Michelin

Lord Clyde, Bollington, Cheshire

I find myself in Macclesfield for the weekend, secretly shitting myself that I will make an idiot of myself in front of my prospective future in-laws.  I am on my best behaviour, something that I never knew existed, curbing my foul mouth, opening doors, and cooking meals badly.  It’s nice here, far nicer than others would have me believe.  It’s not even raining.  I know, I can’t believe it either.  We go for long walks in the Peak District that remind me of the beauty of the Lake District, only without the, err, lakes.  In the evening we are to dine at a pub in a nearby village where I will be grilled, possibly both in conversation and over flames should my answers not be correct.

The pub in question is the Lord Clyde, a quaint low ceilinged space in the village of Bollington, where the white washed walls jostle for attention with the darken wooden beams.  This week, and completely unbeknownst to us at the time, it reached the lofty heights of the 63rd best restaurant outside of London, which I believe makes it the 63rd best restaurant in the country without a God complex.  The menu is concise and well-formed, with starters topping out at eight quid, mains typically around mid teens.  It takes us some time to decide what to order.

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Whilst waiting for the starters to arrive we get a nibble of chicken liver parfait on a potato crisp, radish and a little dandelion.  The parfait is textbook; deep and full of offal flavour.  The rest works to play support to this, though the potato base is a little greasy and flimsy, as if the wet ingredients had been on it for too long at the pass.

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Three of the five starters are ordered.  We like the simplicity of the pork loin most, with it’s battered shallot rings, spinach, and black pudding puree that completes the dish once we have added a little more salt to it.  Asparagus with duck egg and hollandaise is a classic.  The sauce is correctly sharp, the addition of radish a clever one, but I would have personally have taken the woody stems of the asparagus a little higher.  Ham hock croquettes are properly crisp, with tussles of the pork lightly dressed in grain mustard.  Pickled red onion has enough inherent acidity to cut through it all, with a creamy aioli full of buttery garlic notes.  It’s rustic cooking in the best possible sense.

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I never order steak at a restaurant because I feel like I have a duty to write about more interesting stuff, but tonight I am that man.  I order it because the rib eye is aged for 50 days, a period of hanging that should only be reserved for bits of cow and all of Piers Morgan.  It’s accurately cooked to the medium rare I request, the thick pockets of milky white fat only just starting to melt.  It’s a very good bit of beef, a fraction under seasoned, but still deep in bovine flavour.  The peppercorn sauce is expertly made, as are the Jenga pile of chips that crack and fluff.

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The other two mains are a mixed bag.  The duck is genuinely lovely, crisp skin with a consistent baby pink meat.  There is another stellar sauce (sauces are an obvious high point here) with salty nuggets of pancetta that lift the seasoning across the plate.  Claire thinks that the gnocchi are not as good as the ones she made at Simpsons, but then she would say that.  I tried them and they were good.  It’s a very good plate of food.  The trout is more timid.  The lentils, samphire, and mussels are all coheshive, but it needs something else to get the dish going.

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Portions here are on the Northern side of generous and we debate whether to order dessert at all.  In the end we order one portion of sticky toffee pudding with four spoons, using only two of them.  The pudding is lighter than it looks, the additions of honeycomb and a very good vanilla ice cream more than welcome.  What lifts it is the salt content in the sauce that gives further depth to the sweeter elements.  It is a technically accomplished and well thought out way to end the meal.

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The bill hits fifty quid a head between four with a two bottles of wine listed without vintage.  We all enjoyed Lord Clyde, which delivered attractive plates of food cooked without skill.  That said, it was not without fault, namely some erratic seasoning issues that need addressing.  It’s a handy place to stop for food and with the trips up North looking likely to increase, is a place that I can see myself giving frequent returns to.

7/10 

Lord Clyde 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

Simpson’s, Eureka Kitchen

Cookery schools are one of those things I’ve always fancied but never done. A lot like the waitress in my local pub, if I think about it. I can’t pinpoint why, other than a deep ingrained fear that you pay all that money for a morning drinking tea with ageing ladies, whilst watching someone highly trained demonstrating something that you’ll never be able to achieve. But then I would say that, because I am a pig headed fool that feeds off stereotype until I know otherwise. Which I now do. I can now tell you that with all honesty I had one of the best days I have had in many years at Simpsons cookery school.

First, let me be upfront with the truth. Nosh and I were invited to the friends and family day at Eureka, the new cookery school, which is even more astonishing given that we fall into neither category.  The cookery school launches this weekend in an upstairs section of the restaurant that has been given the full makeover.  It’s an impressive space that looks like it cost a lot of money.  After donning an apron that I looked way too good in, we move onto banks of tables facing the gleaming new kitchen headed up by Nathan Eades, the Head Chef here.

This isn’t going to be like a normal post, because the food I’m eating is what we made, and therefore I’m less likely to be a judgemental prick.  On the menu is salmon, roast chicken, finishing with an apricot and frangipane tart.  I wont bore you with the finer details other than we had a hands-on teaching of some important techniques.  We cured salmon, butchered a poussin, made pastry, pickled veg, and plated up food.  We made gnocchi, which Claire would love me tell you that hers were the best.  She’s quite proud of that and has pictures to prove it.  It’s all I’ve heard all week.  She’s shit at rolling pastry though, so swings and roundabouts and all that.

The skill to this school is the approach.  We learnt things at our time, not once rushed, and always assisted when required.  The result is a morning that is as varied as it is interesting.  After the bulk of the cookery is done we take a glass of champagne in the garden whilst the table settings are changed from school to chefs table.  From here we work in groups at serving courses to the standard of a Michelin starred level, pouring wine and eating the food we all prepared.  It’s perfect.  A way to meet new friends over a shared love of eating.

Lunch concludes with a question and answer session with the main man himself, before us two drunkards take the last of wine back into the sprawling garden sunshine.  A day at Eureka will cost you north of a ton, but that to us seems value that we’re willing to return to very soon.  We’re still talking about it five days on, trying to weave the techniques into the stuff we do at home, thinking about who would appreciate the experience as a present, and who to make that bloody gnocchi for.  My love for Simpsons as a restaurant has always been there; it’s just now added another facet, one that will improve me as a cook and feed me at the same time.

I was invited to try the Eureka at Simpsons.  For details please see here; http://www.simpsonsrestaurant.co.uk/eureka-kitchen

Simpsons Restaurants Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Simpsons, Birmingham

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I’ll get the truth out from the start; Simpson’s is a special place for me. It was the first Michelin starred restaurant I took my girlfriend to, the place where we had our first year anniversary, where I celebrated my 30th birthday, and where I’ll be eating on my birthday this year. It’s a distinct kind of place, opulent without ever being flashy, polished without the stuffiness. It used to be much more rigid before the refit, whereas  now it has a Scandinavian vibe, with plenty of natural light bathing the bare wooden elements of tree, tables, and floor. It’s clean and casual, yet still romantic enough for a date night to ask your long suffering girlfriend of seven years for her hand in marriage. The last part is merely a suggestion.

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With the refit came a new Head Chef and a fresh approach. Nathan Eades joins Executive Chef, Luke Tipping, in the kitchen creating food that is identifiable with the old Simpsons, yet lighter and more modern in style. I have eaten here more frequently than any other starred restaurant and can gladly report that the food is better than ever. Not only have they moved straight to the top of Birmingham, they are now competing with the big boys across the country.

The opening act sets the scene for the evening. A tapioca cracker given the Just For Men treatment with squid ink is the ideal foil for the creamiest of taramasalata dip, whilst a delicate cracker made from chickpea flour is topped with truffled mayo and flowers almost too pretty to eat.  Almost.  We save the pigs head until last for good reason. The unctuous meat is encased in tiny shards of pork crackling – try telling me you don’t want that now.   It is as fulfilling as two mouthfuls of food can get. Bread comes as a flaky tapenade roll and a sourdough that is almost as good as that from the Hedone bakery. For those familiar with the latter they know this to be the highest of compliments. The crust has bite, the crumb slightly elastic with large pockets of air. It is dreamy when smeared an inch thick with the salty whipped butter.

We are yet to reach the dishes ordered from the A La Carte menu and had already eaten some seriously good food. A starter of veal tartare exceeds this by being one of the best raw meat dishes I have ever eaten, the entire plate basked in light acidity from balls of apple and slices of kohlrabi.

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A carrot broth jewelled with herb oil is poured tableside onto a slow cooked duck egg with meaty hen of the wood mushrooms, and tangles of crispy pork for bite and saltiness.  Nasturtium add a gentle pepperiness not unlike watercress.  It’s a joy, and a visual joy at that.  Salmon is cured so that the texture firmed up, with sweet raw obsiblue prawns seasoned with a little lemon juice, caviar, cucumber, and a buttermilk dressing.  The dish requires little in the way of cooking and an expert hand in balancing the sweet and the acidity.  It nails it, producing a bowl full of complexity that celebrates the best in produce.

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Beef comes as a rare cannon of rump and a wedge of brisket so softly cooked it concedes at the merest suggestion of pressure.  Add to this a fat spear of white asparagus, petals of charred shallot, mushrooms, potato puree seasoned with crisp bone marrow, and what you have is a plate that produces new combinations with every forkful.  It is rooted in classicism, which is fine by me when it is done as well as this.

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I’ll cut to the chase with the other main course; it is the best lamb dish I have ever eaten.  The meat is a perfect medium, so tender it could have been cut with a palette knife.  Garlic is represented both as subtle wild leaves and a pungent fermented emulsion, with a sheeps curd that seasons and elevates.  The sauce is a thing of beauty which we used the last of the bread to mop up, then our fingers to chase the last dots when that runs out.

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Pre dessert is a clever little ice cream made from buttermilk with lemon gel that evokes a healthy breakfast with its crunchy oats topping, whilst successfully transitioning from savoury through to sweet.  One of the sweet courses is batons of poached rhubarb with a sorbet of the same fruit, shards of muscovado sugar, and a burnt cream that works in a similar style to a crème brulee, albeit in a much more cheffy, modern fashion.

IMG_8814 The other dessert.  My God, the other dessert.  A caramelised rectangle of filo pastry is the canopy for a serious amount of work that riffs on the flavour profile of coffee.  There is white chocolate, aerated, and again as a mousse, chocolate sponge, Nesspresso granite, and an ice cream made from spiced speculoo biscuit.  It is dark and funky.  Creamy and indulgent.  It delivers on every level.   It is one of the very best desserts I have eaten.

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Perfect.  It’s not a word I use too often, but Simpsons delivered a perfect evening.  The bill, creeping in at just over a hundred quid a head including a lovely Hungarian red and a couple of ports, felt very fair for food that was clearly to me at two star level.  It was intriguing, elegant cooking with real personality.  It’s surely just a matter of time before Michelin acknowledges this and elevates it to the level it belongs.  Simpsons is up there with the very best in the country, and we, the good folk of Birmingham, should embrace our finest restaurant at every opportunity.

10/10

Simpsons Restaurants Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tim Ho Wan, Hong Kong

A short post by my recent rambling standards, though one I feel is warranted after the previous post on Tin Lung Heen.  I initially wasn’t going to post on Tim Ho Wan, as it was a quick feeding stop for us, yet it offers a different perspective on dim sum dining in Hong Kong; one that is affordable, albeit still frustrating in a different way.

Tim Ho Wan is often referred to as ‘The Worlds Cheapest Michelin Starred Restaurant’, I statement that I certainly wont argue with.  Those familiar with the criteria of Michelin should dispel any preconceptions and approach with caution.  Fine dining, this is not.  No reservations and a queue at whatever time you visit where you are given a slip of paper and a pencil to pre-select the food.  Once you get through the door its a bit like my sexual ability; over too quickly and prone to disappointment.

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We try a variety of dim sum; fresh spring rolls are gelatinous and difficult on the mouth, the chicken mixture inside light on seasoning.  Turnip cake are bland and slightly bitter.  Steamed beef balls are soggy and slimy balls of regurgitated mess.  It takes baked buns to save the day, donut-like sweet buns filled with soft pork meat.  We order seconds.

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For want of a better word, service is not as we, or at least I, know it.  The lady in the queue barks a number to be remembered when its time to eat, servers deliver endless streams of to multiple tables at once, and the bill is taken at to the counter where an elderly lady speaks down to me whilst staring into my vacant soul.  Its an in-and-out operation, cheap and efficient and merciless.  The bill, for three of us and tea to drink, reached £11.70 – less than a bottle of mineral water at Tin Lung Heen – which confirms it as ‘The Cheapest Michelin Starred Restaurant In The World To Not Have A Michelin Starred Experience At’.  Did I enjoy it?  I liked the pork.  But for less than four pound a head I couldn’t really care less.

6/10

Tin Lung Heen, Hong King

Hong Kong is a city punctuated with sky scrapers. From the ground they pierce the horizon like needle points, each a place of work or home for people who don’t mind not having a garden. The highest of these concrete high points is the ICC tower, ninth tallest building in the world, to be found via a maze of ground level building sites that will one day be the new financial district. The top floors of the building belong to the very swish Ritz-Charlton hotel, itself home to this afternoons lunch at the two Michelin star Tin Lung Heen, which must be the highest starred restaurant on the planet. It’s trivial, of course, and the height should hardly matter, but there can be few places on the planet where the view is quite as spectacular.

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The restaurant is a pretty one; ornate and comfortable, elegant and demure. Tables are dressed in thick white linen, spaced well apart over the thick cream carpet. There are flourishes of red that cut through the glossy black walls, whilst the back wall is reserved for Chinese wines and sakes for those whose budget is non-existent. Indeed, this is a place to splurge; we had to search the wine list for a bottle under £75.00 and held our breath when the bill showed mineral water to be £11.50 per bottle. Those dining here come for Catonese food with the most precious of ingredients – they do not come expecting a bargain.

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We start with two dim sum: Excellent cuts of Iberico pork shoulder, barbequed to a dusty pink and glazed  with honey, are stunning – the meat dissolving on the tongue without any effort.  The other was a steamed dumpling with dried scallop, fish maw (dried bladder, if you really want to know), and shrimp.  It was the taste of the sea if the sea had curled up and died, all wrapped up in a soggy polythene casing.  This won’t be the first time that I say this, and I am sure this was exactly how it was supposed to be prepared, but it wasn’t for me.  The flavour was too stagnant, the texture too alien.  It was lost on me, and I’m quite happy for everyone to know that.

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My face said it all on the next course.  A murky soup with lumps of boiled pork shin so grey they could have passed for British summertime, with winter melon of no distinct taste and more of the dried scallop.  There was dried longon, a bit like lycee, which added the faintest of acidity.  It was not nice and none of us got close to finishing it.  Our waiter, the brilliant and affable Leo, tried his best by offering an alternative soup, but by now we just wanted to move on it from it all.

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We moved on to accurately cooked scallops, with souffled pastry pieces and a finely chopped salsa of green onion and ginger.  On the other side of the plate was Chinese kale, which tasted a lot like tenderstem broccoli, and pine nuts.  The precision of all the elements was two star cooking; the veg precisely prepared and cooked, the scallops with a gently caramelised crust.  It was just dull.  Nothing slapped you around the chops or gave you a hug. The morsels of duck that followed were so tender that canines nor molars were required to work, sat in a deeply flavoured black bean sauce to which we piled in rice full of interest with bits of goose, abalone and shrimps.  Lovely, yes, though hardly two star worthy.

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We finish on a dessert that would divide the table.  A set milk cream (panna cotta, if you so like), with a gelatinous peach compote and a fat slice of black truffle.  Whilst my dining companions hated the way that the truffle bullied its way through the dessert, perfuming the milk and overpowering the peach, I actually quite liked it and ended up with three lots to eat.  The honeyed bit of pastry on the side was a nice sweet note to end on, the over set grapefruit jelly less so.

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I’d read a bit about the dubious nature of Michelin in Hong Kong prior to my trip and this meal confirmed pretty much all I read as true.  Maybe I’m wrong, but nothing struck me as truly two star cooking.  Yes, its precise and yes they use luxury ingriedients, but many of those ingredients added nothing to the meal other than an increased cost.  Maybe it’s me and my uncultured western palate.  We indulged a little in the wine list and left with a hefty bill that quickly soared into the hundreds.  For that we had the loftiest of views in a lofty city and a distinctly average meal that left me feeling a little cold all over.

5/10

Purnell’s, Birmingham

Blame it all on Purnell. My food obsession. This blog.  It all stems from him. Some thirteen years back I was a slender twenty-year-old with a food knowledge that amounted to knowing what should be ordered at Nando’s (I now know the real answer; nothing).  Good food was yet to find a way into my life, along with humility and fitted jeans.  It took a girl and a Jay Rayner write-up for me to book a table at Jessica’s in Edgbaston that would alter my view forever.  Behind the stove was a young Glynn Purnell, a talented chef with what I now understand to be considerable experience in some very serious kitchens.  A main of chicken with gamborini prawn would instantly convert me and slowly lead me on a path that had accumulated in four extra inches on my waistband, forty or so Michelin starred restaurants and, more recently, this restaurant blog.

Mr Purnell soon left Jessica’s to open his eponymous restaurant, a place I visited before it won it’s star, though had not been to in some time.  The room is agreeable and modern, carpeted with comfortable chairs and heavy black wooden tables.  It feels effortlessly cool, which is reinforced by unstuffy service and a soundtrack which included The XX.  Dinner options are a shorter menu at £68 or a longer one at £88 with flexibility over certain courses.  We choose the shorter one with the supplement of an additional dish.

The opening gambit was sensational; a witty play (indeed, if ever there were one word to describe Purnell’s cooking it would be witty) of cheese and pineapple on sticks.  A fondue covers a fine dice of pineapple with sticks of dried pasta and a crumbly parmesan tuile for texture.  On to this a pineapple granita is shovelled tableside, the temperature differential seemingly intensifying the familiar flavours.

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A duck egg shell hides a yolk in amongst a cauliflower veloute with teeny bits of bacon and black pudding for texture.  Its pretty, refined and elegant, though its hard to get excited about when compared to its alternative, a slow cooked yolk sat proudly on a milk foam flavoured by smoked haddock and drizzled with curry oil.  It looks like a fried egg but close your eyes and its kedgeree.  A croquette of haddock on the side is there to add fish to the fishless fish course.

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Chicken liver parfait is shrouded by a red wine jelly, the deep flavour of the offal checked by its acidity.  Its a brilliant bit of cooking that tastes every bit as good as it looks.  Red currants and turnip braised in port for natural sweetness, toasted grains for substance and bite.  The very best chefs know when to add or detract from a dish, here every element was required.  A doughnut filled with beetroot so heavily reduced it could have been mistaken for raspberry sat on the side.  I asked for more to come with my coffee at the end.  They incorrectly assumed I was joking.

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Monkfish masala was one of two dishes that made it to the banquet at Great British Menu’s 2008-2009.  The fish is good but could have handled more spice in my opinion, and is overshadowed by the best yellow dhal I have ever tried, all length and character and spice.  Lamb neck is braised so slowly a spoon could have easily replaced the meat knife, the lacquer it sits in used to coat the meat to a mirrored sheen.  With it comes pumpkin thrice; a silky puree, a caramelised rectangle topped with candied pumpkin and fennel seeds, and a carpaccio marinated in orange.  It sings.  The combination of slow cooked ovine, anise, and citrus could have been North African, yet here it is modern French in style, perfectly delivered.

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The first of desserts is almost unrecognisable from its GBM victory.  Burnt custard sits in an egg shell high above a plate containing toasted seeds, a blackberry ice cream and thin shards of honeycomb.  The blowtorched topping cracks to give way to a vanilla rich custard that hides a little gooseberry puree at the bottom.  As lovely as they are, these ‘signatures’ sat down my pecking order of my favourites when compared to some of the newer dishes, which were cleaner in their approach and bigger in flavour.  This comparison highlighted by a lemon meringue pie, golden in colour, with a high meringue dome that released a blackberry sauce when chopped into.  The theatrics would mean nothing if the taste wasn’t there and boy it was, all short pastry and balanced acidity from the lemon curd and blackberry sauce.  This is a future classic.

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We finish up with tart jellies, a chocolate orange bar with popping candy and chocolate domes filled with peanut butter, ending the meal on a suitably sweet note.  The bill, with two good bottles of wine between three, working out well in excess of a hundred pound each, which is value for money given the quality of food served over the two and a bit hours we enjoyed.  Purnell’s are one of five starred restaurants in Birmingham and much has been made of which one will make the jump to their second.   For me, three of them are contenders, though judging on this performance Purnell’s may have just stolen the lead.  A superb meal of fun and flawless execution.

9/10

Purnell's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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

The Elephant, Torquay

On a sunny day like the one we enjoyed, its hard to believe that Torquay is in England.  The quay is an expanse of yacht’s and fishing boats, the promenade a seemingly polite place to people watch with a cold glass of rose in hand.  Everything glistens.  Try to stifle those chuckles but we could have easily had been in the south of France.  To the far end of the harbour is the award winning The Elephant.  The chef and proprietor, Simon Hulme, has pedigree; he has represented blighty at the Bocuse d’Or and the restaurant has held a Michelin star for many years.  Booking dinner there for our only night in Torquay was an easy choice.

The restaurant itself is a bright space with washed out hues of blues and yellows, with wooden tables nicely spread out.  We dive straight in with nibbles whilst perusing the wine list.  Olive focaccia was pleasant enough, with high quality olive oil to dunk the aerated break into.  A scotch egg followed, the runny quails egg encased in a mixture of pork and quail.  Outside the crisp breadcrumbs were sat in a smooth arrabbiata sauce full of heat.  Give me a box of these with a pint of the black stuff down the road at Seamus O’Donnells and I’ll be a happy man.

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We move on to a pretty plate of opaque beetroot slices draped over whipped goats cheese.  It is a dish that benefits from the acidic and warming pickled mustard seeds without ever moving on to anything great.  Elsewhere a singular pigs cheek sat atop of a fine dice of celeriac ‘risotto’.   I like it; its a culinary hug with unquestionable cookery on display.

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Slices of lamb rack follow, the meat perfectly pink even if the thick ribbon of fat has not been rendered down enough to my taste.  Not that this matters. The other parts of the plate are a total joy; a potato fondant so buttery it should come with its own defibrillator, with a precisely cooked sweetbread on top.  There is a croquette of lamb shoulder meat that reinforces the ovine flavour whilst working in perfect harmony with a spikey garlic and anchovy gremolata.  Carrots and peas washed down with the most weightless of lamb sauces.  It’s spring on a plate.  It’s seriously impressive.

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The vegetarian option is the lightest of pithivier’s, the filling of squash and spinach boldly seasoned.  The star on the plate were the baby onions, meltingly tender and with a real depth of flavour.  My only complaint is that both vegetarian options were so light my girlfriend felt that they would been better suited to a multi-course menu.  Two courses in, and at the end of the savoury courses, she was still hungry.

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Desserts were knockout.  A chocolate mousse with the richest of salted caramel centres was a sure-fire hit.  The tuile and biscuits crumbs providing nice additional textures, whilst a yogurt ice cream was a much needed  relief from all of the richness.  Best was a lemon and passionfruit tart, all bruleed top and silky interior.  A banana sorbet of impossible depth added to the tropical fruitiness and was a nice counterbalance to the sharp tart.

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The bill, including a good bottle of Sancerre, tipped in at just over £120 and felt fair, even if we both could had easily had eaten another course.  Service was kind, though a bit rushed as we were in and out in a little over an hour.  It was impressive stuff; near faultless cooking, with a light touch to all dishes.  From the clientele it was obvious that is the destination restaurant for the Torbay area.  The Elephant continues to stampede on.

8/10

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