London

Sketch, afternoon tea in the Gallery, London

I first tried to eat at Sketch three and a half years ago when I impeccably timed my reservation at their two star restaurant with being mowed down by a car outside my home. I recall the doctor visiting in my pen, me in a temporary cast up past my knee, to inform me I had broken nine bones and would be spending more time than I would have liked at hospital. I asked if in his opinion I would be fine to travel to London in less than two weeks to eat at a restaurant. He laughed in my face. Still undeterred, I contact Sketch and ask their opinion.  “Sir”, a heavily French accented lady would answer, “we have no lifts but our staff can assist you up the staircase to the restaurant”. I decide against it and instead book another restaurant in Birmingham where pain would cause me to pass out at the table mid-starter. In hindsight cancelling Sketch was probably the correct thing to do.


Since then I’ve visited on numerous occasions for very expensive cocktails, but never to eat. Until this time, when finally, after three years of waiting, I bypass the coloured stairs that take you up to the two stair restaurant and turn right into the gallery for afternoon tea. That’s me, a thirty-five year heterosexual male, having afternoon tea in a room that is decorated entirely in baby pink. Where has my life gone wrong, please, someone tell me. I wasn’t going to write about it, but when said afternoon tea comes in at £85 per head once service has been applied, I’m going to tell you all about it.


First the ambience, which Micky Flannigan was entirely correct in saying is a French word for a room too stuffy for poor people to afford. The room rammed with ladies of the world whose figures would dictate that they prioritise being seen over being fed, each with foreign accents and expensive handbags. I love it here. Champagne is poured from a great height and we are told that tea will be served in four courses. Little porcelain egg shells hold a comte mousse and confit quail egg yolk. It’s rich with plenty of cheese flavour. On the side is a little mother of pearl spoon filled with salty caviar because we are in Mayfair, Darhlin’. It’s as decadent a start as one could wish for.


We get tea – of course we do, silly – the pots fighting for room on an already bulging table. Then the main event arrives; a stack of plates; sandwiches at the bottom, sweet stuff above. From the sandwiches I swerve the smoked salmon because the stuff makes me gag, instead throwing myself into a rich duck egg mayonnaise and watercress, topped with a fried quails egg. There is pumpernickel bread with tomato and lettuce and the best coronation chicken I have ever eaten. I joke that I could eat another plate of these. Another plate appears. They get eaten. The sweets are all works of precision, from which we like the blueberry cheesecake least and a bubble-gum marshmallow that disappears all too quickly. A delicate plum tart has the kind of short pastry that Mary Berry would approve of, whilst a square of chocolate and caramel is ethereally light and addictive. Top billing is saved for a glorious choux bun with a generous measure of redcurrant cream, as good as pastry I have tried.


This being afternoon tea we got scones and jam and not enough clotted cream, all of which I neglect for more coronation chicken. I sit, shirt bulging, with the top button of my trousers loosened, stating that I couldn’t possibly eat a thing more when we are offered a fat slice of Victoria sponge. It’s delicious but too much.


So what is apparent is that £85 buys you a lot of afternoon tea. So much so that we struggle to move those arses of ours down the road to The Blind Pig for more cocktails. Looking back now it’s clear that I enjoyed it, partly because the company I kept was great and partly because it’s a polished affair with nice food. But would I do it again? Probably not. I just don’t think I’m an afternoon tea kinda guy and I’d much rather take that sum of cash elsewhere for a more serious bit of cooking. Like upstairs. Yes, next time I visit Sketch I’ll finally get up those stairs and into that two star restaurant. Unbroken and unassisted.

7/10

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Kiln, London

Kiln is not for the faint hearted.  It is a restaurant with fire at it’s core.  Heat blazes from the clay kiln pots that are used to cook with here, and pop up from the dishes studded with chilli.  From the raised seating around the food counter it whacks you direct to face like the first steps off the plane on a summer holiday abroad.  It is the remover of clothing, the bead of sweat inducing exhilarating reason that we love obsess over fire.  A meal here is not only an insight into the food of North Thailand, it is a celebration of heat and the results it brings with control and skill.

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To see it in action is part of the theatre.  With electricity reserved only for lighting and refrigeration, all the graft is done by the small team over smouldering bits of clay.  We are handed a menu from which we choose something from every section.  We like the smaller dishes most, the pick being a coarsely ground sausage that packed the biggest of chilli hits.  Chunks of aged lamb are skewered and fused only by the melted ribbons of fat.  These are delicious, as are the chicken thigh glazed in soy in cooked gently through.  It is the most solid of starts.

From the fish section comes langoustines, cured in lime and hardly cooked so that the flesh is still semi-translucent.  It never loses the essence of the shellfish despite the big flavours of holy basil and chilli with every mouthful.  It’s delicate yet punchy, and one of the very best langoustine dishes I have ever eaten.

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We are told that the baked noodle dishes are something of a signature here, so we order them off the back of that.  They prove to be the lunches weak point, the crab lost amongst the sour dressing that you work into the dish yourself, the pig unctuous but equally unremarkable.  It’s nice enough, but for me not up to the same standard as everything else we eat.  We finish up with a beef cheek curry, the texture of the cut of meat similar to how I’ve eaten it in the far east, which is a much quicker cook and firmer texture than the long braising treatment we often give it on these shores.  It divides us; I really like the depth of flavour, complex with anise, galangal, and clove, my dining companion less so.  I finish the bowl off happily, teasing the last of the sauce out with wild rice that still has a little bit to it.

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The bill for all of this with a cocktail and glass of wine comes in at a shade over seventy quid, good value, we both agree.  Kiln is simply a one-off; a sneaky peek into the cuisine for a part of a country not associated with voyeurism like it’s southern half.  It’s a thrilling experience, equally for the punchy style of cooking and theatre.  It’s vibrant and in your face, and worthy of anyone building a sweat up for.

8/10

Kiln Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, London

The promenade of The Dorchester hotel is full of those having afternoon tea.  It is a curious mix of ladies who lunch, those celebrating, and hotel guests.  The class and the crass, if you like.  There are pearls and gowns beside velour tracksuits.  Cut glass English accents are interspersed by shouty American ones.  It is a lovely space where new money meets old money with a shared interest in the most luxurious of hotels.

We walk through that promenade and turn left into the dining room of Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester.  It is bigger than I expected, with washed grey walls, immaculate white linen, deep chairs, and an army of staff.  The latter are everywhere, an orchestra of tailored suits and foreign accents who are trained into pouring wine simultaneously and expertly covering up stains with smaller sheets of linen.  Each are aware of their individual roles in us leaving replete and suitably poorer than when we left.

After turning down the attention of a champagne trolley we are presented with a generous pyramid of gougeres – those lovely savoury choux buns flavoured with cheese.  These are nice, a little light on the emmental cheese flavour, and not as good as those at Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road (an obvious comparison given it is London’s only other 3*).  The less said about the amouse bouche the better – a curious blend of cured John Dory, lime and peanut that was never going to work.  If 2017 serves up a more ill-conceived dish I shall be very unfortunate.

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We tried much of the bread to mostly great success.  A farmhouse bun was as light as a pillow and delicate with the back note of pork lard, whereas a black olive was a little muted on flavour.  Best was a bacon fogasse that had us going back for seconds, thirds, and, in my case, fourths.  Who said not to overfill on the bread course has never eaten this.  It’s the ultimate breakfast of knotted bread and cubes of fatty bacon.  We smear it inch thick with a lovely salted butter that has been shaped into an onion, whilst sneering at the aerated cream cheese option that looks and tastes like hair mousse.

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Our first course hit the mark.  A crumbed egg gave way to the brightest of yolks that served as a sauce for the smoked corn, chicken oysters and onion stuffed with chicken mousseline.  A corn tuile was a superfluous addition that the dish did not need, but the rest was indulgent and cohesive.

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And then, well, it all slumped for a while during mains.  A lamb rump was perfectly cooked, seasoned, and rested, with chickpeas, a hummus like puree and pickled onions.  It was nice.  In the same way that Songs of Praise is nice, or making daisy chains.  Impossible to fault, but equally hard to get excited over.  The thrill of dining here is lost amongst the fear of being anything other than perfect, as if the weight of Michelin hangs more heavily here than anywhere else I have dined at it in the country.  There are no risks being taken.  A word on the sauce though, it was an incredible thing that only a classic French approach can result in.

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The other main was a technically astute squid stuffed pasta, with various preparations of octopus hidden under a canopy of leaves.  The overriding flavour is one of citrus that lifts and occasional dominates all it coats.  The octopus was tender, the pasta silky, but three stars?  Really?  It’s all far too safe.

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You get the mignardises here before dessert, why I simply could not tell you.  What I can tell you is that they are all delicious, with some of the best macaroons I have eaten, cocoa coated almonds, nougat, and chocolates.  A lot of work goes into these and it pays off, with a salted caramel toffee disappearing to a nothing on the tongue.  Really lovely stuff.

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Desserts were true three star calibre.  An almond sponge has the lightest of textures, with poached apricot’s and almond granita.  Like the savoury courses there is nothing to fault but this has character; it stands up and demands attention.  Before I move onto my dessert, we were given an additional course because we were celebrating.  Its strawberries and cream for the child at heart, one perfect quenelle of milk ice cream, another of strawberry.  Little meringues of raspberry provide texture, with a singular fruit crowning it all.  The depth of the ice creams are truly staggering.  There is obvious skill in this part of the kitchen.

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The best course of the lunch deserves a post of it’s own, but I have a liver to kill and only  limited time to do so, so you’ll have to make do with this paragraph.  Chocolate and passion fruit.  It sounds simple enough.  Wrong.  Two tempered chocolate domes, one filled with a white chocolate mousse, the other a passion fruit mousse and topped with passion fruit seeds so that it resembles a halved fruit.  Have a look for yourself.  I couldn’t believe it as I cracked into it and I was 30cm away.  More chocolate as a creme, tuile, and crispy covered puffed rice.  Central to this was a vivid passion fruit ice cream that perfectly balanced it all out.  I’m not a dessert man because they are too often an afterthought, but this is up there with the very best sweet courses I have ever had.

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We finish with coffee and a tea trolley where you choose your own plant for an infusion.  It’s a lovely concept, typical of a place where every thought has been considered for the consumer.  Apart from the food that is. See, my biggest problem with Ducasse is a simple one:  Exactly one week one after dining here I have to refer to notes to remember much of what we ate.  I remember the splendid company and wonderful service.  I remember how charming the restaurant manager was.  I remember that the desserts were unquestionably three star level.  But the savoury stuff was mostly forgettable safe cooking, hovering around the two star level if they were lucky.  It’s nice.  But then nice just doesn’t cut it when this sort of money and reputation is involved.

7/10

Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bleecker Burger, London

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Bleecker Burger almost never happened.  It was the last entry on our itinerary for the weekend, after the three star and the trendy Thai place and shite patisserie, only making the cut because it was close to our hotel in Victoria and we needed somewhere to go for breakfast.  Which, yes, it does qualify as on account of it being some meat in a bun.

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And, despite its late inclusion, when we where sat on the train home discussing the three star and the trendy Thai and shite patisserie, we both agreed that the best thing we ate came the black fronted, yellow chaired, spot near Victoria station.  Where bits of aged beef mince are compacted and cooked to medium rare, held together by a bun that stays in working order.

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We try two burgers.  A Blue Burger has the patty in a blue cheese sauce that whacks with umami.  Its good, very good even, but it pales in comparison to the Bacon Cheeseburger that allows the quality of the beef to shine with just a little American cheese, a rasher of crisp bacon and white onion.  It is stunning.  As much as I love Original Patty Man back home, this is as good, if not better.  Even with another lunch planned in less than three hours I am sent back inside for another for us to share.  Our later lunch is worth jeopardising for this.

The Angry Fries divide us, but this is my turf so let me tell you that the mixture of blue cheese and hot sauces is an inspired one, one cooling the other, full of umami and funk.  The other half thinks that they detract from the spud but she watches Keeping Up With The Kardashians, so read into her opinion as you want.

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And there you go, maybe the best twenty-six quid I have spent in a while, overshadowing some very serious food had throughout the rest of our weekend.  But it’s created a quandary of it’s own – my five or six trips to London a year are to eat new food, not return to the same places, yet it will be impossible to not have a Bleecker whenever we come back.  I thank the chef on our way out, telling her that it was probably the best burger I have eaten.  She smiles and thanks me in a way that makes me think she has answered to that on many an occasion before.  I can believe it. The burgers here are the real deal, as good as any you are ever likely to eat.

9/10
Bleecker St. Burger Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Temper, London

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I became interested in the concept of Temper long before it opened its doors in December, back when Neil Rankin announced his plans and an entire community of non-meat eaters decided the concept of cooking bits of animal in the middle of a restaurant was a bit too much for their heads to handle. Whilst they were in endanger of spontaneously combusting, I was busy working up a sweat of my own. You see, burning bits of animal is my thing; I understand if it’s not yours, but given the choice I’m always to take a slow cooked bit of cow over a carrot. And if I can watch the magic happen whilst eating said bits of meat then I’m all yours. Take me. Do as you will.

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The first thing that hits you when you descend down the stairs is the smell.  It is one of victory of the food chain in the correct order.  Of smoke and of animal. It wears you more than you wear it.  I take one of the stools around the central counter and watch the team at work.  Various bits of cow, pig, sheep, and goat, each sold in mixed cuts of 100g portions.  There are taco’s, larbs and kofta.  Sides, sauces, and sprinkles.  Aged cheeseburgers are the first to arrive; mini patties of aged beef, rare in the centre and charred on the outer, sat on freshly pressed taco’s the right side of sandy in texture.  It is the perfect two bite snack; meaty, complex and undeniably masculine.

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And then the meat.  Oh Lordy, the meat.  One plate of pork, another of lamb, piled on to flat breads so that the rendered fat has a final resting place.  Each has various cuts, distinguishable only by the amount of fat between meat and skin.  I remark to the chef working by me that the clarity of flavour each cut of meat is extraordinary – “just salt, pepper, and a little fire” is his response.  If only cooking was that simple.  The process works; leaner cuts come pinker than working muscles.  Fat opaque.  Skin crisp.  Some bits require your own teeth, others don’t.  All of it is incredible.  Asking me which one is my favourite would be like asking my Dad to choose between his two sons.  I reckon a decision could be made at a push, but it’s not for my ears.  With this I order a burnt pepper salsa that adds a nice piquancy to both meats and a crumb of pork scratchings, hot pepper and pickled onion that seasons the pork to a new level, as well as providing an additional texture to a bowl of burrata, jalapeno and lime. The latter is an inspired choice of side and one that I reach for in-between mouthfuls of meat to cool and sharpen the palate.

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They do desserts; a soft baked cookie and a caramel drenched pastry.  Both sound like they could genuinely change my world, though by now I am sweating unattractively and unable to finish the slices of goat kindly offered by the same chef who shared his insight.  I sit for a while and take it all in; the place is heaving at lunchtime just weeks after opening and rightly so – these people are here for meat and theatre and both are delivered in abundance.  The smell of fire and animal would stain my jacket for the rest of the day.  I wear it like a badge of honour.

9/10

 

 

Elystan Street, London

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Phil Howard is a man with bigger knackers than most. After two decades at the helm of one of London’s most important restaurants, he decided to sell The Square because the cuisine is no longer in line with the cooking that he wants to cook. For in industry so beloved of Michelin, he has effectively handed in his two stars and started again, making the move from a prime spot in Mayfair to one in Chelsea which failed to be fruitful for a certain Tom Aikens.  The new restaurant is a departure from The Square; less clinical, with table tops of wood and concrete replacing ironed white linen.  Natural light pours in through large windows that dominate two of the four walls, the others lined with the kind of modern art you wish you could afford at home.  The food, too, has changed.  Evolving into a vegetable heavy line-up with less emphasis on fats and protein.

The result is a restaurant that feels like an instant classic.  Ingredients are gently manoeuvred to bring out the optimum flavour, modern techniques employed for flavour, not frivolity.  Burrantina is elevated by a mollica like topping of dried black olives, toasted bread crumbs and spices.  Partially dried late season tomatoes give pops of sweetness, pine nuts crunch, and olive oil a gentle pepperiness.  It’s impeccably balanced and we mop up the last of the creamy cheese with sourdough of similar quality.  Another starter of beef tartare saw a fat quenelle sandwiched between slithers of berkswell cheese, itself on slices of artichoke that tempered the other big flavours.  The tartare was boldly seasoned with a dice of vegetables that provided bite against that finely chopped meat.  It tasted original, an achievement given how many tartare’s I have eaten of recent.

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The lightness of touch continued in to the mains with cod, served with golden raisins, spinach and a curried cauliflower puree that lifted everything it was smeared on to.  The fish was glorious; a nutty brown exterior that opened up to flakes the colour of Simon Cowell’s veneers.  Lamb rump was given the Ottolenghi treatment, with bulbs of roast garlic and a fragrant pesto coated aubergine.  Aubergine came back as a puree whilst a crisp potato terrine sucked up the juices of the animal.  It was stellar cooking, clinical and clean, with not an ingredient used in vain.

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Grouse was classically treated.  The delicate breast cooked to a consistent dark pink and doused in a sauce rich with tart elderberries that cut through the gamy meat.  A dice of root vegetables and an almost milky celeriac puree were harmonious whilst a crisp roll of the leg meat topped with a pear puree reinforced the birds flavour.  We revert back to the sourdough to clean up the last of the plate.

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Desserts kept up the high standard.  A just-set blackberry jelly, dotted with fruit and finished with a sorbet of staggering depth, hit all the right spots.  The star though, was a perfect tart with pastry so fine we had to check it was there.  From the fig jam at the base to the frangipane full of coarse pistachio, every mouthful delivered in spades.

025023 I’ve tried my best not to turn this into a direct comparison with the previous home of Phil Howards cooking, though its inevitable that people will.  For me, the more simplistic approach allowed the produce to speak for itself.  Every flavour was pronounced and clear, every dish concise with its execution.  It was modern cooking delivered in Phil Howards unmistakable style. Elystan Street produced the meal of the year for me, despite being a week old when we visited.  This time next year I fully expect to see its name towards the top of the list on all of the important food guides.

9/10

 

 

Le Gavroche, London

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I first ate at Le Gavroche almost three years to the day from this meal. It was at a time when this blog was a distant dream and we ate for pleasure only.  Oh, how I miss those days.  It still stands as my favourite ever meal; perhaps not the best food, but certainly the best overall experience.  There was, and still is, something uniquely special about walking underneath the famous signage, through the heavy doors, down the stairs and into that dimly lit basement dining room.  There is ceremony with every nudge of a chair and pouring of wine, and touch of class at every detail with custom made table sculptures, plates, and silverware.  We ate chicken with parmesan risotto, drank our body weight in wine and overindulged Michael Roux Jnr himself in person at our excessive praise of the soufflé suissesse – a long standing stalwart of the menu here so light it threatened to drift back up those stairs and off into the clouds.  I consider myself lucky enough to have eaten at Birmingham’s five Michelin starred restaurants on many occasions but our pursuit outside of my home town has never led us back to the same place.  Now, with Phil Howard departing from The Square there was only ever one option for a celebratory return meal:  Three months back we decide to hammer the phone lines at 9am and secure a table at Le Gavroche.

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It was, if I am entirely honest, not as memorable as our first visit.  Perhaps it was the table; this time in a busy area near the stairs as opposed to the dark green booth we had once nestled in to in the far corner.  Maybe it is much of the romanticism is lost once you have witnessed it in person already.  That is not to say it is still not one of the countries top tables; almost everything we ate punched with French classicism and Gaelic charm, personified by an almost entirely French waiting team, each oozing with the confidence only a top kitchen can install.  Nibbles of smoked duck and another of cheese and chive greet as us as we are sat, followed quickly by an amuse of deep fried burrata ravioli, all of which quickly disappear before a basket of bread is presented with a choice of butter.  Knowing what is next, we save the bread for the aforementioned Soufflé Suissesse, flavoured with cheese and cooked on double cream, which is every bit as naughty as it sounds.  The dish is filth in the best possible sense, imagined by a brain with zero regard for health care and the upmost respect for indulgence.  This version was as good as I remember and still makes my top three dishes of all time.

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A fat cut of veal shoulder follows, braised gently so that the knife is redundant.  The cooking of the meat is exact, even if the ragout of beans is light on seasoning and the accompanying  green beans the extreme side of al dente.  Our charming waiter asks if everything is okay to which I tell him that the portion is too big, only covering half of the truth as this singular dish individually ruins my otherwise perfect memory of the restaurant.  A chariot of cheese quickly restores memories, each one impeccably sourced and kept, with the comte and stinking bishop notably good.

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Dessert number one is a nougatine parfait almost as smooth as the service here, with melon in varying forms, which is nice but hardly memorably.  Better was the birthday cake for two; a chocolate mousse with a rich ganache exterior, not dissimilar to the famous Louis XV dessert at the Alain Ducasse restaurant in Monaco of the same name.  Its rich and velvety, and it has my name written on the plate.  Honestly, could it get any better.  There are petit fours including candied kumquats and truffles which are as good as you would expect.

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Being my birthday we gorge on the pink sparkling stuff, the white stuff, the red stuff, and the fortified red stuff, leaving a bill that I did not see (Thank You, Charlie), but was fairly considerable by any stretch.  Not that this matters of course as nobody goes to the effort of trying to get a reservation here, eventually donning the compulsory shirt and jacket, and comes here expecting it to be cheap.  What you pay for is an institution steeped in gastronomic history, where food sits around the two star level it is presently scored at, with service arguably a level above that.  Le Gavroche is an experience unlike anywhere else in London, which everyone should save up for and try once in their life.  Maybe not the perfection I recalled first time around, but still very very good indeed.  Go on, spoil yourself.

9/10

Le Gavroche Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Galvin at Windows, London

I have a love / hate relationship with restaurants which boast about their views.  When done well, like Rofuto back in Brum, the view becomes secondary; a bonus to the food which demands the attention of the plate, not the traffic levels below.  On the flip of it, like in MPW at the Cube, it can be a distraction to some pretty abysmal food, even if the booking was knowingly done so mostly for the view.  Or you could be sitting halfway up the Eiffel Tower, in Le Jules Verne, paying three hundred quid for a jellied beef soup and some cold veg.  I’ve done all three and I know all too well that a good view is not a guarantee of a good meal.

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And then there is Galvin at Windows, a smart restaurant perched high upon the top of the Hilton Park Lane, with arguably the best view in London and a Michelin star to boot.  Its position in the heart of Mayfair has Hyde Park to one side and the city positioned far to the other.  It demands a picture, or several, in our case as we peer over St James Palace from our seat.  The room has an art deco feel which feels smart, the army of waiting staff gliding over the thick carpet, led by a certain Fred Sirieix of First Dates fame.  The impeccable service and glorious view would be nothing without good food, which it delivers in abundance.  The kitchen, headed up by Joo Won, is a tour of France, with our set lunch the flavours of Marseille – the southern port city where seafood is central to its cuisine.  At £55.00 for three courses and half a bottle of wine, it must be up there for one of London’s best value lunches.  The bread we munch on whilst perusing the menu is well made, in particular a pretty plait of warm white which more than compensates for the fridge cold butter.

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I should learn to trust the kitchen more in these places – on paper none of the starters appealed, leaving braised lamb and salt cod as the most interesting sounding option.  It delights, the creamy flakes of opaque cod adding an additional seasoning to the softly braised belly.  There is a gentle heat from a garlic cream, pops of saltiness from capers and an underlying depth from the rich cooking liquor.  I chase the last dots of the sauce around the dish whilst mentally applauding the impeccable balance of it all.  On the other side of the table is a salad of young artichokes; the vegetal nuttiness held in to place by slices of peach and blobs of whipped curd.  It was mid July on a plate, the herby dressing and slithers of olives providing a nice counterbalance.

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We trust our charming waiter and take the vegetable tart as one of the mains.  He is right; the veg that sits on top of the crisp base has been sourced with obvious care – it is a mile away from the tasteless stuff we have become accustomed to.  Crumbled Saint Felicien adds a delicate luxury, as does a gazpacho like sauce which is poured tableside.  It is received better than the braised feather blade with nicoise salad.  There is very little wrong with it; the elements of egg, olive, tomato and anchovies all working with the beef, but it is disjointed – the protein too large and heavy for its nimble salad.  I leave half the meat and have to explain myself to the waiter.  I think he understands.

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Dessert restores order.  A take on clafoutis may have been refined to the point of a new identity but it takes great, so who cares.  The soft dough is full of almond flavour, the macerated fruit an obvious foil for the richness.  A basil ice cream is mercifully restrained and sits nicely amongst it all.  A lemon parfait is all balanced acidity with aerated lemon curd and wedges of softly caramelised apricots on top of a tuile base.  This is a kitchen that understands texture and flavour.

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Nobody can claim that the cooking here is provocative or dangerous in any way.  On the contrary; it is classical and restrained, comfortable in its own skill and confident in its own ability.  None of what we ate was fireworks, though everything was considered and accurate in its delivery.  It would be easy to come here and admire the view and get Fred to pose for a photo.  We did.  But there is much more to enjoy about Galvin at Windows, with the classically French cooking worthy of a trip of its own.

8/10

Galvin at Windows - London Hilton on Park Lane Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hibiscus, London

Hibiscus operates in a smart location just off Regents Street, its interior befitting a two starred restaurant in Mayfair.  Its all clean lines, neutral decor and plush seating.  Modern art dominates the walls as a army of waiting staff glide over the thickly carpeted floor.  Its all very Michelin.  Its not the kind of place you come to have a good time, unless your idea of a good time happens to be hushed conversation and overhearing a nearby table discuss hedge funds.  They make no excuses that here is a temple of gastronomy, pushing the boundaries of modernist haute cuisine in a city not known for its food innovation.028025

The modernist approach is in your face from the off.  Eggs arrive in a carton, the perfectly trimmed shell encasing a silky mushroom mousseline, a coconut froth and a dusting of curry powder.  It succeeds in providing interest in that I couldn’t decide if I liked it or not until the last mouthful.  I don’t.  A smoked chicken terrine is pitch perfect, the flavour pronounced and lifted by a little foie gras.  We forced the last of the meat and quince jelly on to sourdough from the Hedone bakery, which is about as good as a shopping trip for bread can get.029033031

Poached cod arrives under a cloud of foam, the fish surrendering to the merest of pressure from the fork. The fine dice of shallot, lemon and capers taking French home cooking to dizzying heights.  We fight over who can mop the last of the cooking liquor up with more of the bread.  No such arguments were needed with black pudding of Hare with a glossy jugged sauce.  It was blood with more blood and needed far more acidity than a roasted apple to cut through richness that bordered on sickly.  The accompanying pomme puree had been overworked to a gloop.  There should be a t-shirt and Hall of Fame for anyone that can finish this in one sitting.  036034

More game was had with partridge, with a slightly tough breast and wondrous confit leg which had me gnawing at the bone.  There was clever use of cauliflower roasted and also worked into a couscous like texture.  Genius was at work with the sauce, perked by curry and raisins, which lifted the dish firmly into two star territory in a unique and playful way.035

Desserts were a mixed bag.  I saw little enjoyment in their take on Tiramisu, with a grainy ice cream spoiling a pleasantly different combination of coffee and cardamom.  It made me wish I had joined the rest of the table in ordering the sticky date sponge which drew silences thanks to a fudge sauce with a pronounced smoked flavour.037038

The bill is kind for this level, with lunch for three, including half a bottle of wine each and a cocktail apiece, creeping in at seventy quid a head.  It allows a small glimpse into the world of Claude Bosi’s cooking, which provokes at all times and succeeds a little bit less.  The best of the cooking is up their with the best, with other dishes disjointed in comparison.  Maybe my palate is too primitive but food at Hibiscus is not somewhere I would come running back to when I’m next in the capital, however intriguing it may be.

7/10

Hibiscus Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, London

It was impossible to go to Restaurant Gordon Ramsay without expecting it to be a great meal. In this last twelve months The Good Food guide have scored it the perfect ten – one of only three in the country to score this – along with it being one of only four UK restaurants to be bestowed with the maximum three stars from Michelin. Everything was pointing towards perfection, though expectation is the root of all disappointment; the mother of all frustration. By building a pre-set ideal based on another’s opinion surely I was setting myself up for a fall.

And then you push through the heavy door of the bijou building on Royal Hospital Road and all is fine. The greetings from an army of staff detract from its beige interior that borders between boring and serene.  Here, amongst the four walls in loaded Chelsea, is a world where handbags require stools, toilet roll is pointed into triangles after every visit and French haute cuisine is King.

Lets start with the bits before the real food arrives.  Excellent gourgeres disappeared from the basket instantly; the ethereal choux loaded with a cheesey bechamel that put shame to the ones at any of Ducasse’s restaurants.  An amuse came in a egg shell precisely trimmed and sprayed gold – I pity whoever has this as a job.  Inside a baked potato mousseline marbled with yolk and topped with a sliver of Perigord truffle that was both comforting and elegant.

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A dainty dish of agnolotti had al dente pasta with a filling of roasted pumpkin, softly flavoured with sage.  Transparent slices of guanciale ham coated the mouth with fat and let the flavours take over, whilst amaretti crumbs provided texture.  I wont eat a better dish all year, I’m sure.  Roasted beetroot had a salad perched prettily in a mound of smoked goats curd.  My partner declaring it not quite on the level of a similar dish that she had at The Square last year whilst practically licking the plate clean

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A fillet of plaice was sensational; the fish, still fresh and retaining its flavour, was enhanced by a pokey taramasalata, tender strips of razor clam and a beurre noisette, which proved that everything tastes better when basted in brown butter.  Rabbit, a meat I seldom eat due to it always arriving overcooked, had a perfectly timed loin, seasoned by the salty bayonne ham it was wrapped in.  Confit leg lay proudly on tender lentils, whilst teeny racks served as a remainder of the animal on the plate.  The sauce, a deep glossy thing of dreams, held everything together and pickled mustard seeds popped and provided heat and contrast.  It was cooking of the highest order.

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Desserts were a highlight in a meal of highlights.  An assiette showcased all five of the sweets available on the a la carte menu, the stars being a lemonade parfait with sheep milks sorbet and a smoked chocolate cigar with blood orange and cardamom ice cream – both of which could grace any table, anywhere. A peppermint souffle of perfect consistency arrived with a silky dark chocolate sorbet, the two combined echoing After Eights.  There was a faultless mini version of the Ramsay signature tarte tatin, and a carrot cake that didn’t taste much of carrot.  All of these made my dessert, a dainty custard tart with blood orange and mascarpone sorbet, seem a bit of an afterthought.  A bit of whimsy finished off proceedings as clementine ice cream dipped in white chocolate was served in bowl overflowing with dry ice. image

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The service was even better than La Gavroche, which is a phrase I never thought I’d say.  It was both friendly and concise, with the level of professionalism you would expect from a restaurant with such accolades.  A meal here doesn’t come cheap – between the three of us it would be mortgage payment back home – but nor should it; the brigade of staff (a total of thirty, as opposed to 42 diners) and the raw produce come at a price.  Both Michelin and The Good Food Guide consider it to be the countries finest and I have to agree with them.  Restaurant Gordon Ramsay is up there with the very best.

10/10

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