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Ross Boyce

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  1. If you're in Skye then I'd definately recommend going. I was up recently spending some time in the kitchen there and the skill and passion (of the brigade) and amazing quality of the produce delivers some truly awesome food; I was lucky enough to have the Tastes of Skye menu on my last night there and it ranks as one of my best meals ever. Worst thing about the Lums is how far away it is from me - though that won't prevent me going back..
  2. Hmm, "Businesman wants to run a profitable business shocker"? El Bulli, The Fat Duck and The French Laundry all loose money and so Adria, Blumenthal and Keller have consultancies, books and diffusion restaurants to make a living, how can you object to someone without those other avenues trying to fill their Nottingham restaurant? I can totally understand Sat wanting to optimise revenues and structuring his packages to ensure a 2 cover table gets 2 covers and not just one.
  3. Dear Malcolm Duck, I understand you are away watching the rugby this weekend (great result wasn’t it?) and so I thought I’d drop you a note to let you know how Ducks at Kilspindie runs when you’re not around to supervise. I suppose we should all expect people to take their eye off the ball slightly when the boss is away, but when one is a paying customer should we be the ones expected to compromise? Well at Kilspindie it seems the answer is yes. The meal had an inauspicious start with the restaurant manager greeting us with the wrong name and then, when leading us to the table, stopping in the bar to chat to another party. Leaving us to stand in the middle of the bar waiting for their conversation to end. When we finally got to our table the situation improved, a delightful waitress (Helen I believe) and an interesting menu which suggested ambition; the wine list was good, if a bit too biased to the pricier end of the spectrum, but it did hold a gem in the form of a Chinon of decent age for only £19 so we can forgive that. So, decisions made and order taken we found our starters arriving quite quickly, before the wine in fact, with a couple of plates being passed over my head to the diners on the other side of the table. Service faux pas aside, the Gravadlax was pronounced very nice, the crab and shrimp tian fair and the quail bland and under seasoned. Mains came, again with plates passed across the table as if serving to a chimps’ tea party, and the slow-roast pork belly was promptly returned due to burnt crackling. Now, I know that most blogging, and most especially food blogging is an act of vanity on the bloggers’ part and that the wide majority really don’t care about our opinions but please, if I care enough about food enough to write about it as a hobby, perhaps I know a little. I certainly know the difference between cooked and burnt and so was more than a little offended when the same plate was brought back a minute later with the offending carbon scraped and trimmed from the crackling with an accompanying explanation that it wasn’t over done and that was the way pork belly is cooked. I love pork belly, it’s a luscious, meltingly tender piece of beauty when prepared properly; at Duck’s it wasn’t prepared properly. It may have been cooked slowly but not slowly enough and at too high a temperature, the fat hadn’t rendered and the meat was tough and chewy; the accompanying braised shoulder was the best thing on the plate but too small, the dauphinoise potatoes underdone and the roasted shallot puree would have been a fitting sauce had the pork been edible. The others all had the Duck (when in Ducks etc..) and found it uninspiring, not as tender as it could be and under seasoned. Had dessert not been included in the carte (3 courses, £28) we’d probably have left at this point, but as it was paid for: the Ice-Cream was “acceptable”, the apple tart was a semolina cake, the chocolate fondant underdone and burst before it hit the table and the cheese had been pre-cut and was beyond its best (with wrinkled, brown grapes accompanying it). Funnily enough, we left on a positive note when our main waitress, Helen, embarrassed about the quality of the meal, asked for my card so the proprietor could contact me. I wonder if he will. As we left, we noticed two chaps in chef’s tunics sitting with a couple of pints at the bar; now I’m not certain they were the chefs from Ducks, but as the meal seemed prepared without love or pride, perhaps by someone who just wanted to get things done before starting their Saturday night, I have my suspicions. At £208 (plus tip) for four I’d rather not feel like an impediment to someone’s drinking time. So, will we be back? As Duck’s at Kilspindie is the closest restaurant to me then I’m sure I will, probably when snow or storm have prevented me from making it into Edinburgh where I’ll get better food and service for the same price. Yours etc. Ross The Itinerant Appetite
  4. That's interesting; my big issue with The Kitchin was mainly the service, I'll probably venture there soon to give it another try if the chaps from Abstract have joined. I'll give Ondine another go as well, though I am disappointed that Roy Brett never replied to me email.
  5. It closed on Hogmanay and they've decided it's not viable to reopen for 2010; for me it lost a lot of it's lustre when Sean Kelly moved on and it became more of a high-end steak and chop house, but it will still be sorely missed, if only for having some of the best front of house people in Edinburgh. Hold on, a thought occurs - good FOH people from Abstract, contact Ondine as the great food there desperately needs good service.
  6. So, Ondine then. I went with my wife and in-laws last night, it was father-in-law’s birthday and we’d just had some good news and were in the mood to celebrate. I’m still not sure if we did. So, the food, well – there was a choice of 8 starters, 12 crustacea (which can serve as either a starter or a main), 8 mains and a 4 simple sides; with enticing dishes such as potted rabbit, treacle cured salmon, platters of fruits de mer and steak tartare offering a challenge for the indecisive or seafood lover. My wife and I started with a dozen oysters (3 each of Cumbrae, Caledonian, Carlingford and first-arrival-of-the-year-so-not-on-the-menu Maldon) which were testament to Roy Brett’s sourcing ability, each was subtly different and all sublime, though my one observation is they hadn’t been loosened from the shells while being shucked. The in-laws kicked off with grilled scallops which mother-in-law was most happy with and she found the accompanying mini chorizo both cute and complimentary. Silence and focus greeted father-in-law’s baked brown crab which was (oddly for a starter portion) served with some thin cut chips, the chips were snaffled by the rest of the table and proved to be well cooked and well seasoned. There were no complaints about the crab either. I had also spotted that the onion soup was accompanied by a bone marrow toast which sounded lovely and they were more than happy to provide one for me to try – it was really quite nice, though I feel it could have been heavier on the bone marrow. Onto the mains and we moved from a cheeky little Muscadet (£22) to a “Little Beauty” Sauvignon Blanc which at £29 was the waiters recommendation and £5 cheaper than my initial selection. It was excellent. For mains both wife and mother-in-law indulged in a Lemon Sole, perfectly cooked on the bone and served with a Meunière sauce and they loved them, they were perfectly cooked with good, complimenting flavours; father-in-law had the roasted John Dory with caramelised fennel and chantarelles which elicited favourable grunts during a steady demolition. I had the “Mixed Grilled Fish, Chilli Greens” which turned out to be a fillet of Red Mullet, two mighty tranches of Sea Bass and another equally large piece of John Dory served on what appeared to be shredded, wilted kale; the fish was cooked to perfection, with the John Dory and the Mullet proving my favourites – though there was so much that I could barely complete half of the Sea Bass. I found the chard a bit too bitter and there was no discernable chilli element, but the fish was so good I didn’t really care. Anyway, by the time the desert order was taken half of the party was beyond eating with a pavlova (judged as fine) and my cheese platter was well balanced. Which all leads us onto the second element of the meal, the service. Which was god awful. The “Junior Maitre D’”, who in my earlier lunch review I noticed being condescending to the waitresses has now expanded his repertoire to being rude to the customers; plates were delivered at random timings – there was almost 10 minutes between the oysters and the other starters we ordered, something which wasn’t exclusive to our table. Our neighbours had a potted rabbit starter served and then they waited over 10 minutes for half a dozen oysters; now that’s just a joke – the rabbit comes from the fridge and the oysters are shucked, that’s it. The servers themselves (with the exception of the aforementioned prick) are really nice, but when you spend 10 minutes looking for a refill of water and 35 minutes trying to catch someone’s eye to order desert, then it doesn’t really wash. It’s just not cool and really lets down the food; I think I’ll call Roy B rett to let him know, his food deserves so much better. I'll let you know how I get on...
  7. So, a belated write up of a trip to Ondine, Roy Brett’s new(ish) restaurant in Edinburgh; you might not have heard of Roy before but you’ll have certainly heard of his food with 4 years as exec. chef at Risk Stein’s place in Padstow and another 4 years heading the operation of the Dakota hotel chain and specifically manning the helm at the award winning Dakota Forth Bridge where he was garnered with awards including Scottish Seafood Chef and Scottish Hotel Chef of the year. Anyhoo, Roy has now fulfilled a long held ambition and opened his own restaurant in Edinburgh City Centre – it’s a bright and open room which is part of the Missoni Hotel building (but not part of the hotel); for those without local knowledge, a large glass wall overlooks Victoria Street and specifically the entrance to “Espionage” a club much beloved of students and stag parties, I suspect this may be where to sit for the best views of street theatre on Friday and Saturday nights. We went for lunch but for some reason I’m finding this really amusing and can’t wait to go on a weekend night. So, the food – as one would expect from a chef with such a seafood pedigree (and a restaurant named after a water nymph), the menu is predominately seafood with a good lot of crustacean and a few other options as well as a selection of both daily and weekly specials. We couldn’t decide what oysters to have while perusing the menu so they no problem providing a selection of Fine de Claires, Maldons and Cumbraes – all good but for the price the Cumbraes were far superior to the Fine de Claires. Starters were shared in so far as I had half of Fiona’s treacle cured salmon and wouldn’t let her near my barbecued salt and pepper squid; I despise reviews that constantly glow but in this case I can’t fault either dish, both were far above average. I then had half a dozen langoustines with cocktail sauce for a main, and just to be sure a portion of the beef dripping chips; the langoustines were mammoth and juicy and the cocktail sauce perfectly adequate but I’m never sure why cold seafood tastes better in France than it does at home - both use Scottish produce! Perhaps it’s a state of mind? Anyway, both the cooking and produce were spot on and the chips! The chips came from an old uncles’ memory when everything smelled and tasted better, I can’t wait to have them again. I can’t remember what Fiona had, I think it was Grilled Seabass with brown shrimps, she seemed to like it but I was too busy protecting my langoustine and chips to pay much attention. Pudding was the only disappointing note of the meal, we shared some doughnut thing which had a white chocolate custard thing to dip the d-nuts into; it was all just a bit too sweet and a bit too much for us, not exactly in keeping with the rest of the menu. Service was great (especially as we managed to pitch up without a reservation in the opening week) and we were made to feel completely welcome by everyone, despite being a bit scruffy and having a 6 month old with us. On the downside though was a junior Maitre d’ (I think) who seemed to enjoy bossing about the waitresses and from my observations, made every single error of service in the room that lunchtime; the waitresses and the real Maitre d’ seemed to put up working with him well, I’d probably have knocked him out if I had to work with him.
  8. Simultaneous business trips to London on my wife’s birthday provided the excuse for a visit to Hibiscus earlier in the month. I’d booked it a couple of months ago so turning up and discovering the tasting menu available midweek was exciting, discovering the prices had been increased since booking wasn’t. Not that it was a huge increase (£5 per head on the à la carte) but did have Fiona pondering the notion of prior advice of the change, especially as they had my email address; what can I say – she’s a lawyer. Anyway, that was a talking point and certainly didn’t detract from the meal; predictably we opted for the tasting menu which was adapted from the àlc with a few augmentations and kicked off with a chilled Hibiscus soda with spherified pineapple and black pepper; it reminded both of us (pleasantly) of an unnamed drink from childhood holidays in Brittany. Then came a single, monstrous scallop with a granny smith and hazelnut crust and a pork pie sauce; all lovely though there could have been more of the unctuous sauce. In fact, I would happily have had a glass of the sauce on it’s own. Next up was a ravioli of cevennes onion with a salad of grelot onion, granny smith and a spherified potato “gnocchi”, I’m a huge fan of the onion/potato combination and the addition of apple enhanced the flavours; I was also impressed by how distinct the two types of onion were, both sweet and oniony but also individual and complimentary. The following course was red mullet accented with an onion salad, bone marrow and onion toast, smoked butter and civet sauce which stood up to the sprout leaves which tarnished the plate (entirely a personal prejudice, Fi happily relieved me of the offending leaves, strange woman). The bone marrow/onion toast was amazing and went far too quickly – I’d have loved more but Fiona wondered if it may be too rich for a larger portion, no matter the course was a triumph and left us looking forward to the next. Which was a disappointment, Fine de Claire oysters poached in their shell with a shallot and sherry vinegar gel and lemon caviar; I have no idea why anyone feels the need to cook oysters but I also don’t have Claude Bosi’s accolades so we tried with an open mind. I really wish we hadn’t bothered. The oyster was fine, spoiled slightly by the poaching but the gel was horrificly acidic, the flavour dominated everything else with the shallots and lemon caviar undetectable. I hope the gel was made my some commis on a stage as whoever did make it has a problem with their palate. The next course resumed the otherwise excellent balance of the meal; roast foie gras with fig compote and raspberry vinegar purée. It was great – though I think I’m getting a bit bored of foie gras; that really does sound louché doesn’t it? Ah well, on with the Grouse... Which was what was next, roast Scottish Grouse with a sourdough puree, sweetcorn and curry gel and black pepper oil; the grouse was cooked to perfection and not too high, the sourdough puree and the gel complimenting it perfectly. For desert there was a granny smith puree, sweet celeriac jelly and cream of chestnut which wasn’t bad but didn’t make as much of an impression as the preceding courses and then came a mystery desert. To be honest I’m a bit over the whole “we’ll tell you what it is once you’ve finished” thing but this time it was fun. So, we had a mystery tart with a pear sauce and a vanilla & smoked caramel ice-cream; the accompaniments were good but the tart was perplexing, slightly grainy in texture but beautifully put together. We wondered on chestnut but as it was in the course before I decided it must have been nutmeg; turns out it was parsnip, just not like any parsnips I’ve ever had before. Throw in a couple of Kirs, a bottle of dry Aussie Riesling and a lovely Savigny les Beaune and we have a lovely evening; I’m still not sure about the room, it felt uncomfortable slightly but I’m not sure why, it didn’t spoil anything though. Interestingly my wife’s now keen on spherification and gels – she’s always been unsure at my home attempts – so it looks like I can get the algin etc. out again.
  9. Didn't it have one star years back but lost it when it was sold over?
  10. I'm going to be down in London in early November and have a hankering for some good Vietnamese food to balance out a night at Hibiscus the night before. Someone's mentioned Pho in Marble Arch - is it any good or is there anywhere else I should go?
  11. Too true, though for a while the Witchery was one of the places to be seen - Clarissa Dickson Wright and Angelina Jolie had tables next to me there on successive visits. Not dining together of course, that would have just been a weird blurring of fantasies.
  12. Hmm - perhaps there's a lesson here in who you take recomendations from? I'm sure lots of taxi drivers will take their wives to the Witchery for an anniversary and enjoy it, you'll probably find that the majority of people who dine out regularly avoid it like the plague. The rooms are indeed impressive (the other room, "The Secret Garden" is truly stunning) but the Witchery lost all semblance of quality and consistancy when it's owner, James Thompson, opened The Tower atop the National Museum of Scotland (my theory was a combination of experienced staff moving to the new venture and his eye coming off the details ball); since then James has also bought Prestonfield House Hotel and opened the Rhubard restaurant. The Tower is elegant, good and consistant, though certainly not the highest gastronomic experience in town and Rhubarb is sumptious and over the top (with better food) but also not exactly a temple to haute cuisine. Interestingly Prestonfield is the best banqueting venue in Edinburgh by some margin, the food and staff are brilliant. The Witchery however, as you found the food is at best mediocre with soups served cold and seasoning all over the place and the service was worse; at my last visit several years ago (a family party of 8 hosted by a semi-regular who was known for being generous with the wine list and tips) saw us shoe-horned into a table in an overbooked restaurant and waiters constantly bumping the chairs of at least three guests on their way to and from the kitchen. I might understand (but still not forgive) this if they squeezed us in at the last minute because we were known, but as the table was booked 2 months in advance it was unforgivable. If I remember correctly the bill for that night was just under £1500 (as I said, father-in-law can be generous with the wine list) for what turned out to be an unpleasant experience which has been echoed by several other people I know. Wild horses wouldn't drag me back, which is a shame because it was one of my favourites in my youth. Next time you're in towm, feel free to PM me and I'll try to give you a better steer.
  13. I disagree, beef has too pronounced and disperate a flavour; I often use a light chicken stock or vegetable nage if I don't have lamb bones to hand.
  14. It's looking good, let us know how it turns out. Also - you might want to consider peeling and roughly chopping some carrot and onion to make a bed for the lamb to sit on in the roasting pan - add a small amount of water (you don't want it to touch the lamb) and during cooking this will start mingling with the lamb juices to give you a start on your jus/gravy (and it'll help keep that bad boy moist as well).
  15. Ross Boyce

    Ethereal Sauces

    Can I suggest vinegar de Reims (Champagne Vinegar)? It's acid content of roughly 6% helps in heightening the flavour but it also has a sweetness that vinegars from Xerez lack. Also, the wines one uses should be appropriate to the dish - in my experience Pinot Noir, Grenache or Syrah/Shiraz dominant wines either collapse (most pinots) or dominate the sauces (Malbecs, Grenache etc.). I tend to find that Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc have the best results. And at risk of being contentious, I'd suggest that Old World style wines perform better in a sauce compared to higher alcohol, overly fruity New World styles* - though it all depends on what you're cooking, a reduced New World Pinot Noir makes a great sauce for seared duck breast. Pretty much proving (and disproving) all my theories. * I'm taking a liberty and generalising here, I know, but it's only for the sake of discussion...
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