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  1. The Vineyard made a post-stay request for feedback, and I gave them, effectively word-for-word, the post I made earlier in this thread. Their manager replied, very promptly, in exemplary, and reassuring, terms. I can do no better than quote his words here (for which I sought, and he gave, approval): "Thank you for taking the time to send your comments following your recent stay. Whilst I am happy that you “had a lovely evening”, it saddens me that you on more than one occasion thought that there were two teams – normal and wine fair guests. This I can assure you was not what should have been portrayed and for this I can only offer my personal apologies. I have passed your comments to both the Chef and Restaurant Manager, who have asked that I send their apologies too. With 24 covers in the restaurant, I would have expected the service to be impeccable, as our service teams had been split equally to accommodate both sets of diners. Indeed it was a very busy and successful service in the wine fair dinner, however, the kitchen brigade too had been split to ensure that our restaurant guests were looked after more, after all the restaurant is what we all have become so proud of. I can assure you your points have been put to task and certainly will help in moving forward if we are to achieve greatness again. Far too often feedback is not given and without which how is a property to learn from their failings, lest we fall prey to resting on our laurels. I do hope to be able to welcome you back in the future and as a gesture would like to invite you back as my guests to dine (lunch or dinner) in order to showcase what I know the team are very good at and are consistent at achieving – clearly we missed something on your visit. I would ask that you contact me directly so as to afford my personal attentions." One could ask no more, and I pay tribute to fantastic customer service.
  2. When we made our room and dinner reservations for Friday night at the Vineyard, we didn't realise they were hosting their first annual Wine Fair the same weekend. However, when I noticed this on their website I was quite pleased, because I thought the place would be on top form. However, we left the following day with the impression that, on the restaurant front, either they had overstretched themselves or - worse if true - had neglected their non-wine-fair-guests. Firstly, I must point out that we were most impressed by our room, which was an unmentioned upgrade to a lovely suite (and which for the price we paid was fantastic). Pre-dinner drinks were fine. Most of, if not all, the staff are French, and charming (although it was extraordinary to hear a chap near us ask for a Pernod, and for the young woman serving - who certainly sounded French - ask him to spell it, and then return to announce that "Yes, they do serve it" (good lord, so does my local boozer)). When we made our reservation about ten days earlier we were told that there were very few tables left. However, the place was almost empty, which leads me to think we were either misled, or, perhaps more likely, they heavily reduced the numbers of covers in the main restaurant in order to allow for the wine-dinner in the nearby function room. Starters were foie gras with bitter chocolate (me) and pumpkin veloute for H. They were both good, although they arrived a couple of minutes before the sommelier poured my wine (I'd asked for by-the-glass recommendations for the two courses)- Riesling Spätlese, Graacher Himmelreich, J J Prüm. Mains were Veal for H (which she polished off with little comment), and "Steamed fillet of John Dory, honey and chilli glaze, fennel, broad beans" for me. The latter is described inthis article as Galmiche's signature dish (don't let it be said I don't do my research). Now a signature dish should be an opportunity for a kitchen to show off their ideas, execution, consistency and ingredients, and not an excuse to take their eye off the ball. I can only conclude the latter had happened: the fish was overcooked, not quite warm enough and the sauce had a slight skin on it, which suggested it had spent too long on the pass. Meanwhile I had had to point out that I had not received my wine, and it again took a couple of minutes to find the sommelier (who was also charming, by the way) to pour my (lovely) 2006 Bourgogne Blanc, Domaine Leflaive. We passed on dessert, and had poor coffee and nice petit-fours in the lounge. From there, we could hear, from the function room, what seemed like the hubbub and gaiety of a buzzing restaurant (where the wine-fair dinner was taking place). When the kitchen staff paraded out of the function room, followed by applause, and marched back to the kitchen (ignoring the "normal" diners in the main restaurant) it only confirmed our feeling of not being invited to the main party of the evening. Given that we venture out rarely, and that the meal cost £220 for two courses and five glasses of wine between us, this was not ideal. I wasn't going to make more of it, because we still had a lovely evening (we were there for an occasion, not a review) but this ain't the way to win stars back.
  3. I guess the answer's "no" then We've a reservation (and room) this Friday. I'll try to post some notes afterwards.
  4. Anyone been since Daniel Galmiche replaced John Campbell? They apparently lost their two stars "because of timing" (i.e. the inspectors didn't have the chance to assess it between Campbell's departure and Galmiche's start).
  5. And the same Delia whose "seafood risotto" using fish soup instead of stock, frozen seafood and garnished with gruyere and rouille, is, unsurprisingly at one and the same time revolting but also clearing Waitrose shelves nationwide of jars of fish soup.
  6. A simplified sugo all'amatriciana: instead of guanciale (I have never found that in the UK), fry pancetta or bacon strips in a reasonable amount of olive oil until coloured, add v finely sliced or chopped onion and some chilli flakes, cook down then add tinned tomatoes. Season and cook down again until sauce consistency achieved. Serve with spaghetti/linguine/fettucine and plenty of parmigiano.
  7. Just re-vivifying this thread - has anyone ever used/eaten garlic mustard (a.k.a jack-by-the-hedge) in proper quantities? I always chew on the leaves, and think it would be a nice culinary plant, but I've never got round to trying it. (Mabey says (in Flora Britannica "Garlic Mustard or Jack-by-the-hedge, Alliara petiolata, is an abundant herb of hedge-banks and woods, smelling mildly of garlic. It has long been used as a flavouring: in sauces for fish and lamb in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and as an ingredient for spring salads today. In 1993 it was being sold for a pound a bunch in a smart Italian delicatessen in London's Covent Garden. Jack-by-the-hedge is a biennial, and the soft nettle-shaped leaves can be picked from September, when they first begin to show, until late spring, when the brilliant white flowers appear".)
  8. Now - is that true? Seriously, I had no idea - one opened near me about a year ago, and I had a quick (and vain) look for some interesting bargain euro-type tinned food/charcuterie, but didn't even think to look at the fresh produce. I walk past it very day with barely a glance. And now I feel stupid.
  9. Yes, it depends what you mean by "around" Bracknell, and also what you're looking for in terms of "great eating". You're not far from Bray (two out the UK's three three-star restaurants), and Marlow, slightly lower-end with The Hand and Flowers and the Vanilla Pod. West a bit near Newbury, is the Vineyard at Stockcross.
  10. What about The Sir Charles Napier near Chinnor, which sent Matthew Norman rather wild last year? Review
  11. It's a long while since I ate at either, but in terms of setting, would you prefer a beautiful (if twee) Cotswold village (LOTM), or the dull outskirts of Newbury?
  12. Slow reactions. Actually, we stayed there last Friday. The place itself is largely as others have described, although they omitted that it looks like a Travel Lodge as you pull in off the main road. Once you get through the doors, however, it's good opulent stuff. We'd booked a last minute lastminute deal, at £120 room only, but we were told a) they'd given us a comp upgrade to a luxury room (in the new Atrium wing) and b) had reserved a table for dinner. Re: b) we had decided in advance that we couldn't afford the eye-bleedingly (for us) dinner prices (£58 for two courses, £68 for three), but, sure enough, we fell for it. At aperitif, the elegantly subtle question mark in my "dry sherry?" fell on deaf ears, and resulted in a dry sherry. It was probably Tio Pepe, which of course is fine, but at a Peter Michael place, I was hoping for a bit more of a discussion. H had a Kir Royale framboise. The menu is as on their website (as of today's date, obv.). All of it was up my street, but not much up H's, so to speak. I went for Squab with Rhubard and Custard, then Turbot, she for Roast Chicken and dessert. Amuse was truffle panna cotta, with cep foam. This looked like a huge grey fried egg, but was forceful and (nicely) salty. H could only manage a small bit of what was a generous portion. Good bread with good butter. The squab itself was outstanding (four breasts, or pieces thereof) but, perhaps predictably, I couldn't see the point of the rhubard and custard (overly sweet). Nice pieces of thinly sliced cep worked well though. Turbot was also lovely, as were the pork belly and the langoustine. I didn't really taste the lemongrass, but didn't miss it. H said the chicken was superb, but I was enjoying the turbot so much I didn't really look up. The sommelier had seemed quickly to lose interest when he discovered that I was the only one drinking, and that I only wanted a glass. Just to spite him, I cleverly didn't really listen when he explained his recommendation. Whatever it was, it was a scoop of nectar. H then had Hazelnut Sponge, Chocolate Parfait, Muscovado Foam. I think I stole some. Service was pretty much impeccable, if a bit rushed. The staff did have to contend, however, with an ineffably cool old French couple next to us, who, in the most charming way, made themselves the most awkward bastards possible (before declaring their scallop starters to be "tres bon", at which the waiter expired from delight). Coffee was crap, as it always is, everywhere.
  13. Nah - those Versalab people talk rubbish I think. There certainly isn't a handful of old grinds in my grinder, because I sweep it out after use (the dosing chamber and the chute). That's not to say that a very small quantity of old grounds might persist, but II'm relaxed about that. Freezing beans is a whole area of academic study. Errr...if you me, you don't (have only recently got mine, and not had much chance to experiment. However, if you were one of the members at Home Barista, you'd understand it's due to a number of variables, including grind, pressure, temperature, dose size and, perhaps preeminent - packing and tamping.
  14. You can't go better than the Mazzers really. I think the Rocky is a bit overrated, but that doesn't mean it's not good, and perfectly up to the job, it's just that there are alternatives. At the cheaper end there's the Iberital MC2 (at Happydonkey again - tell Scott at this rate he'll owe me commission) for a bargain £99, and the Gaggia MDF (lots of places, for about £150). Up a bit to the Macaps (which are an excellent Mazzer rival) e.g. the MC4 (dunno why both Iberital and Macap use the MC tag - I'm pretty sure there's no relation) for £229 at BellaBarista. After that (and I'm missing out lots) you're in the Mazzer territory, along with La Cimbali, Compak, and many others. This IS a geeky obsession, and one I'm trying to downgrade from. I've just sold my one-group commercial machine, because that was plain crazy for pulling a couple of shots a day, but one thing I won't be getting rid of is my Compak K6 grinder, which I got for a pittance off ebay. And there's your other option - top-end grinders devalue quickly, but keep running (in general) for ever. The only thing they really need is regular minor cleaing, and every few years, a new set of burrs (Happydonkey again). For example, at the moment I can see on ebay four Mazzer Super Jollys (at varying amounts, and in fact these WILL probably reach decent closing prices), a Brugnetti, a brand new Compak, a brand new Bregant. And that's a slow week. Then again, these commercial grinders do take up a lot of space - my grinder is twice the size of my little Gaggia Classic. Maybe I should have just stopped at recommending the Iberital. Or there's the audiophile espresso equivalent - the Versalab. Shocking website.
  15. Meh. The strictures against backflushing are really to guard against idiots who would leave the pump running MUCH too long. For the few seconds required there's no difference between backflushing and pulling a shot (if you think about it, for the first few seconds of a shot the pump is effectively working against a solid blockage). Randy Glass's Pages Tim, I hadn't realised you were trying to work with (excellent) preground beans. Get the grinder (a Mazzer would be perfect, but there are other less obv choices) - it's the single most important part of the whole shebang.
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