French

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.

IMG_9954

IMG_9961

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.

IMG_9959

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.

IMG_9963

IMG_9964

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.

IMG_9966

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.

IMG_9967

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.

IMG_9974

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.

IMG_9979

IMG_9977

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.

IMG_9976

IMG_9981

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

Advertisements

Hotel du Vin, Birmingham

I first stayed in Birmingham’s Hotel du Vin on the day of my 21st, a decade and a bit ago, when an ex-girlfriend treated me ahead of what has gone down as one of the cities wankiest ever birthday parties. If memory serves me correct, I wore a white suit and vest, the only colour emanating from me being a deep orange fake tan that Trump would have been envious of. I got drunk, wasted the rooms intentions and woke up to the sound of her boffing into a bin in the morning. She was a class act, was Mel. Fast forward six months and she is driving out of Bristol’s Hotel du Vin alone, whilst I am in the bath unaware of the messages she has found on my phone. This would turn out to be a reoccurring theme in my adult life. I’ll never learn.

So, I guess that when I think about it I have always had a good relationship with the group. I’ve stayed in their hotels, I’ve drank their whisky, I’ve eaten their food. I’ve actually always been a fan of the grub here, it’s classic Gaelic stuff that goes so well with wine and big comfy beds. I’ve eaten wobbly terrines with pockets of jellified fat in between soft meat, coq-au-vin’s with the richest of wine sauces, and marbled steaks crusted by heat on the outside and blue in the centre. This is all from a panelled dining room rich with art, that feels like the home of somebody far wealthier than I will ever be. It is a very romantic place to eat dinner.

Tonight I am here in the company of other blaggers bloggers, including my new girlfriend, who will inevitably also go through my phone one day and depart quickly into the sunset. All of us are here to try the new Summer menu and to drink lots of wine. It was not a difficult invite to accept. The new menu sticks to what they do best, with a few surprises here and there. A charcuterie board is hard to get excited over, though the meat is of obvious quality and balanced well with the astringency of the lightly pickled veg. Much better is a scallop ceviche, generous in portion with three of the shellfish sliced thinly and returned back to their shells. I happen to love raw scallops like this, dressed in a little lime juice to break down the proteins, salt and sugar, with pops of sweet pomegranate seeds and the occasional tingle of chilli. It’s light and refined. I shoot the juices direct from the shell because it demands so.

IMG_9169

IMG_9168

I order porchetta because I am a man of taste. It transpires to be an inspired choice, a fat roundel of roast pig with a quenelle of apple sauce and a stick of crackling that my dental plan would not approve of.  The best bit is the sticky glaze of reduced onions and stock around the edge that adds funk and definition.  It is rustic in the best possible sense; a dish built around bold seasoning and big flavours. At £16 it is a bargain.

IMG_9170

A lamb main was far more refined, which, at £27, it bloody should be.  The French trimmed rack cooked to an accurate medium, with a salad of feta, charred baby gem, green beans and peas.  There is punchy seasoning and everything is cooked well, but how keen you think the price is I will leave to your discretion.

IMG_9172

Desserts saw theatre produced to a level that very few can accomplish in the city.  Crepe Suzette is a staple of The Ritz with good reason, it has interaction and flames and is damn right bloody delicious.  Here it is almost identical; pancakes, orange juice and zest, butter, and brandy flambéed as you watch tableside.  Just order it and thank me afterwards.  It makes the apple tart look ordinary.  Spoiler alert:  It is not.  The pastry is delicate, the apples treated with respect and just cooked through.  It is classic French patisserie work crafted in a hotel kitchen in Birmingham.

With this dinner we have lots of wine, which, this summer, is a celebration of Pinot, a grape I happen to have a lot of love for.  Unsurprisingly, it is an extremely will curated list.  Somewhat more surprisingly, it happens to be very affordable. Experience tells me that a meal here is going to creep over three figures, and if you want my opinion, I would tell you that is money well spent.  Hotel du Vin isn’t going to rewrite the culinary recipe book, but it is going to feed you honest French inspired food for a fair price.  And that happens to be perfectly fine with me.

I was invited to the launch of the summer menu at Hotel du Vin by Delicious PR

Bistro Du Vin - Hotel Du Vin 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.

014

 

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.

015

 

 

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.

021

 

 

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.

025

023

 

 

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.

029

030

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

Gauthier Soho, London

The menu at Gauthier Soho reads like porn to a tragic food fan like me. It’s an ode to seasonality from the seasoned hands of a French wizard. It talks of truffles and lobsters and foie gras and cuts of beef from places in France that sound fun to visit. It has veloutes, fondants, and torchons. The only way it could be any more Gaelic is if the bread basket was mounted to the front of a bicycle. It’s the kind of menu that requires attention.

The building also requires attention. A town house in murky Soho, with a bell on the door to gain access. It has three floors on which to eat and basement from which they cook. The décor is understated, the tables generous in space and with a single candle to provide light, which did wonders for my fading looks but little for the photo’s. I know it’s asking a lot, but you’ll have to trust me with a lot of the dishes as the pictures are too poor to do justice to what was served.

What was served was three hours of exhilarating food, starting with a perfectly cooked lobe of foie, roasted peach and elderflower crisp. The fruit and forage providing the acidity and sweetness to stand up to the fatty liver. A veloute of pea had goats cheese and confit lime, each giving a little interest with every mouthful. Its very clever cooking, showcasing technique and a knowledge of ingredients. This was approach was evident in a jaw dropping risotto of black truffle. The flavour deep and controlled, the grains loose and evenly cooked. There was perfume from the truffles and a meatiness from the veal stock which leant against the edge of the bowls. Never have I eaten a better risotto.

Truffle Rissoto

A singular piece of stunning crispy pork belly was served with two pieces of loin stuffed with olives, some apricots, and beetroot that was a little too al dente for my liking. This was the only time in the meal that it felt out of proportion, with too much of the loin and not enough of the unctuous belly to balance out the tart apricot. There was more of the beetroot on a veggie main with tempura leaves and a ricotta and basil gnocchi that could have been a lot lighter. The kitchen was quickly back on form with a crimson red beef fillet, fondant potato and marrow stuffed with bone marrow. This was proper, grown up cooking, the fondant in particular oozing with butter.

Beetroot

Charlois Beef

To finish off proceedings we had a cheese plate and two desserts. The first was a strawberry mousse, with wild strawberries, lemon sherbet sorbet and a tuile that was allegedly made from balsamic. It was a stunning dish that made the showcased the end of season strawberries at their very best. The final dish was a chocolate croustillant that Gauthier learnt plying his trade at Alain Ducasses’ three star restaurant in Monaco. It is the fourth time I have had this dish and this one is every bit as good as those I have previously had in establishments bearing Ducasses’ name. The chocolate and praline layers creating something textually reminiscent of a kit-kat, but a flavour so indulgent you feel the button of your trousers tighten just by looking at it.

Cheese

Louis XV

So there you are, five hundred or so words of me blathering on about a house in Soho that cooks up brilliant dishes from it’s basement. The food here doesn’t follow trends – it follows seasons and it does so with the up-most of appreciation.  Everything here is treated with respect and the technique which has sat at the forefront of French cuisine for hundreds of years. Escoffier would be proud. Ooh La La.

9/10

Gauthier Soho on Urbanspoon