some very good John Dory. The fish was cooked in a most precise way, resulting in a delightfully moist, firm texture, that really showed, of what this kitchen is capable. This seriously was a fine example of great product quality and precise cooking. It lacked any dryness that John Dory often has, if it is overcooked. The accompanying sauce was seasoned in a way, that didn’t overpower the rest, but gave the whole dish enough punch. The vegetables were nice, but the olives could have been pitted, especially in such a restaurant. Overall, the dish got somewhat closer to the amuses, but still wasn’t anywhere near of my initial expectations. It didn’t wow me at all, but at least it was a decent dish, which was well executed.

st Pierre

st Pierre

The following dish was certainly one of the strongest of the day. Carbonara de Homard. The title was deceiving, as I couldn’t detect any egg yolks nor bacon (the basis of Carbonara and not cream as so often wrongly assumed). Still, it was worth trying it for a few reasons. Firstly, this was some very fine lobster, not as perfectly cooked as the one at the Greenhouse a couple of days earlier, but still very well made. Also, it represented only three elements on the plate: Lobster, pasta and sauce, which shows, yet again, how much can be achieved with so little. Finally, the association with the sauce and macaroni turned it into some very comforting food. This certainly was a very strong dish.

 

Homard

Homard

 

 

Luckily enough, the meal did present me with one memorable course, which is all I ask for, even if two or three of those in a meal don’t hurt neither. The Pomme de Ris de Veau lentement braisee au Pamplemousse rose et Petits Pois certainly was one of those that didn’t fail to impress. This was the kind of food I had hoped to get here: Bold, simple, strongly flavoured and well executed. It was stricking to have the sweetbreads served not pan-fried, but braised. This results in a very different texture, that one could describe as being even more tender, but less creamy and rich. The cooking technique used here also features on a French classic called Ris de veau braise a la Crecy, a recipe, which also involves oranges, making me wonder if the chef might have used it for inspiration?

Wherever he got the inspiration from, he certainly did a most convincing rendering of that dish! It was fantastic: the croutons providing a lovely crunch (which obviously couldn’t come from the braised sweetbreads), the grapefruit giving it some acidity and tanginess and the peas some creamy, clear backdrop. I guess the perfect jus didn’t hurt the dish neither. It showed yet again, of what the kitchen is capable. This dish alone might have been worth coming for, even though some of the rest wasn’t quite my kind of stuff. Excellent.

ris de veau

ris de veau

 

Unfortunately, no cheese was offered to us, which we would have gladly accepted (I for my part at least). But dessert (mark the singular) did make up for this. I had a Mille-feuille de Rhubarbe, Crème Anglaise Vanille et Fraise des Bois. Having been told that desserts were this restaurant’s Achilles’ heel, I must confess that I thought this to be one of the stronger parts of my meal. The pastry was fantastically well made, the cream also pleasing, the sorbet intense with only the rhubarb being a bit underwhelming. It wouldn’t win any price for being highly inventive, nor very refined, but it was very well made and very enjoyable. I’d say this was very good and better than the desserts in most British restaurants.

fraises des bois

fraises des bois

 

Another very good dessert was the Souffle a la Peche blanche. A classic peach soufflé which was done in a most convincing way. All in all, this was excellent even if I struggle with soufflés, as you can throw one together in no time at home.

souffle

souffle

 

The petit fours must have been the highlight of the entire meal. They consisted of a Lyonnais classic: Tarte aux pralines roses de St Genix, lemon tart and two kinds of macarons. The tarte aux pralines roses is a real delight, which I absolutely love, I never had the luck to try Alain Chapel’s, but this certainly was a pristine version. The lemon tart too, was impressively well made and had spectacular flavour. The macarons were on that same exceptional level, which made me eat more than one probably should. This was all outstanding stuff, which unfortunately came a little late!

mignardises

mignardises

 

This was a strange meal. Apart from having been the most expensive meal I had in London (due to the Champagnes I had during the meal), it was also the most thought-provoking one. I couldn’t say I felt the prices to be exaggerated, nor could I argue much about the products, execution of the dishes or anything in that respect. The problems were the tomatoe dish and the raviolo. They just didn’t seem to fit into such a restaurant. I don’t understand,why the menu changes every month here, even if it makes it a very seasonal place. Serving tomatoes in May does seem odd to me, especially in a dish that relies on them being of stunning quality. The cooking certainly has capacity to improve greatly, but if such dishes do prevail on the menu, I don’t see why people could claim a second star for it. Nor can I understand anyone, who hates the place. The room is well furbished, the service lovely and the food can reach some (for London) impressive highs, at least if one chooses carefully. It is this inconsistency, that makes me question the meal I had here. I have no problem with a dish that just doesn’t do it, but if two get served, well then I start to wonder. Maybe shortening the menu even more would help to eliminate these odd dishes? What really does impress though is the honesty of the chef and his will to give something real to his guests. For instance, he is going through the menu with each customer to make sure they get exactly what they like and one can change things here and there. This is definitely a big plus, as no one apart from the chef will know better how things are done in the kitchen.

 

For those who are afraid of the prices, it is definitely not expensive for what you get.  A lunch menu here is 20 or 25£ (the latter for 3 courses), with wine, water and coffee only 37£. At dinner, the menu goes from 45 to 70£ (for the tasting) which is a steal for Michelin starred restaurants in London. After this meal, I accompanied a friend to a little sushi place where he had dinner. Being there, I had 4 little portions of sushi, which cost a whopping 20£. Considering that this wasn’t any special sushi restaurant, it really puts the prices these restaurants charge into perspective.

 

One of the friends who was dining with me here clearly meant, that this wasn’t his strongest meal here today, so I might have to go back to give them another chance?

The Greenhouse, London

mai 19, 2009

This, dear readers, will only be a short little review of a stunning meal I had here this week. Seeing that I only found out about my luck when a friend called me half an hour before the meal, I did not have my camera, which explains the absence of photos. For those, who will continue to read, you will be able to read about one of the most impressive meals I have had in London since my coming here in October last year.

 

The Greenhouse is situated in the heart of Mayfair. When approaching  the entrance, you walk through a little « garden », helping you step into a different world. This world doesn’t have much in common with the otherwise noisy, stressful and often tiring city that London is. Here, everything is peaceful, civilised, luxurious and made to give pleasure to the lucky diners. In some respect, Antonin Bonnet has used a lot of his old mentors (Bras) concepts. His kitchen is very different from other chefs’. You might enjoy a few courses, which don’t feature any stock based sauces, which use herbs, vegetables, grains in a most delightful way. Anyone who has been lucky enough to eat at Bras’ Laguiole restaurant, or knows one of his fantastic books, will know how natural this cooking is. There is no manicured carrot slice lying in the corner of a plate, nor is there much cream or butter. Both Bras and Bonnet use the purest, best products and serve them in a (relatively) simple way. What differs this cooking from, say Ceruttis (now Bardets) are the associations and the usage of « strange » sauces, products or unexpected combinations. A meal here might come as a complete surprise, as did mine, and might make you leave with only one desire: To go back and relive this experience.

We started the meal with one of the most fascinating wines that exist, at least if you are such a Champagne fan as I am. Krug Grande Cuvee, which must be the most amazing « basic » cuvees one can think of absolutely blew me away. Such intensive taste is hardly common with any champagne I tasted so far. This really deserves its frightening price, as you will hardly forget it anytime soon! With it, we were served some basil spheres and crackers with goats cheese. The basil sphere had a very bright, refreshing flavour, the goats cheese provided some highly enjoyable saltiness and crunch. Fantastic way to start a meal (although that is more due to the Champagne than the amuses).

The bread here is home made and very, very good. On offer today were four types: Olive, Lemon and Coffee (divine), tomatoe and a normal baguette. All were of very high quality but the service didn’t really want to give them away. I had to ask every time I needed another round, which shouldn’t really happen in a place of this standing. Butter was butter and very good. Don’t know if it was Bordier, but it was good enough to be eaten with the bread. This whole butter craze isn’t really for me, as I doubt that you will be able to tell the difference between the 5 or 6 best butters this world has on offer.

The first course came directly after the first nibbles had been cleared. No amuse or anything of that sort, which makes me quite sad, as I always see the amuse as the one piece of the menu, in which the chef can let his creativity run wild. If one just came back from Europe, where places like Oud Sluis  or Schloss Berg serve you a whole parade of stunning little creations, this seems especially dull.

The first course made up for the lack of amuse I must say. Scottish lobster was barely cooked (mi-cuit) and served with grapefruit, Champagne jelly, different beets and a black sugar sauce. The lobster was cooked fantastically, no hint of chewiness, just a slight crunch, which makes the European lobster so special. There is nothing better than a well cooked European lobster and this was a fine beast. It also tasted very clean, fresh and fine which helped this dish considerably. With this very delicate lobster came a few cubes of slightly bittersweet grapefruit and the star of the dish: black sugar sauce. This is a little flashback to his time at Bras and is made out of the lobster’s head, butter, lemon zest and black sugar. 4 elements create a fantastic balance of a sweetness, iodine flavours and some toasted spice flavours. Such simplicity that gives you such an interesting result is rarely seen in any restaurant, especially in Britain. This really was a fantastic sauce, which went brilliantly well with the grapefruit, lobster and Champagne jelly. This was cooking that was very capable from a technical point of view, featured stunning products and used a highly inventive apporach in conception. I don’t know, if many London restaurants can claim all of these for their cuisine. Excellent.

Following this, I had one of the chefs classics: Bresse Pigeon with baby spinach, pomme soufflee. The pigeon came perfectly cooked (rare) with a cream of the hearts and liver, some gently cooked spinach, a hearty pigeon jus and  a side dish with a barbajuan of the pigeon thigh paired with a herb salad. Furthermore, we were served a little bowl of pommes soufflees. How could I have known that I was going to have one of the best dishes of my life today, when I woke up and only expected this to be another dull day in the LSE library preparing for the upcoming exams? Let me tell you, this was food the way I love it. Simple (not really, but by appearance and perception), perfectly executed and inventive at the same time. The pigeon had extremly intense flavour and the accompanying cream and jus only enhanced this gaminess to elevate it to another level. Just think about it, 4 elements on a plate can create such a rewarding experience. I would be lying if I’d say that this pigeon was any worse than those I had at Oud SLuis, ADPA, Sonnora or any other European 3* (haven’t had any at Bau, where that might change). The accompanying pommes were equally well made and are always a treat. The barbajuan was no worse and provided the dish with a very refined rustic element. In the whole, this dish incorporated every single element of the pigeon, to give the diner the full spectrum of the product he enjoys. It is such a pity if people just use the fancy breast and let the delicious offal go to the bin or anything. It simply is amazing what such a nasty bird can delivers if treated well. DIVINE. This is the kind of food I’d travel for, which must be the first time I can say something like that about any London restaurant. 

The dessert was very pleasant, but nothing special. A milk chocolate parfait sandwiched between caramel tuiles served with chocolate sorbet. Perfectly made, but rather uninspiring. Can’t argue, but can’t be moved by such a dessert. My companion had a much more interesting dish: A reinterpreted lemon tart with basil and a few thousand elements. This was more on the level of the rest of the meal.

Petit fours are stunning though. The macarons were fantastic (had to ask for a second round of course!), the Coca Cola (?!) marshmallow was equally well made and the passion fruit chocolate praline was not the worst of mouthfuls neither.

 

What can I say in retrospect? First, I came here expecting a pleasant meal not more. What I got instead was one of the most interesting and inspiring meals I had in London so far (which only consisted of 3 courses). The products seemed of such high quality that I could probably say they are close to the kind of stuff you might find in a continental 3* kitchen. After all, he uses Mieral as his poultry supplier, meat from the Aubrac, great seafood and top notch vegetables. Furthermore, the way these products are treated reflects the closeness to nature that makes Bras so remarkable. They are treated with utmost respect, to maximise the pleasure of the lucky bastard who ingurgitates these heavenly creations. Thirdly, the kitchen, if in the spirit of Bras, goes its own, distinct way, which is without doubt one of the most interesting ones in London (the other being Pascal Sanchez at Sketch and Claude Bosi at Hibiscus). In addition to these assets, they have one of the biggest cellars in Europe here (somewhere around 2000 positions) of very reasonably priced wines. Of course they won’t cost as little as in your local Tesco’s but that should be clear by now, to those who read this at least. 

But, seeing that it is a restaurant run by humans, it has its flaws. When we arrived, the service seemed a bit nonchalant, didn’t really seem to care about us. However, after a few minutes things changed and by the end of the meal it was perfect. The sommelier deserves to be mentioned, as he does have some very good wines by the glass which fit the kitchen perfectly. For instance, if you always fancied having some Chateau d’Yquem, you can have some here for 45£ a glass (1997), which sounds reasonable for me.

The other thing they could get right is the amuse. It doesn’t cost much to serve a decent little plate of whatever you have lying around in the kitchen. Even if London restaurants often don’t really care about their amuses, a little effort would be very appreciated. The other food concern (if you can call it one) was the relatively boring dessert. In the end, it was just one dessert, so I can’t judge them on that. One more reason to be back as soon as possible!

I don’t really see why Bonnet doesn’t have at least 2*. The restaurant is luxurious enough, the cellar is spectacular, the service (after some warming up) is great and most importantly: The kitchen is absolutely fantastic. If people like Wareing, Herland or Bosi get their 2* why doesn’t this place get them. All I can say, is that I will be back as quickly as possible!