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Everything posted by Gareth

  1. Anniversary dinner at The Capital… Drinks beforehand: A Gin Sour and a Whiskey Sour. Perfectly good, but I wouldn’t be listing the bar as a cocktail destination – either for décor or delivery. Pre-amuse: Duck spring roll with duck consumme. Again perfectly good, sweet and spicy but there’s only so far you can go with either… Starters: Calves foot and sweetbreads with cep reduction. This was a really nice dish, especially the sweetbreads but it was made as much through the combination as the execution. If I were being picky (and, hell, since I’m paying over £250 for dinner, why shouldn’t I be ?), then individually the calves foot didn’t measure up to the dish at Locatelli, and the sweetbread fell short of GR@RHR. Crab lasagne in langoustine broth: Exceptional. Wafer thin pasta of great texture and accomplishment, superb and meaty crab in a quite ethereal langoustine veloute. Jessica could have just eaten this all night ! Mains: Venison and venison Osso Bucco. Very good. Especially the venison fillet which was rich and peppery. For me the Osso bucco was not quite as melting as I would have hoped and – being done with venision – you didn’t get the same dollop of marrowbone that I love to spoon out of the veal original. Nevertheless an unlooked-for highpoint was a little potato and bacon…timbale…mound…lump…whatever…it was a few spoons of absolute gorgeousness. And if you combined it with the intense cabbage puree – voila: thinking man’s bubble and squeak. Knockout. Assiette of Lamb. Hit and miss. The hits were the lamb farci in the pastry underneath, the sweetbread (as per the starter…) and the kidney. The miss was the lamb itself. Too fatty a cut by far and on the very purple side of the requested pink (the table next to us got the same treatment, despite requesting “medium”). At this money I’d expect a far better quality and much more precision in the cooking. Another puree – pea and mint; another “cappucino”: the veloute the vegetables were served in. “Oooh..fizzy vegetables !” Dessert. Iced coffee parfait with chocolate fondant. Not going to set the world alight with its originality but, that said, an excellent example of the genre ! Especially the fondant which delivered the sought for combination of intense sauce in a friable, bitter sponge. Rubarb with Ginger Ice Cream: Fantastic: quite the most frivolous dessert I’ve seen in ages. Essentially a martini glass filled with stewed rhubarb, ginger ice cream, rhubarb jelly chunks, and popcorn ! A side order of two fabulous waffles. After thinking man’s bubble and squeak we get grown-ups jelly and ice cream. Oh to be chez Chavot for the kids’ birthday parties…! So, overall impressions: a very good meal but by not a great one. Moments of brilliance flashed through but it was somehow just a bit faded: the décor didn’t work for me (could be any 3 or 4 star hotel dining room in England); the service was a bit to stretched which rendered it competent, rather than choreographic; Purees, cappucinos…George Michael topping the charts…And the dining room almost exclusively American vistors of my parents age. Not that I have anything against either my parents or Americans (I’m very fond of both) but a bit more diversity would have lifted the place. When I booked at the start of the week they said they could only do the table from 19:00 to 21:15. When we left at 21:40 it was still one-third empty. What is going on here:Cancellations ? Wishful thinking ? Trying to generate an atmosphere of packed-out popularity ? Or just poor attitude to punters ? It was rich and comfortable cooking. But the price was the same as our meal at GR@RHR and since it didn’t offer anything particularly distinctive in cooking or style, why would I come here instead ? In fact, I don’t think it hit the mark as well as Gidleigh Park (which Michelin also rates two stars…). IMHO I think Chavot needs to give himself some space to breathe again…
  2. I didn't realise Gearoid had moved to Tom Aikens. I celebrated (the quieter) part of my stag weekend at Pierre Gagnaire. It was a brave - and almost disasterous - choice, given that those with me were not all hardcore foodies and the Gagnaire tasting menu took no prisoners. In the end what transformed it into a rip-roaring success was the attention devoted to the table by Gearoid who guided us through the cooking and the evening with wit, charm and unstuffy expertise. And I could only sympathise with any sommelier trying to match wines to the diverse firework display that is Gagnaire's cooking ! Anyway, he was infinately more accomplished that the Russian mafioso trying to flog us 'fizz n rohypnol' cocktails in a strip joint in La Pigalle the following night... I had been trying to decide between Tom Aikens and The Capital for an anniversary meal tomorrow night. In the end, I plumped for The Capital partly 'cos I thought the cooking might be more suited to the occaision (less tricksy, more voluptuous...) and partly 'cos I hadn't eating Chez Chavot since he was cooking at Interlude - and I thought that was fantastic. The idea he might have improved with practice (!) was just too tempting, so Capitol it was. Strangely, had I known about the sommellier at Aikens, that might have tipped the balance. Still, life is all right: Aikens or Capitol - it's not exactly Sophie's choice is it ?
  3. Spring is sprung and thoughts turn once again to trips to the south coast. But it seems a couple of years since the last comprehensive Brighton round-up (under "Brighton Nosh"). Has the foodie scene changed since then ? What are your current recommendations ? Anywhere special or remarkable to eat out ? Regards, Gareth
  4. Of course, the best Michelin 3*** housework is done at Auberge de L'ill where Grandmother Haeberlin has been using the same flat iron and starch made to a family recipe since 1894. Elsewhere abroad Gagnaire and Adria have been experimenting with conditioning foams, whilst in this country Gordan Ramsay rushes back and forth across London switching the same immaculate tablecloth between 7 different restaurants. But for all the tradition of the Old World, when it comes to restaurant nettoyage no-one beats the French Laundry...
  5. Don't know when you were thinking of going, but New Tayyab is shut for Ramadan (24/25th Nov). But should you go, otherwise ? Yes. Though probably not for the elegant place settings...
  6. Tarka/Scott Sorry to be pedantic, but whether or not restaurants allow smoking is a simple choice; so whether you are for or against it, it's not something you can be pedantic about. Passionate, yes. Zealous, yes. Even, to stretch a term, fascistic. But not really pedantic. I would also question whether one can be 'completely pedantic' any more than something could be 'very unique', but I'll leave it to others to judge whether that is further pedantry on my part, or just quibbling. Pip Pip !
  7. For those of us who otherwise suffer the comparative culinary sparsity of South East London, the good news is that it can also be found at the excellent "Hand Made Foods" in Blackheath.
  8. I ate a Petrus about 10 days ago. Very nice it was too. Restraining the wine to about £70ish (half a decent Rhone white and a pretty ordinary claret) the bill came to a little over £200. So not an everyday affair but a far cry short of the sort of telephone-number I was half expecting from reputation. Two things stand out in my recollection: Although the menu descriptions were very ornate, the flavours, for instance in a best end of lamb (with lamb faggots) or a chocolate fondant, were pronounced and uncluttered. The frogs legs starter was fantastic. Plump, juicy, meaty. Cooked almost like an Indian massala. Served in a skillet to be picked up and eaten off the bone. If only all finger food was like this ! p.s. For what it’s worth, and without being able or wishing to judge any of the circumstances, I think both the offer of the special meal with wines – and Sandra’s acceptance of it – represents a gracious conclusion to an otherwise very sorry incident.
  9. Weasel Words Detector Goes Off ! Note it doesn't specify at ALL of their restaurants and "throughout" refers to the UK, rather than the year. So as long as they each serve it once (say on a wet Tuesday lunchtime) at one of their restaurants, then condition satisfied and they can pocket the promotional cash. For further examples of such semantic acrobatics, see Hutton Inquiry et al.
  10. Went again last night (having staggered the distance from Claridges bar in my four inch heels...) Appear to have fallen into an alternative universe en route, because this simply cannot be the same restaurant Blind Lemon Higgins visited. Dishes were spot on, with particular highlights including: coppocola (sp.? a pigs neck ham..) with balsamic pickled onions; calves brain prepared two ways (deep fried in a fantastically light crumbed coated and roasted in pancetta); a very flavoursome rabbit; fantastic chocolate ice cream; and a saffron fondant with milk ice cream Indeed in these post-BSE hysteria days it scored full marks in my book just for having the nerve to put calves brain on the menu. This is the sixth or seventh time I’ve been (lucky me) and it has been consistently excellent. Service too has been friendly (in a non-greasy kind of way) and professional. Guess it just goes to demonstrate the diversity of views e-gullet generates. And hooray for that.
  11. Following up the winner of this year's "Least likely restaurant recommendation" (From Fay M in the Standard) we trogged down to the Holiday Inn Xpress on the gasworks contaminated and Dome-blighted North Greenwich peninsula. Yards from the Blackwall Tunnel. Attached to this is the positively unsalubrious Peninsula restaurant - the objective was a Sunday lunch dim sum session. And very good it was too. I don't plead any expertise in these matters but it struck me as at least as good as Harbour City in Gerrad St. (my previous most frequented) with just as extensive a range. Plus a few specials such as dry scallop with coriander dumplings. It also presented the usual laughably cheap bill: eat yourself stupid and a pot of tea for under a tenner each. Finally, there remains such an enormous buzz of sitting in a 200+ cover place watching rapid table turnaround with the clattering of a thousand plates and watching the usual (overwhelmingly chinese) family sunday get-togethers. Like being on holiday without having to buy a ticket ! Haven't been in the evening. And one word of warning - they seem to do a lot of Wedding Banquets on Sundays - in which case the place shuts at 13:00 - check before you travel !
  12. Quite possibly. Auntie Beeb on truffle inflation
  13. Yes. Wear sensible shoes and carry your Manolos with you in their original bag (which says MANOLO BLAHNIK on it in big black letters). Walk to the restaurant and then swap shoes outside. Once inside hand the bag now containing your sensible shoes to the concierge/maitreD/flunky and ask them to put it in the cloakroom. This has two advantages: a) you get a comfortable walk to the restaurant b) you get the warm thrill of being able to announce "I've got a pair of Manolo Blahniks !!!" to your date, the staff and anyone else watching, without in any way appearing vulgar. Hope this helps !
  14. Whilst not exactly next door, the cocktail bar at Claridges is: a) in the neighbourhood b) a gorgeous bar (comfortable and classy with good cocktails); c) not renowned as a pick-up joint What's more two or three cocktails will barely cost you more than dinner at Locatelli ! (c.£10 a pop). But since you're spoiling yourselves that evening anyway, why not pay it a visit....?
  15. Basildog, Do all your customers exibit this poor taste in restaurants ?
  16. I'm just back from Spain as well and hope to post about San Sebastian shortly (pressure of work at the moment etc...). But in short we really enjoyed Akelare (we were there at lunch on 19th August - did I see another e-gulleter busy taking notes at one of the corner tables by the window...?). Find it difficult to understand how Ginger-Chef - who seemed a thoroughly sensible, if increasingly pissed, chap when I met him at St John's in London a couple of months ago - and I could come to such different conclusions ! That said, for all Akelare's invention the most pleasingly inventive dish I had all holiday was at the Hauts de La Loire (** in Onzain, France) when we went after Spain. Oysters with leeks on shortbread with candied lime. Spectacular and fresh, whilst sitting quite comfortably within a traditionally structured French menu.
  17. Memsahib is pretty good. I'm not sure that its because the cooking is massively better than the best of neighbourhood curry houses, but because it does at least offer a much more interesting menu choice. And a startling view of the Millenium Dome ('would you like a turkey with your curry, sir...?'). It's right on the Isle of Dogs, just over the Blue Bridge. Most of the pubs that side of the Blue Bridge are decked in Union Jacks and populated by people with tatoos on their teeth organising charity dog fights in aid of the BNP. So, I feel doubly good about giving Memsahib my occasional business just to lend support to someone trying to carve out a niche for a relatively upmarket ethnic restaurant in that area !
  18. Dunkin Donuts ?! Like you say, whatever floats your boat...but this seems to me a particularly condemed-tramp-ferry-favoured-by-pilgrims-just-before-another-Act-of-God-disaster kind of boat. One of the more depressing aspects of my last trip to New England a year or so ago was the complete impossibility of tracking down a donut shop that was not Dunkin-dessicated-Donuts. Where to get Apple Fritters or Bear Claws ? IMHO donut shops rank alongside cocktails as one of America's great contributions to world culture. But whilst we've embraced other American cultural exports further down my list (e.g. J-Lo) donuts have never secured a viable foothold on the beachhead of Blighty. DD are the only ones I'm aware of which tried (they had a short-lived branch in Villiers St.). So whether or not Krispy Kreme are actually any cop (sic), if their current uber-donut image can help open the door to a more general donut invasion, I'm all for it ! Besides what better way to pass a pleasant morning than tucking into a maple frosted whilst sneaking a quick laugh at the Di and Dodi memorial ?
  19. Does this mean we will also get to see a line of squad cars parked outside Harrods at breakfast, elevenses etc...?
  20. Gareth


    If I may interject... We are in danger of praising creativity as the leading virtue in cooking and therefore having to justify Pacaud's skill by reference to creativity within a traditional framework. I was struck by a comment that the UK critic Jonathan Meades once made "Cooking is not an art; it is a craft. The purpose of art is to continually re-invent itself; the purpose of craft is to continuously replicate." I didn't think the cooking at L'Ambroisie was creative at all. It was, however, damn near perfection and the more enjoyable for it. Pierre Gagnaire was stunning in its creativity and a wholly different experience - an intellectual exercise, as much as a visceral one. I compare the two meals to the contrast between engaging in literary criticism and reading a good book. Each has its attraction and its place. So the answer to Meades is, yes...mostly. Cooking would stagnate without creativity but it is not the only virtue. And sometimes a palatte jaded with the new can find fresh delights in the neglected. One of my favourite cookbooks is by Simon Hopkinson: "The Prawn Cocktail Years". What's more I no longer cook from it as a statement of 'post-modern irony' to amuse my friends, but simply because so much of it tastes so good ! Now, on to my holiday in Spain. Do I choose Can Fabes or El Builli....?
  21. Gareth


    We went to L'Ambroisie for our first wedding anniversary (thanks to Lizziee and Bux for the recommendation). Shamefully I have not yet posted a full write-up. Nor, without remortgaging my house, can I aspire to racking up sufficicient visits at 650 Euros a pop, to comment with any authority. But a few things chimed in your post. The first was the your use of "perfection". I have had some sensational dishes in my time at some well regarded restaurants. But L’Ambroisie was the first occasion that I have ever had a dish that I thought was ‘perfect’. The Chocolate Tart with Vanilla Ice Cream was absolutely unimproveable; I nearly cried. Second were your comments on what was driving that perfection. The fact that it was something as simple as chocolate tart that was being raised to such dizzy heights speaks volumes about a cooking style that does not trumpet its brilliance of technique but understates it. It is there to be discovered and revelled in, if you choose to look. But you don’t have to stand in awe of Pacaud's brilliance in order to enjoy the meal. The chef does not interpose himself between you and your plate. (One of the side discussions encapsulating a lot of this was the earlier thread about how much work must go into the shelling of the soft boiled eggs without creating a blemish in their form. But, for me the awe inspiring bit was how he had persuaded a sabayon that thin to adhere evenly over the whole surface of the egg....) Third about the approach of the waiting staff. All I can say is that, without exception, they responded with grace and charm to the violation done to their language by my holiday French. Allowing me to converse sufficiently in French to show appreciation of my efforts and to permit me to save face but switching gracefully to English whenever communication threatened to stifle, or simply to allow them to convey a more rounded hospitality. I did find that the setting and decor encouraged a bit of a “hushed temple of gastronomy” type atmoshpere, but the waiting staff did not. The upshot was a relaxed lunch. The final plus point you didn’t mention was the perfect situation for summer lunch. On your way out you have only to stagger surfeited a few yards from the door before your can stretch out on the grass of the Place des Vosges, kick your shoes off and doze it all off...bliss !
  22. Fleur Billed by Andy as Petrus’ little brother, Fleurie might have been more apt. But Fleur it is, and it blossomed when 6 of us went for dinner last night. Let’s get the gripe out of the way first. Booking for more than five requires you to fax confirmation with credit card details threatening £40 a head for a no-show with less than 24 hours notice, followed by repossession of your house and murder of your first-born. It also included a turn-around time (two and a half hours) which hadn’t been advised on the phone. In the event, the turn-around wasn’t enforced and the pacing of the meal was relaxed throughout. But I wonder under what circumstances they enforce the no-show. What if just one of you steps under a bus, is it pro-rata ? What if one of the party is abnormally small...? The decor is slightly dark, but a warm gold and brown and chocolate. Further ‘graced’ by huge dark canvases on a food theme. Dull as ditchwater. The kind of studies that put the ‘still’ in still life. A small bar area served up a respectable gin sour without asking “a what ?” and we were led through to the dining area. Service was excellent and correct throughout. It may well be “a more relaxed experience” than Petrus, but we’re not talking bermuda shorts and t-shirts here. Maybe “sponsored by Gap” rather than Mssrs Gieves & Hawkes. The menu was in the price ranges Andy had reported and offered a very good selection of about 10 or so choices for both starters and mains. The balance was towards fish and poultry, with at least one vegetarian option in each category. It followed the modern trend of reducing the dish to a jus of description “Duck”, “Skate”, “Lamb”. I wonder if their nerve will hold when it comes to “Pig”. The more laid back experience was reflected by an absence of amuses (and other interspersed fripparies during the meal) , but instead we got a good bread selection with a smoked aubergine dip. Some of our starter selections included a mushroom and morel soup; crabmeat raviolo with pink grapefruit; and hand dived scallops (I hear the latest new-wave chefs have also found some scallop-divers who are pretty nimble with their feet...). Murmurs of significant approval came from round the table. I went for “sweetbreads with truffle, little (horse ?) mushrooms, spinach and a tarragon and chicken-stock sauce”. The sweetbreads were very good (not perfection – see report on 21 Mill St., Chagford earlier this year..) but still, very light and moist. The truffle – as usual with these poor summer things – was a bit of a waste of time but this was more than made up for by getting the sauce in a little jug on the side, with an accompanying sauce-spoon (a theme throughout). Most folks went for fish in the main courses. Salmon proving most popular but a vote each for skate and sea bass. Again all these met with approval (portions could maybe have been a bit bigger...). Alone among table I remained determinedly unicthyphagus and went for the guinea fowl. Again this was excellent and perfectly cooked with just the faintest shade of pink left in the meat but crispy skin and good accompaniments. Wines were pricey, with anything under £30 thin on the ground. This seemed to be reflected in the sommelier’s approach. My friends were not big wine enthusiasts so I didn’t want to run up a significant tab on the vino. So I specifically told the sommelier I was on a budget and pointed in the direction of a couple in the £28-35 range I had been looking at. He then directed me to a bottle at £52. Nul points. That said, and ignoring his kind advice, the white Crozes-Hermitage (£35) we ended up with was very classy. Me, dix points. Desserts maintained the high standards. My coffee pannacotta (sp.?) was, perhaps a little too milky, not intense enough for my taste. Panna-latte, perhaps. However, Jessica’s pear was deemed first rate and there was a good selections of icecreams/sorbets and a fruit salad. The latter showed the final Gordon Ramsay group touch. The fruit had been macerated in Malibu. At GR@RHR I have often seen desserts centred on Bailey’s. What is it that makes these high-class joints cook with the kind of drinks you wish you’d never brought back from the Costa del Sol ? An Essex-girl patissier ? What next, Alcopop Parfait ? Anyway, a couple of coffees (accompanied with chocolate almonds and raisins) and we wrapped up for the night. Not everyone had dessert, not everyone had coffee and we stuck to the one bottle of wine (with multiple Evians). Even so, the total, including suitable reward for the highly engaging but professional service, was £250 for 6. Which, in London terms, makes it a bit of a bloody bargain in my book. As Andy says these may be introductory prices that will drift up when it becomes established (not that there was any shortage of punters last night...). But even if it migrates from the £40+ a head to the £60+ a head, it would still be pretty high on my visit list. A huge number of restaurants in London are pitched firmly in this price category, and deliver little more than complacent mediocrity. Not so this one which, 10 days since opening, appeared to have already hit its stride. Fleur...[came up smelling of roses/daisy pulls it off/supply your own clever flower pun ending here...] A good 7/10 on the 'Majumdarometer' Gareth
  23. And the winners are..... Meal of the Year – Lunch at L’Ambroisie (Paris) Most Frequented Haunt – Fung Shing Grandest Dining Room – National Liberal Club Dead Animal of the Year – Pyrenean Lamb GR@RHR Most enjoyable recreation of la Belle Epoque: Cocktail Bar at Claridges Most irate call from my Bank Manager: L’Ambroisie (starter = £25...per egg.) Favourite Cookbook: “Sichuan” Favourite Name for a Cookbook author: Fuschia Dunlop (author of “Sichuan”) Ruby Murray of the year: Quilon Mother Theresa award for customer service: Loco (Blackheath) Joseph Mengele award for customer service: The Square Dead Dog award for worst dish: pasta at the GWR Hilton @ Paddington Station (quite simply the worst dish I have ever encountered in a charging establishment anywhere - disgraceful) Dish of the Year: Chocolate tarte and vanilla ice cream @ L’Ambroisie. (The only time I have ever encountered perfection. A dish that was simply unimprovable). Roll on the next six months...
  24. That Lebanese one: Chateau Trusar. Sorry.
  25. I once went into the canteen at the Dept for environment FOOD and rural affairs (DEFRA). It was a pokey little establishment in the basement of Whitehall Place with some charming steel bars on the windows. The whole thing summoned up the ambience of the Maze H Block during a dirty protest, and smelt like a kebab shop after an In-ger-land international. A quick glance at the physicality of the Plat du Jour - Lasagne alla Exxon Valdiz - and I left. The whole thing was a shameful encapsulation of our institutional attitudes to food. Can you imagine such a thing at the French Ministery for Food ?
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