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Gareth

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  1. Went to Bubbledogs a couple of evenings ago. Enjoyed the hotdogs (though they were smaller than I expected, definitely 3 between two as a minimum really). Enjoyed the champagne (and the Scottish lager that was offered). Loved the cartoons that decorate the walls (and the menu wallpaper downstairs). Pleasant staff, lively vibe and walked out for under £30 for two. Can’t complain. And yet…this is London so what would – and should – be a simply fun place to drop by for an hour or so, becomes trendy and jammed. Grrr. So, a nice addition if you could simply walk in off the street, but you’d be mad to queue for it, especially with so much else in the neighbourhood. Not the owners fault at all – good luck to them. Oh, and there was one more thing. I think I am about 20 years older than their average diner. Which means that I was probably the only one there who, for the whole time, just couldn’t get out of my head the immortal words of Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling: “Yes, well, ah, the idea for the Frog and Peach came to me in the bath. A great number of things come to me in the bath, mainly sort of mosquitoes and adders, but in this case a rather stupendous idea. I suddenly thought, as I was scrubbing my back with a loofah, I thought, "Where can a young couple, who are having an evening out, not too much money, and they want to have a decent meal, you know, a decent frog and a nice bit of peach, where can they go and get it?" And answer came there none. And so I had this idea of starting a restaurant specializing in these frogs legs and, er, peaches, and on this premise I built this restaurant.”
  2. Of course, the terribly modish "spoon-smear" will come and go like any trend. It, in its turn, merely replaced the fad for foam, airs and general frothiness which was itself just the successor to a time when some pretty alarming zig-zag work with the squeezy bottle was de rigeur. I wonder if anyone has any photos, like Mr Goodfellow's, showing classic examples of these or other previous trends? And whether people are willing to speculate on what the next trend will be; could it be that dot compositions are the way forward, just as they once were for the Young British Artists movement? Gareth
  3. We ate here last night. All in all, a cracking meal and well worth the recommendations on this site. We both had the tasting menu (Jo substituting-in the "veggie" option of smoked egg with truffled soldiers, in place of the for-her-uneatable oysters. We accompanied this with a bottle of Lynch-Bages Blanc (with was an 'upsell' of £10 over the stated budget but one which was instantly forgiven because it was so clearly driven by enthusiasm for the recently purchased packet of wine, rather than any mercenary angle). Besdies, the sommelier had already scored marks by politely asking the kind of budget we had in mind (why don't more places do this, instead of all that dance-round-your-handbags hints and nudges nonsense?). Indeed we enjoyed our meal all the more because of the consistently good service from all the staff which was attentive but relaxed, pitched right to be 'proper' and personable without getting either over friendly or too stuffy. Since MaLO has already described the menu in detail (with requisite food-porn pics!) I won't go over the same ground, except to report (and I'm sorry to do this to you MaLO...) that, for me, it was the cod that was the outstanding dish of the night: poached in a seaweed butter, with sea-purslane and other seashore foraged-y type things then finished with truffle matchsticks. Unctious fish and buttery sauce which still retained the tang of the seaweed and the bitter hint of the herbs. The only fault was that I had to ask for the spoon to slurp it all up, rather than this need being anticipated! For Jo the standout dish was the "Twix and Snickers ice cream" described by MaLO. I watched her eat it and resolved to have words with the Pastry Chef: no other man should be able to do that to my girlfriend! Before we go completely over the top, this wasn't perfection. The mains (chicken with leek puree (me) and sirloin tagliata (Jo)) seemed a little underwhelming - these were dishes that should be comfort food, but served in a tasting menu that doesn't permit portions large enough to deliver that promise; they were a little too correct, a little too insipid. Similarly, one or two dishes (the scallop, the fois gras perhaps) were either too small or too 'frou frou' to really get going on all the many flavour elements they promised. I think the next time I go I shall choose a la carte and see if the larger portions per course enable the flavour to move up a gear in terms of sustained intensity. But I don't want to cavil. This was very accomplished cooking and a really, really enjoyable evening. And it represents the kind of value London hasn't seen for quite a while! Several of the staff asked where we heard about the restaurant. I got the impression it's been quieter than they would like since it opened. A shame; we had a quick tour of the kitchens and said hello - and "thank you" - to Alyn Williams, who was just as nice and caring about us having had a good time as his staff had been. Here's somewhere - and someone - who deserves to succeed; we'll be back soon. Gareth
  4. Ok, here goes: Head and shoulders... 1) Auberge du Vieux Puits, Fontjoncouse, Langedoc The restaurant that finally convinced my partner Jo that there was (or at least, could be) a point to my obsession with fine dining! Then in no order other than the one in which they sprung to mind (which might provide a clue in itself...) - Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley (IMHO transformed from the first couple of times I went; lighter, more imaginative, less staid and heavy. Now very special indeed) - First visit to Pollen St Social (crowned with the chance to eat rice pudding out of a saucepan: they just figured since we've served most of it, why not leave the pan..?) - Sa Qua Na, Honfleur (after a month of Magret de Canard and Fois Gras, French cooking that was modern, light, adventurous, beautifully balance, not a rip-off and accompanied by fantastic service). - La Cerisaie, Paris 14th (he cooks; she serves, 20 covers, tiny, cramped and utter joie de vie in the food, the wine, the service, the customers...) - Bella Vista, Blackheath (No stars, no stand out culinary genius or accollade, not a "Top Ten" experience individually. But if you've eaten in a restaurant maybe 20 times in the course of a year and not once had a duff dish, or a bad service experience, surely, for cumulative effort and delivery alone it can't be denied a place?) - Medlar (fantastic lunch but mainly included for the brilliant wine pairing) - Gambara, San Sebastian (A plate of ham; a plate of wild mushrooms; a sole with a couple of turned potatoes. A perfect lunch). And the turkeys... - Guy Savoy (nearly E500 a head to be sheep-dipped. Shame on him; shame on Michelin.) - Mugaritz (Was my lunch of the year 2-3 years ago and now, just didn't hit the mark. In all the quest to be challenging and avant-garde forgot about the "food should taste nice" bit.) Gareth
  5. Can I add my vote to Chris's and the other fans of Mirch Masala? Having tried a few times to get into Tayyabs only to find it rammed, I've virtually given up on the place. On one of these occasions simply decided to try our luck on the Commercial Road, and Mirch Masala was the first place we bumped into. Excellent. In particular the Haleem (one of their weekend specials, a lamb dish cooked for so long that the meat effectively purees into the spices and lentils). Next time up I ignored it, though in favour of Needoo. Why? Partly, because I'd heard good things about Needoo - including on DH - and partly (food snob that I am) I couldn't bring myself to accept that a curry house that was clearly part of a "chain" as MM is, would be as good as a one-off operation. More fool me. Needoo was crowded and unpleasant. The room had all-dominating Hindi-pop television with a decor that reminded me of the tackier end of my 80s discoteque experiences. And the food was pretty dire. The haleem which had, at MM, been a revelatory, perfumed thing, here was a kind of lamb-based wallpaper paste. Ugh. My own fault. I was simply paying my stupidity tax for not trusting my own tastebuds and instincts first time round, ignoring the chain-factor, and sticking with MM. Now, also, my number 1 choice in the area. Gareth
  6. Dare I venture a contrary opinion? Is it possible to criticise Koffmann’s without being declared apostate? But my lunch there yesterday failed the “So What?” test. (It definitely, however, passed the “How Much?!!” test). I went with high hopes, having eaten once at Tante Claire in its final days, having heard the buzz around the Selfridges pop-up, and having read the rave reviews. I went too, understanding PK to be a living God, progenitor of a whole generation who have transformed cooking in this country over the last 20 years. Here was the man who changed London’s perceptions of what constituted culinary accomplishment, presenting cooking which had terroir, as well as panache. I was a believer… And yet, my meal was not just flawed, but, worse still, forgettable. A terrine of leeks with smoked eel. The terrine was fridge-cold and under-seasoned. The accompanying micro-salad was fiercely over-seasoned. Three moderate flakes of eel and, on the side, some candied cashews of exactly the type they provide as nibbles in the bar. I mean, what? Was it too much effort to plate a hazelnut or two for the salad? The “legendary” pigs trotter. Oh dear. Labelled as being with morels and sweetbreads and chicken mousseline, I don’t think I found a single morel in mine. And, frankly (and sadly) the mousseline and sweetbreads competed for bland anonymity. The boning of the trotter was also a bit slapdash (as was the boning of Jo’s rabbit). I remember this dish – not at Koffmann’s – but carried on by Jean-Christophe Novelli at his peak. It was sensational. And so, so different from this imitation. Ouefs a la Neige. Fine. Deeply flavoured custard but the addition of crumbled “Crunchie Bar” honeycomb underneath just felt of a bit clunky intrusion, and unnecessary given the delicacy of the caramel ‘cap’ to the meringue. None of it was bad, of course. The service was excellent. A decent wine. But the whole concept seemed to be falling between two stools. It lacked the gutsiness of a bistro; and it lacked the care, attention and refined concentration of the Michelin original. But One Star Michelin prices were being charged so I’m not inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt. A shame, a real shame. Not least because the menu reads so gorgeously, and as simple and as of the place as ever it did back in Tante Claire. You want it to work. But it didn’t. Not badly, just blandly. Koffmann’s is a tribute band and, I’m afraid, for the price of admission, better and more characterful cooking can currently be found elsewhere. What can I say; my experience just didn’t square up with the reviews. But, then again, this is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.
  7. Without question, 69 Colebrooke Row. It's an olive stone's throw away from Islington Green. Tony Conigliaro is the barman (with Stuart his able deputy) and his range of avant garde drinks using ingredients from the lab above, coupled with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the classics, demonstrates why he won International Barman of the Year (at Tales of the Cocktail awards in New Orleans), and a heap of other awards at Soshu and Isola. This is the first gaff he's owned himself and it immediately picked up Time Out bar of the year. It's quirky, with a slightly scruffy speakeasy feel (don't expect the plush jewellry-box surroundings of say, the Ritz) but very friendly and small enough so that the proper time can be taken over the drinks so they're not being sluiced out in industrial quantities. At about £8-9 a cocktail it's a relative steal. Gareth
  8. Hibiscus…hmmm First, let’s lay to rest some of the criticisms I’ve seen crop up on the Board but which certainly didn’t manifest (for us at least) in practice. I thought the room worked fine – certainly of a standard. And the service too was good. Pleasant and professional, helpful in steering wine choices through a list that wasn’t just “painting by numbers”. But the food, which read symphonic on the menu, I found totally schizophrenic on the plate. Foie Gras with Apple and Szechuan Pepper compote and Sea Buckthorn gel, tickled all my “esoteric ingredients” buttons. But the foie was barely on speaking terms with the tartness of the gel, leaving the compote a subdued and awkward child completely overshadowed but two parents having an almighty domestic on the plate. My hare with truffle jus and onions lay alongside a separately cooked leek and somehow failed to bind or integrate – a disjointedness that was echoed by the Pork Belly sharing a space uncomfortably with a tranche of eel. This, of course, was followed by the sausage role with salad as a “deuxieme service”. Sausage roll and salad?! Can we just do a sense check on that one, please? And the idea of labelling it a “deuxieme service”. It was a bit like putting Martin Johnson in a tutu and asking him to play for France. Now, lets just pause here a moment. Even as a Welshman I’ve got to admit (however grudgingly) that Johnson was one of the finest players of his generation. And if this wasn’t the best sausage roll I’ve ever eaten, I don’t know what was. Similarly I’ve always shied away from hare (call it culinary alopecia…) but, dear God, that piece of hare was cooked fabulously – rich and gamey without being high; totally unctuous. Technically accomplished and very, very tasty. But, for me, the meal as a whole was characterised by a determination to keep being too…well…interesting. A chef who could clearly cook Beethoven is choosing, instead, to treat us to Stockhausen. And, at the end of the day, I’d rather be comforted than confused – no matter the technical brilliance of that confusion. Gareth p.s. One final point – and this feels niggly but isn’t intended that way and Hibisuc is far from the only ‘offender’ in this regard – but some of the “very pleasant and professional” staff could do with coaching in diction! On two or three occasions I had to ask for a description of a dish to be repeated because the French accent was so heavy I couldn’t understand what was being described. And it does seem a very great pity – even if I wasn’t wowed by the combinations – for a kitchen to put all that work and thought and execution into something only to have it lost in translation front of house!
  9. "According to Beck, who wrote a book on the “art of the service”, women are either too beautiful, or ugly to work in restaurants, hence the all-male brigade (that’s at least what a German TV programme said)." Herr Beck sounds completely objectionable and not the kind of person I'd want to give my money to. No doubt he's doing great in Burlusconi's Italy...
  10. 69 Colebrooke Row. Tony Conigliaro’s new bar in Islington. Can’t praise it highly enough. Presents a short list of innovative drinks (researched around the world and in the lab upstairs) backed by an impeccable delivery of the classical repertoire (and comprehensive history of their origins and evolution if you want to delve – certainly going back to a cognac base for my “sazerac” was a revelation for me). Over and above that, the service is friendly and inclusive and the bar – deliberately – small enough so that proper care and attention can be given the making of the drinks. This, coupled with the utterly reasonable pricing (£7.50-£8.50) speaks of a venture built on passion, rather than “what’s there to be squeezed from the customer?”. All in all it was a complete irritation when his bar won Time Out’s best Bar 2009 award and people started paying attention. Gareth
  11. Greenwich Has “The Creaky Shed” - a better than decent greengrocer - right next to “Drings Butchers” – a proper butchers - which is cheek by jowl with “The Cheeseboard” (www.cheese-board.co.uk), which is in turn round the corner from The Fishmonger (www.thefishmongerltd.com) all in the space of about thirty yards. Known locally as “The awesome foursome”. Of course, the real treat is about half a mile away on the other side of Greenwich at Theatre of Wine (www.theatreofwine.com) – about as good a local wine merchants as you could ever hope to stumble upon.
  12. Really can't understand why you'd want to try and do both in a day! It strikes me like taking part in the Mount Ventoux stage of the Tour de France and still expecting to enjoy the view when you get to the top! But, for what it’s worth, I find Tom Aikens mad but fun whereas Petrus for me – on its own- felt like a bit of a slog through cooking that smothered you under the excessive weight of its luxury and the unremitting depth of its flavours. So I would try to craft as close to a light lunch as I could get out of Petrus and then reserve the evening blow-out for Aikens where I might hope to leave sated, rather than slayed. Also, whilst I haven’t done Arzac I would unhesitatingly support the Mugaritz recommendation – had my ‘meal of the year’ there last year. Intelligent, elegant, almost ethereal. G
  13. Not very much different from the attitude of many Chinese restaurants in London and elsewhere that have a 'real' menu that you can only access if you're chinese and/or speak the relevant language and then the standard menu..or what we might call the "childrens menu"...which is dumbed down for the rest of us who clearly would niether want, nor appreciate these proper dishes. Today is the day for the UN anti-racism conference, right ? Gareth
  14. I like Masterchef. I like the ritual of the stock phrases: “This competition’s, gonna change their lives…”; “cooking doesn’t get tougher than this…”; “deep, deep flavours and then the sweetness…”; “This is a really tough decision, one of these people is going to have to go home…”; “Three exceptional cooks…”. And I like how many of these phrases are barefaced lies or vapid nonsense. I like the standard elements. The contemplative chin-stroke when it comes to that “really tough decision”; the quarter finalists wandering through borough market and expertly selecting the produce (having 15 minutes earlier proved on the “ingredients test” that they can’t tell a cabbage from a cauliflower); the ‘Reservoir Chefs’ shot of them walking down the road in their whites to the restaurant they’ll be cooking lunch at (restaurants whose quality has steadily fallen over the series, so by next year it’ll be Pizza Hut). I like the fact that it seems to be illegal on Masterchef not to cook scallops (because, as we all know, “cooking doesn’t get tougher” than turning a scallop). And I like the fact that the Masterchef kitchen remains the one small corner of Britain where raspberry coulis never went out of fashion. I like watching the dog’s breakfasts served to sub-suburban dinner party standards. The catastrophe of another failed chocolate fondant. The opportunity to dive behind the sofa and hide your face at the horrors to come as another rank amateur is labelled an “experimental cook” (did anyone see this year’s peach and basil sauce dish ?! Joy! And was I the only one reminded of Peter Cook’s sketch about Arthur Streeb-Greebling’s restaurant serving “Frog a la peche”?) As you can tell, I like the opportunity it gives me to assume an air of comfortable superiority, without actually having to risk competing myself. And I genuinely enjoy those moments when a dish of real, finesse, flavour and ability is executed or a dish is cooked to genuinely 2-3* standards under the watchful, stressed or disbelieving eyes of a world-class chef. (A highlight of last television year was watching Marcus Wareing run down the street searching for the ‘Celebrity Masterchef’ finalist who’d just fled his kitchen half-way through prep in a moment of nervous implosion.) So it’s fun. As to whether Matt or anyone else is poised to seize a Michelin star simply on the back of his win. I doubt it. I really, really doubt it. Doubt it to the tune of some very sizeable sums of cash down at Ladbrokes, if you press me. And for much the same reason as RDB suggested; just because I can cook a Michelin-starred dish, doesn’t mean I can run any sort of restaurant, starred or not. But just ‘cos the programme hypes up the expectation for the consumption of the Great British Public, it doesn’t necessarily follow that Matt (or anyone else) isn’t level-headed enough to take it all with a pinch of fleur de sel and recognise that the hard graft now follows to deliver success. And, whilst winning won’t short-circuit that necessary graft, if it gives him a leg up and opens a few opportunities that wouldn’t have otherwise materialised well, that seems fair-dos and prize enough. And I’m not yet so cynical as to think that if Masterchef kick-started his personal inspiration and he’s prepared to follow it with the necessary perspiration, then maybe it could “change his life…” . And good luck to him. In the meantime bring on the next series (and preferably a re-run of “Professional Masterchef” where Michel Roux did provide the kind of informed and precise criticism that added real interest and understanding…) G. p.s. Anyone seen “Notes and Queries” in the Guardian today. The question posed is whether it true in relation to Masterchef that “cooking doesn’t get tougher than this…” ?
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