London

MEATmarket, London

I read a lot of other blogs and a lot of lists. I’m fun like that. Almost always food, always a mixture of the good and the bad; there are those I look up to and those I read to make myself feel better. It’s important to keep your eyes on both the sky and the dirt. One of the things I read a lot about is burgers. Outside of Brum I know about as much about them as I do monogamy and modesty, but my girlfriend loves them so it’s in my interest to keep her happy. I’d have never had found out about Bleecker without reading other blog posts, and those same posts always list MEATliquor (and it’s offshoots for which Covent Gardens MEATmarket is one) as one of the true originals to the burger scene in this country.

So I’m not quite sure what has happened. Maybe the very businesses that they have inspired have surpassed them in quality and delivery. Maybe there offering isn’t as good as it used to be. Maybe it was actually never that good. I don’t know, I can only base it what we had, and what we had was okay. The burger that I see on most lists is the Dead Hippie, a double patty of just pink beef in slender proportions with their famous Dead Hippie sauce that is seemingly a mustard mayo given a kick up the arse with chopped pickles and Worcestershire sauce. It’s messy and difficult to hold (these are plus points, honestly), with a bun that gets too soggy too quickly. The beef is good, but not up there with the best; it’s a little chewy in parts and we chow down on bits that possibly shouldn’t have made the cut. The sauce adds a nice acidity and the diced onions are welcome. It’s a good burger, I’ve just had much better.

The double bacon cheeseburger baffles me for crimes against bacon. We’re back on that double patty and bun though this time with additional thin layers of something dark brown that tastes vaguely of pig. It’s bacon, minced and reformed again, because, y’know, sometimes a rasher just isn’t good enough. They’ve destroyed the essence of what it should be, the fat content and the crisp shard of pure pork flavour, turning it into a just another layer of something brown and grainy that detracts away from a pretty good burger. We switch our attention to battered fillets of chicken breast that give the impression the oil was not hot enough. The batter is flaccid in good places, soggy in others from a coating of buffalo sauce. It makes a bit more sense when dipped into the blue cheese dip.

There is a revelation in the form of a Hot Mess, cylinders of crisp potato that ooze a pungent blue cheese and jalapeno sauce, and less of one with green chilli fries that blast heat with every mouthful. It’s a credit to MEATliquor that the sides are genuinely interesting and I’ve seen very similar options pop up elsewhere, including Birmingham, in a blatant bit of plagiarism.

The bill for all of the above and a couple of soft drinks came in at a few pence under forty quid, which would have been value had we enjoyed lunch. The truth is we both walked away full but underwhelmed, struggling to see what all the fuss is about. I can think of three burgers I’d rather eat in Birmingham and at least another three in London. The burgers at MEATmarket may be of legend, but the competition has not only caught up, but surpassed them.

6/10

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Pastaio, London

Not so long ago I was asked for the best Italian restaurant in Birmingham. “There isn’t one”, I said. “Pick another cuisine or go to London”. Whilst harsh, I stand by what I said. Our best Italian restaurants are universally average and I would argue that the food coming out of my kitchen is a damm sight better than the majority of theirs. Give me notice and I’ll braise down some ox cheeks and use the liquor to transform them into a ragu of rich meat. Expect this with homemade tagliatelle and a dusting of aged parmasen. Good Italian cooking isn’t difficult – I can do it, for Christs sake – we’ve just anglicised it to the point of pure laziness.

I have places that I go to for fresh pasta, places that I’m not going to publicise because the queues are large enough already. And then I see a tweet from Nigella Lawson of a potato ravioli with gravy, an oozing egg yolk and white truffle. Take me there and invite Lawson to bring the party whilst you’re at it. As soon we get off the train it’s straight over to Pastaio where a fifteen minute wait has us seated in the week old restaurant.


We try four dishes which is enough to make me want to come back, but possibly not in a mad rush anytime soon. The biggest dissapointment is first; a toastie of sorts with mozzarella, honey, and n’duja. I note the n’duja last because this is barely present – the tiniest of blobs that sits off centre. I’d imagine in it’s full glory this is a dish to savour, just not today.


Pasta is why we are here and that is obviously where their heart lies. With no ravioli and gravy party we plump for wild mushroom tagliatelle. The pasta is silky smooth, the mushrooms delicately cooked with garlic. It’s a joy. Diminutive shells of malloredus pocket a ragu of sausage meat. It’s a grower of a dish, one that I end up clearing despite not enjoying the chewy croutons that work the jaw.


The day belongs to cacio and pepe and bucatini – a 2017 pasta dish if there ever were one. The thick pasta coated in a sauce of parmesan, butter and toasted peppercorns. It’s decadent and brilliantly judged, the ultimate in comfort food.


With dinner booked for two hours later, we opt against dessert, despite developing envy from the neighbouring tables tiramisu. Cheese toastie aside, we had an enjoyable lunch at Pastaio, even if it’s not the earth shattering moment of pasta perfection we longed for. It’s destined to be a success, with long queues in Soho a certainty once word gets around. Me, I’ll be patiently waiting for the potato ravioli and gravy before I consider joining the back of it.

7/10 

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

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