I know that Adam Stokes is an excellent chef even before I step though the door of Adam's, his recently opened restaurant in Birmingham, because last year, several hundred miles north on the west coast of Scotland, I got to eat his food at Glenapp Castle where he earned his first Michelin star (read the blog post here
). In this year's Michelin awards, they again awarded Adam a star, rightly so, but what's changed of course is that it is now his name over the door, meaning that he is free to take his own risks while having every incentive to succeed. On the basis of our meal there, and the full restaurant around him, the risks are being rewarded and Birmingham is already embracing his cuisine.
The restaurant is modestly sized and tastefully done. Staff have strong backgrounds with previous experience at the likes of L'enclume and Midsummer House while Adam's wife Natasha overseas FOH operations as she did at Glenapp. The food is focused on contemporary fine dining and at lunch there is a choice between a set lunch menu (£25 for three courses), five courses tasting (£45) and a nine course tasting (£75). And Adam is definitely doing his own thing: on the five course tasting menu, the 'main' course is pheasant while on the nine course it's hare. On the day of our meal, other savoury courses on the 9 include mallard and venison meaning that pork, beef and lamb are all sidelined in the main menu in favour of game dishes, surely a brave move for a new restaurant to run with anywhere quite frankly. We say good for Adam.
Already then, there's a sense that Adam is doing his own thing and as the food starts to arrive, it's clear he's doing it well. Beef, off the main menu, has only a supporting role as a one bite canape tartare topped with mini egg yolks, it's lovely, while the chicken croquettes that preceded this are also well executed and undoubtedly good to eat. On the menu items however, the hard work and technical skill becomes apparent.
The menu running order of course is not what you expect, scallops are served after mallard and venison but the food here is less heavy than you'd imagine from the description and the order works well enough as it zigs and zags. Plates pop with colour such that charred sweetcorn and grapefruit bring vibrancy to pollock and artfully plated, every dish is instantly a treat to behold even before you reach for your cutlery. Combinations work well so that golden raisins team effectively with mallard and blackberries are perfect with a tartare of fallow venison, a combination that we cannot remember seeing before yet one that is so absolutely right. Smoked eel, definitely a chef's favourite this year provides depth to scallops that also benefits from baby leeks and sorrel.
At Glenapp, Adam earned 4 AA Rosettes and that technical competence is evident throughout, every piece of fish and meat, every sauce and garnish is spot on. In the theme of mixing things up, we were initially surprised to see foie gras on the menu after the main course but here it's put to work within the crossover dish bringing sweetness shaved over rhubarb that makes for another excellent creation. Apple, ginger, cinnamon and vanilla is smartly done and invokes winter apple pie but without the weight after a big meal, while pears, figs and pedro ximenez packages a fresh sorbet with the intense concentration from the pedro ximenez such that desserts show the same level of originality as the savouries.
Adam and Natasha are young, this is their first owned restaurant and just six months have passed since they opened the doors, yet there's no sense they need time to bed down, to find their feet, rather, they're already delivering at the highest level. The meal is elegant, inventive, sophisticated, superbly executed and enjoyable to eat. We'd be happy to put money on Adam getting a second star in the coming years. Adam's restaurant is good news for Birmingham, and good news for British food: another success story in the making.
beetroot and goats cheese macarons
chicken croquettes/beef tartare
Jerusalem artichoke, chorizo, egg yolk
Pollock, coriander, charred sweetcorn, curry
Mallard, pine kernel, jasmine, golden raisin
Fallow venison, blackberry, walnut, beetroot
Scallops, smoked eel, baby leeks, sorrel
hare, purple sprouting broccoli, red cabbage
rhubarb, foie gras, black pepper
apple, ginger, cinnamon
pear, figs, pedro ximenez
Mention that you're going to Birmingham to eat and you're immediately asked 'Purnell's?'. Reasonable question, for Glynn Purnell has stamped his name on the Birmingham food scene like Sat Bains has in Nottingham and Daniel Clifford has in Cambridge, the association made all the easier by Glynn's branding as The Yummie Brummie. Birmingham has been a noticeable absence on the blog for some time, generally because when we feel like a break from the UK's largest city, visiting the UK's second largest city hardly seemed the place to go. Nothing personal then, but heading back home from Cumbria, Birmingham is ideally situated to break up the journey.
Even if you are not on Twitter, even if you have never visited Birmingham, if you like food you'll almost certainly have come across Glynn on Great British Menu where in 2008 he was a winner with his dessert (strawberries with tarragon) going on to achieve a back to back win in 2009 with the fish course (Masala spiced monkfish with red lentils). Thereafter, he was a regular fixture as a judge. Purnell's restaurant meanwhile opened in 2007 and was awarded a Michelin star in January 2009. On the website, they describe the restaurant's style as 'chic, contemporary fine dining'.
The restaurant is spacious with a large bar area and a dining area where tables are nicely spaced. Staff are enthusiastic and represent the restaurant well and the wine list is fabulous in breadth and price. Menuwise, the's an Autumn Lunch Menu (£30, three courses), Autumn Menu (£60, five courses) or The Purnell's Tour (£80, nine courses). Well, we don't make it to Birmingham too often so it was the Purnell's Tour, a menu described as dishes that are important to Glynn from 'the past, present and future'.
Ahead of food, there's bread, and we have to say this is some of the nicest bread we have ever eaten in a restaurant. Made in house from a special French grain, it's light and airy with whipped butter and salt on the side, there's plenty of it too and it would be all to easy to eat the whole loaf but with a tasting menu coming, that would probably be a bad idea. Unusually for an amuse, salt baked potatoes are served which are lovely but the carbs are piling up and we haven't even reached the menu yet.
The first course is called 'emotions of cheese and pineapple on sticks' and is a take on the 1970's party snack. While this runs the risk of being, err, cheesy, they pull it off with goats cheese, candied and jelly pineapple and a gougere served separately on the side, this core and satellite approach appearing in many dishes served. Purnell's has a reputation for injecting humour into dishes which can be risky but as we would see throughout the menu, the cooking is very technically sound such that the humour is not getting in the way of the food.
Haddock and eggs, cornflakes and curry oil, a sort of breakfast mash up with a haddock lollipop on the side was nice enough, a perfectly done yolk, great haddock, but aside of its technical competence, it felt a little bit too ordinary to be a star on fine dining tasting menu. A deconstructed remoulade next was our least favourite of the menu with celeriac first, then a buttery mustard spoonful followed by a glass of pop to clean up. Here, pulling apart the flavours of a normally combined dish adds nothing to it in our view.
The next two dishes fare much better where great ingredients are nicely done. A carpaccio of beef with red wine octopus, home cured beef and salt beef together with an almost marmalade presentation of onions; the beef just shines. Likewise, native lobster and Devonshire crab mayonnaise is not overly fussy but benefits from that with the menu now hitting the brief (chic, contemporary fine dining) in our view.
Monkfish masala we already know is an award winning dish for Glynn and it's hard to fault; we doubt monkfish could ever be more precisely cooked than this. The main is Balmoral venison with creme fraiche potato and it offers up full flavoured venison (it was a very large deer by all accounts) that is again precise albeit a somewhat more mainstream dish.
The first dessert we absolutely loved, combining the classic flavours of mint and chocolate with the table side play of dry ice on dry mint to wash the table with minty aroma. Like cheese and pineapple, there's an appeal here to the inner child that does in fact work and not enjoying this dish seems an impossibility for any chocolate lover. The burnt English custard egg surprise is perhaps the only place where technical precision slips and the burnt sugar topping is so thick, requiring such force from the spoon to crack, we fear an incident and almost leave it uneaten our of appropriate caution. The custard itself when we do break through is excellent though we fail to remember what the surprise is.
Overall, the standard of cooking in Purnell's is excellent and there are some really enjoyable dishes here. Looking to other blog posts dating back a couple of years, we do note the tasting menu hasn't really changed that much though arguably, that's what purpose the Autumn menu serves. Even so, we wonder whether it best highlights his talents to so firmly anchor the flagship tasting menu to the past in a contemporary restaurant? But we very much enjoyed our time at Purnell's, the staff, the wine pairings and of course the food. If located in London, he would no doubt have a full restaurant here also. In short, this is without doubt worthy of its star and understandably a go to place in Birmingham.
salt baked potatoes
emotions of pineapple on sticks "soixante-dix"
Haddock and eggs - cornflakes - curry oil
Carpaccio of beef - red wine octopus - home cured beef - salt beef
Native lobster - Devonshire crab mayonnaise
Monkfish masala - Indian red lentils - pickled carrots - coconut - coriander
Balmoral venison - creme fraiche potato
Minty Choccy Chip
Minty Choccy Chip
Violet cream with blueberry and lime sorbet
English blackberries - black pepper honeycomb - tarragon
Burnt English custard surprise
Since we last visited L'enclume, the awards have continued to pile up: a second star, overtaking The Fat Duck in The Good Food Guide for the number 1 spot, Restaurant of the Year by several awarding bodies and numerous awards for Simon Rogan personally. And despite the old kitchen being in our view one of the very best we've seen since starting the blog, they've had a kitchen refurb because for the team at L'enclume, there's no standing still, there's a relentless drive to be better and better and better, no easy task given their starting point. Yet the reality is that they do continue to improve, something we see with each of our visits and the food leaves us once again speechless as to the brilliance of the offering.
While much ink has, and will continue to be splashed in explaining the remarkable food served at L'enclume, part of it surely lies in the paradox between the honesty of local ingredients, many from their own farm just up the road, and the cutting edge cooking techniques often employed including the use of centrefuges, blast chillers, low pressure evaporators etc such that the food is not only beyond the realm of the home cook, it's beyond the grasp of many a professional chef also. And as one veteran two star chef said to us the other day, Simon's grasp of ingredients is utterly remarkable, perhaps the best of any chef in the country. Mark Birchall meanwhile continues to head up the kitchen and most of the dishes, while unmistakably L'enclume, are new to us despite having eaten there several times previously. And though the menu extends to 20 odd courses, you always feel that the L'enclume team have many more ideas than a single menu permits and it remains a hub of fertile energy.
The form of the meal will be familiar to all fans of Rogan's food, ten or so canape style bites including the remarkable oyster pebbles, a fantastically indulgent smoked eel with ham fat and a full on ragout of pigeon offal. In the larger savouries, there's the cod 'yolk', the Westcombe (cheese) dumplings that seem to get better every time, venison in charcoal oil, a signature dish now surely, as well as a fish 'main' of butter poached brill with razor clams and a meat 'main' of aged Dexter, cabbage, mushrooms, salsify and dittander. And if you like desserts, there's six of those, though don't expect any chocolate, rather, pear, quince, blackberries, meadowsweet and even celeriac, something only they can get away with. L'enclume offers a menu that in our view is unique in many aspects, even among Michelin starred tasting menus.
L'enclume is our favourite restaurant in the UK and the food there is, in our opinion, without doubt three star. Technically excellent, always surprising, humourous, innovative, wide ranging and let's be clear on this, unfailingly enjoyable to eat. For only a few lucky people is L'enclume close by, but no matter how far it is from where you live, L'enclume is always worth the journey.
Artichoke with truffle
Cream cheese wafer
Smoked eel with ham fat (foreground), Ragstone, malt, tarragon (behind)
squid, chicken, ricotta
Raw scallop, sea fennel, caviar, rocket
Pigeon with offal ragout
butternut, shrimp, mace
Cod 'yolk' with watercress, salt and vinegar
Beetroot broth, westcombe dumpling and nasturtium
Valley venison, charcoal oil, mustard and fennel
Langoustine, parsnip, black pudding, hazelnut and cured yolk
Potatoes in onion ashes, lovage and wood sorrel
Butter poached brill with razor clams, radishes, elderberry capers
Aged Dexter, cabbage, mushrooms, salsify, dittander
Burnt pear, fromage blanc, beetroot, anise hyssop
Iced coltfoot cream with butternut, mint lactose ('slate' on slate)
Buttermilk custard with caramelised quince, rosehip, muscovado, honey oats
Blackberries and malt, perilla and pearl barley
Meadowsweet, granny smith, sorrel and walnuts
Celeriac, sweet cheese, woodruff, Douglas fir and apple
Some chefs are simply exciting and Sat Bains is one of them. Our return to his restaurant is long overdue and electricity pylons do a better job than SatNav in guiding us to his front door once again. While it has been an amazing couple of years for him professionally, Sat is still to be found in his kitchen, a broad smile on his face and sharing generously his excellent wit. While he has plans to open a small restaurant in Nottingham town centre (possibly 2014), for now, Restaurant Sat Bains is still his only venue and as such, gets the full focus of his creative energies, anchoring Nottingham on the culinary map. His dedication to it is one of many admirable traits for he can't be short of other offers.
If you haven't yet got a copy of Sat Bains' book Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian, you should, it really is fantastic and more or less makes blog posts on his restaurant (like this one) redundant as the book so comprehensively covers everything he is about, what the restaurant is about and what the food is about. His philosophy is woven into every part of the book but one page captures things well when he says
Be the best. Work hard - work fast - work clean. Every ingredient has to be the best we can afford. Seasons have to rule the kitchen. Only allow minimal manipulation when necessary. Elevate flavours through understanding. Cook as if you are eating. Waste is poor workmanship. Extraction of flavour is our role in life as cooks. Balance of menus is our obligation to our guests. Health is crucial in menu planning. Seasoning is a true skill so taste, taste, and taste again. Our goal is to be the best so we should act like the best.
There's a shorter and a longer tasting menu, and it's nice to see that the shorter menu is not simply an abbreviation of the longer menu but has been crafted in its own right, both look incredibly tempting. We don't get to Nottingham nearly enough to have the shorter menu, we want to try as many plates as possible, so it's the full 10 courses. Portion sizes are ideal, well judged to see you through the meal rather than overwhelming you early.
The food at Sat's seeks to open your eyes (and mind) a little with combinations, textures and temperatures that you perhaps don't expect. Early savouries include 'chicken muesli' which are two words you rarely find together and when brought to the table, the chicken is not apparent, appearing only as a bowl of muesli, but dig down and through and cool creamy chicken liver resides below the surface giving that pop of surprise as textures and temperatures (and of course taste) put a smile on your face. In common with much else that's on the menu, it's lighter than you might imagine and the menu skips along easily enough.
Elsewhere in the early savouries, it's a mix of the familiar and unfamiliar in many ways. There's a beautifully caramelised scallop which is a fair opening gambit for any top end restaurant, though root vegetables with bearnaise and umami heavy dashi leads into the main course and is the kind of creation that marks somewhere like RSB as worthy of a special journey. The main, hare, comes in two parts leading out with a 'hare sausage roll' that pushes the game flavours of hare to the right side of the limit. With the sausage roll gone, hare dusted in szechuan arrives and is served with cauliflower, pear, stilton and chocolate for a super rich umami packed main. Hare is always quite an intense dish but here it's controlled, not overwhelming and the pear provides freshness and acidity to counter when it feels like you might drown in the umami. It's good cooking.
There's a crossover lolly, beetroot mivvis (mivvis being originally a Lyons Maid ice cream, memories from childhood then) before another childhood favourite: rice pudding. This is a grown up version though, the rice separate from the cream and served with a sake granita on top; it's heaven, leaving you to curse the tasting menu portions for a giant bowl of this would have been readily eaten by us both. Then a beautiful chocolate dish that inevitably gets compared to an Aero but included here is a mystery ingredient that you're invited to guess. We did (yay!), but we wont spoil the surprise. It's dessert heaven here as you are further served blueberries and finally bread and butter pudding, though again, both are outside the box and all desserts were so so good.
The location of the restaurant is, as has been often commented upon, not an obvious one and to have made it the success it is requires you to admire and respect Sat's achievement. With a great menu of original offerings, you have to admire and respect Sat's food also. Meanwhile, front of house were simply excellent and with a chef's table, kitchen table and kitchen bench, you might well be interacting with the kitchen team during your meal, and guess what, they're lovely too. In Restaurant Sat Bains, Sat has created something special and it's without doubt a must visit destination for those who love food and are food curious.
Spelt, turnip, cepes
Roast roots, bearnaise, dashi
Hare 'Yorkshire moors' cauliflower, pear, stilton, chocolate
Rice pudding, plum, sake
Chocolate, cherry, ?
Blueberries, pine, cobnut
Bread & Butter pudding
after dinner chocolate
If you needed an indicator of how far Britain has come gastronomically, the Smokehouse is as good as any. As a makeover of a local pub, the Smokehouse very much remains at its core a pub as witnessed by its remarkable range of beers, but on the food side, under the creative leadership of Neil Rankin (Pitt Cue, John Salt), they have put in place a menu unlike any we have seen elsewhere in the UK, in either a pub or restaurant. This alone is a creditable fact.
If over the past couple of years you still haven't come across Chef Neil Rankin, he is a classically trained chef but has chosen a direction that usually involves a good piece of meet and fire. The menu here plays with that concept in full such that even a vegetarian curry option is described as a 'coal roasted aubergine curry'. And while the back blackboard states as most good places do now that their beef is sourced here and their fish is sourced their, at Smokehouse they even discuss the sustainability of their woodchips that put the smoke into Smokehouse.
We modestly over-ordered because there's so many temptations on the menu that narrowing it down to just a couple of dishes is too hard and we want to get a sense of what's on offer. The kitchen kindly send out some extra food also, such that we really got to see a lot of the menu.
Starters offer a full range of wonderful sounding items and the Twitter-verse had been raving about the foie gras, apple pie and duck egg so we felt we really should see what the fuss is about. But remembering that Neil's crab dish in his previous gaff was a knockout we couldn't pass over his crab on toast here either to see what he makes of it and, for good unhealthy measure, we ordered too the duck confit with fourme d'ambert on toast.
All plates were generously proportioned and the foie gras dish, at £10, didn't skimp on the foie making it actually very good value such that foie gras lovers everywhere should just flock to Smokehouse because the foie gras itself is a beautiful example of the kind and pairing it with an apple pie to provide both acidity and texture is both fun and interesting, all coated with a highly viscous slow cooked egg. The crab however was also a big hit because it's not 'just' crab on toast but a lobster/crab bisque reduction sauce also coats the toast for additional depth of flavour elevating it above what is so often served elsewhere making it quite special.
The benefits of Smokehouse being a smokehouse are most obvious on the mains where the smoky aromas and flavours have worked themselves deep into the mutton chops leaving you in no doubt of the benefits of Neil's style of cooking. A peppered ox-cheek comes with a densely sticky and dark peppery glaze but we're both in agreement that the absolute star of the mains is the shortrib bourguignon where the beef arrives as a single cut on the bone and is meltingly tender from goodness knows how long it's been cooking through the day: it really is a special piece of meat and no-one who enjoys beef surely could do anything but adore this. For us, only the smoked pork rib-eye failed to work, its merits to us unclear. We also got to sample a side of the Korean pulled pork which is simply excellent, though quite which main would make you think 'I think I had better order a side of pork to go with this' we have no idea.
The food here is generously portioned and quite rich such that most people we imagine would leave Smokehouse satisfied in every way. We've said a few times now on the blog that a lot of the pub food in London just isn't that special but Neil's menus are always interesting and for a pub in Islington to be doing food like this is simply fantastic. For the carnivores of the world then, Smokehouse then is a must: Neil has a real passion for this type of food it seems and it shows.
Crab on toast
foie gras, apple pie and duck egg
duck confit with fourme d'ambert & toast
Mutton chops, caponata with 'nduja migas, anbchovies & parsley
Peppered ox cheek with cauliflower cheese and gravy
Smoked pork rib-eye with lard & pancetta
Korean pulled pork (side dish)
Vanilla vanilla vanilla
Serious chefs (Thomas Keller) to serious food journalists (Matthew Fort) all agree there's no such thing as perfection in hospitality... and yet?
And yet, when we pull our thesaurus off the shelf in search of synonyms, we find: completeness, exactness, excellence, exquisiteness, faultlessness, integrity, maturity, precision, purity, sublimity. This to us sounds a lot like Le Manoir. In fact, it doesn't just sound like Le Manoir, it is Le Manoir and following a visit there to celebrate a special day, we again reflect with wonder how they can get everything so right every time.
While the question 'any dietary requirements' for us is usually met with the straightforward answer 'no', on this occasion we said yes: being truffle season and a special occasion, we would like truffles incorporated into every dish please! We should add that advance notice was given to the kitchen on this request, rather than surprise them on the day, and our thanks to Chef Gary Jones and team for working so hard to make this happen.
Still in the car, the pulse always quickens slightly as Le Manoir comes into view and as you pull up the drive to the front of the house. After the warmest of greetings at the door (Le Manoir team are unrivaled in knowing how to make you feel welcome on arrival), we have a drink, canapes and time to view the menu in front of a real log fire in one of the Manoir's sitting rooms. Through to the dining room, we feel excited about the experience to come and so it seems do the staff. The staff at Le Manoir have the highest professional standards and yet are able to engage without awkwardness at a very personal level which again is really very special and while all members of staff were amazing yesterday, James and Brad who specifically looked after us deserve their own mention: thank you.
Truffled eggs start the menu and immediately send you into sensory heaven. What we discover throughout the menu is that it's not just a menu where truffles are shaved on top (which of course is still perfectly nice), but it is a menu where truffles have been fully integrated through the dish so that with our egg, you initially taste the light creamy eggs and the shaved truffle on top, but as you spoon lower into the shell, new layers of truffle and something like a mushroom ketchup awaits, increasing the potency as you discover new depths. Having also selected from the bread basket their bacon bread, it feels like the ultimate breakfast.
Scottish langoustine with tender leeks is a characteristically beautiful dish from Le Manoir with splashes of colour, truffles on top and again worked through the dish together with some of the plumpest langoustine you could ever hope to find on your plate. A risotto of Alba truffles is insanely good, loaded with truffle and chanterelles, oozing rich, earthy complex flavours that please in the profoundest way and leaving you torn between satisfaction and devastation as you finish what's in the bowl: more please? Scallop and turbot 'forestiere' continue to deliver exceptional cuisine for your fish course, and then...
If you want to bring a dining room to an inquisitive silence, you could do worse than walk through it with an inflated pig's bladder in a copper saucepan. Our main course was Cotswold chicken breast 'en vessie'. Brought table side, the near perfect hemispherical bladder is punctured and the chicken breast on the bone removed from the bladder, the dark truffles tucked under the luminescent skin clearly visible. With each breast taken off the bone, sliced, then plated, further truffles are shaved on top at the table. In case that's not decadent enough foie gras runs through the sauce and a substantial cep sits on the plate anchoring this chicken in the forest also. It is possibly the best chicken dish we've ever had in a restaurant, the chicken so incredibly moist it's like a rediscovery of what chicken can be.
Brillat Savarin cheese, always amazing in its own right is made more amazing laced through with truffle and almost cascades off the board it's so runny. It's served with a celery salad and hazelnut for crunch. Our two dessert courses see profiteroles encompassing truffle ice cream followed by millionaire shortbread with black truffle toffee. Both are beautiful and remarkable, a more difficult challenge to encompass truffle into dessert but very smartly done and truffle ice cream is definitely something to crave when executed as cleverly as this. It's a perfect end to a perfect meal and we're too full to even finish petit fours taken in front of the sitting room fire (fortunately they are boxed and make the journey home with us).
Le Manoir offers a remarkable experience at every possible level. The menu we ate was simply incredible, the hotel itself romances you into submission, the staff are without doubt the very best in the industry, and all that means the sum of these parts is a giddy achievement. But above all that, Le Manoir connects with you emotionally, joy and comfort when you're there, separation and longing when you're not, while each visit fuels memories that last a lifetime and cumulatively deepens the bond you feel towards the house and the people who run it. Popular wisdom might say that perfection doesn't exist in the hospitality industry but even if that is true, it doesn't really matter, because Le Manoir is close enough.
the gardens, and entrance to the main manor house
Le Manoir from the grounds
canapes in the sitting room
Oeuf a la Truffle
Langoustine 'terre et mer'
Risotto a la truffle d'Alba
Turbot et Noix de Saint Jacques a la 'Forestiere' (Turbot & Scallop)
pigs bladder in pan brought to the table (left), truffles (centre), carving the chicken breast tableside (right)
truffle shaving and Poulet 'En Vessie'
Brillat Savarin a la Truffle et sa Salade de Celeri
Profiterolle de Truffle Blanche et Sauce aux Marrons (Chestnut)
Sable Millionaire, Caramel Mou a la Truffle Noire
Time to say Goodbye
The Anchor & Hope pub is a short walk away from Waterloo station and is a pub that has gained a strong reputation for food stretching back a decade. The philosophy for the style of food is derived from St John which then makes instant sense of the menu. Accordingly, you might find pig's head, grouse and hare on the menu and nothing resembling a 'pub classic'. Yet this is resolutely a pub where no bookings are taken, where they don't have a website and there is as much space given over to drinkers as there is to diners.
Because of the no bookings policy, you are generally advised to arrive early 'to avoid disappointment', though at 1pm on a Thursday lunchtime, the place is busy but there's the odd table available and this was no problem. While there is a dedicated dining room (one half of the pub), in the drinkers half you can still order food from the same menu which makes things a little easier. Being a pub, I go to the bar for a drink but they do offer to bring it to the table even in the pub section which is nice. Decor, as can be seen above, is proper London pub.
For starters, crab on toast appeals obviously, the warm snail and bacon salad is interesting (in a pub) cuttlefish in ink is certainly different for 'pub grub', but I settle on Pressed Pig's Head in Vinaigrette. My friend has the day's special, burrata and tomatoes. For me, three large, thin slices of pig's head arrive, generously topped with vinaigrette, capers and diced shallot. It's reasonably fatty but that ensures you are never short changed on flavour and there's an earthy note there too, but the combination of the vinaigrette, capers and shallot worked brilliantly, overlaying the fats to balance out the dish, such that it felt cleaner and even lighter, helped too by slices rather than larger chunks. The capers and shallots also ensured the dish never fell down on texture either.
On mains, my duck leg fills the bowl, a hulk of a leg that is dark enough, especially when sat on a bed of prunes, for me to worry whether they might have overdone it or not. They haven't and the duck is a real treat, crispy outside, still juicy meat inside, prunes and bacon adding salty sweetness. Only the mash was a disappointment, missing any lightness or fluffiness and too much hard work to bother with. My friend ordered the wild halibut with chickpeas in crab broth and enjoyed it, though as both mains arrive, I can't help but think that on presentation, they are not entirely doing their food justice but I'm sure many will argue that it's only the taste that matters (and they are a proper pub, not a fancy Michelin restaurant).
Desserts were a plum and almond tart and a 'lemon pot, cassis and shortbread'. I wondered how the cassis would be incorporated here and when it came sitting on the lemon pot (presumably straight out the bottle), I still wasn't sure what to make of it. It worked however fabulously well as the lemon pot had a nice little bite to it that the cassis then tamed leaving me more impressed with this £4 dessert than I possibly imagined I could be on ordering.
Overall then, The Anchor & Hope delivered a meal where I enjoyed all three courses and where the bill for that food came to just £23 before service which has to be seen as great value in anyone's book. Service was admittedly up and down but mostly friendly, and the genuine pub experience (decor, service, food presentation) will likely appeal to more customers than if their mash were in a quenelle not a dollop. Having been mostly disappointed by London's pub food so far, The Anchor & Hope impressed us with the diversity of its menu and the flavours they were able to extract from the ingredients. Given the price point too, we understand why The Anchor & Hope is considered one of London's top pubs for food.
pressed pig's head in vinaigrette
wild halibut with chickpeas in crab broth, rouille croutons
Braised duck leg, bacon, prunes and mashed potato
plum and almond tart and clotted cream
A little lemon pot, cassis and shortbread
We are willing our meal to be good here because even before we have any food in front of us, everything seems right about the Butchers Arms. First, the location. Located in Eldersfield, 10 miles north of Gloucester, it is in a part of the world blessed with amazing local produce and their website lists farms in Staunton, Ross on Wye, and Tirley (Glos) as key suppliers. Guessing too that their Hereford beef actually comes from Hereford while they are also close enough to the south west coast for day boat fish to be available.
Second, as you arrive in the village, this red brick pub which dates back to the 16th Century is just beautiful, and beautifully kept. It's what you want a rural pub to be and that remains with you when you step in side to low wood beams, the glow and warmth of a wood burner and an equally warm and effusive welcome from the owner and staff. What's more, it's a real pub, not a restaurant that was formerly a pub and they have guest ales (which sadly driving precluded me trying). That said, the place is pretty tiny and can't have room for more than 20 people sitting. Needless to say, booking is essential.
Third, we like the menu and basically want to have everything on it. Five starters, five mains, all begging to be ordered. Even an red onion tart, not something I might ordinarily go for sounds enticing as it comes dressed with 'melting wigmore cheese, balsamic dressing'. A Cornish fish soup is made from smoked cod, pan fried turbot and hake. Mains that we didn't go for included loin of fallow deer and a roasted Dover sole with chantrelle mushrooms.
The menu reads so well, can the chef pull it off?
So what did we order? We elected for some comfort starters, crispy middle white pig cheek with egg yolk ravioli, pennybu mushrooms, and Salcombe crab risotto. The pig cheek is pretty large portion, not far off what would be an acceptable main course in fact. Crucially, the egg yolk ravioli works perfectly and the pork packs in dense flavours with just the right amount of crisp while some apple sauce on the bottom clears the mouth with acidity and freshness so that even with the a larger portion size, you don't grow tired. This was a rich and classy dish and we loved it. Equally, the crab risotto showed its best side too with a suitably oozy texture. We have generally observed in the blog 'so goes the starters, so goes the meal' and these starters were good.
This time of year in the countryside, how could we not order the partridge? The crown is served up with faggot and onions while we assume the legs must have been confited as the meat fell off the bone after taking the first bite into it (making eating the legs a less messy affair than normal which was nice). This was exactly how partridge should be, the meat nice and moist and the delicate flavours preserved. I always like it just a little bit when I find a piece of shot in my game bird as a nod to provenance, and to be able to enjoy a precisely cooked partridge in a beautiful country pub seems to me one of the great pleasure in life. The fillet of beef showed equal precision in the cooking with some really great flavours to the beef. Only the small oxtail pie with it lets the side down, missing inside its own rich gravy. Given the quantity of food we have already been served, it's a minor matter.
Indeed, dessert is more out of curiosity and we share peanut caramel & pistachio macarons with pistachio ice cream, lemon & pear sorbet. Brown sugar donuts and orange marmalade pudding with Drambuie custard sound delightful but are definitely for another day. Maybe because we are full, maybe because it is slightly less country pub than what else we've enjoyed so far, but it doesn't quite deliver the same happy '"I never want to leave here" satisfaction as what's gone before.
London doesn't really do pubs with Michelin stars (except The Harwood Arms), while outside of London they are found in greater frequency. Some deliver outstanding cooking, like Royal Oak, Paley Street, while many others leave us aghast that they have been recognised by Michelin when the likes of The French, The Clove Club and Bubbledogs Kitchen Table have been passed over (as of the 2014 Guide). With The Butchers Arms however, we really did love it and as Tom Kerridge has shown everyone this year, the UK really is ready to embrace proper pub food. Indeed, even booking a couple of weeks in advance, we found The Butchers Arms to be full on our originally chosen day to eat there and we ended up moving our visit to accommodate when they had a table free. It was worth it.
If you are staying in the Gloucestershire area, you are now pretty much spoiled for choice when it comes to great places to eat, with Le Champignon Sauvage, Lords of The Manor, 5 North Street and Lumiere all in the county. We now add The Butchers Arms to this list (okay, it's technically Worcestershire by 20 yards), it's everything we think a country pub should be, and with game season upon us, it seems a great time of year to visit them. And with husband and wife team James and Elizabeth Winter so young, The Butchers Arms is another reason to celebrate British food and British restaurants. We'll certainly be back.
Crispy middle white pig cheek with egg yolk ravioli, pennybun mushrooms
as above, cutting in to the yolk
Salcombe crab risotto with avocado salsa, aged parmesan
Fillet of Hereford beef with oxtail pie, parsley dumpling, hispy cabbage & bacon
Roasted crown of partridge with faggot and onions, bashed neeps, mashed potatoes
Peanut caramel & pistachio macarons with pistachio ice cream, lemon & pear sorbet
We 'discovered' Casamia earlier this year when they were serving the Spring menu and were immediately enchanted. Run by brothers Jonray & Peter Sanchez-Iglesias, two of the UK's youngest holders of a Michelin star, Casamia offers seasonal tasting menus with cutting edge technique and predominantly British produce. We were so smitten by our first visit there that we resolved to return each season to try the new seasonal menu. With Spring and Summer under our belts, we were super excited to return to Casamia last week to sample Autumn.
Walking up the path to Casamia, an outside wood burner crackles and spits, throwing off the smells of Autumn, hinting at what's to come. There's the usual warm welcome from Carrie on entering the restaurant and those of keen eye will notice that even the pictures on the wall have changed, the sunny beaches of summer have given way to scenes of Autumnal woodlands.
The menu confidently embraces the season and the greens of summer have given way to richness, smoke and the tastes of the forest floor. Even the butter has a seasonal change at Casamia with Marmite butter now accompanying the milk stout bread. The menu as always is a story in itself, a journey where individual dishes are not just amazing in their own right but are developed in consideration of what came before and what is to follow. One of the things we love about Jonray and Peter is the intelligence they bring to their food and when they talk you through the dishes, as they do because they bring our food to your table, it is inspiring how thought and love has driven the menu.
Every dish is worth a mention but we'll just talk about three here. The menus this year have always begun with a tartlet, and the Quiche Lorraine of Summer has become a mushroom tartlet with Parmesan for Autumn. If you attended EatPlayLove2013 in September, you will have tried this on the day and what really surprised everyone was how much flavour you could get into this bite sized tartlet. More than a few people had a wow moment and while we have come to know what to expect from Casamia, we're amazed afresh how they deliver food this good each and every time.
Shortly after that, the menu description reads Duck egg, truffle, and while that already sounds good, it substantially undersells the dish, for it is of one of the best things we have tasted all year. A duck egg sabayon is served into a clay shell in which there is a duck yolk at the bottom together with black truffles that have been cooked whole in truffle juice and duck stock then chopped up into rice size pieces and reduced with a little more duck stock to create a truffle ragout. On top of the duck egg mousse is seeded bread that has been sliced thin, grilled and then cooked in a hot pan with butter and truffle oil. This is all finished with a fresh cut chives and droplets of truffle oil. This is cooking at its best and brings on in the diner either excited giggles or a quiet moment of contemplation. It's a masterpiece of the chef's craft.
Too much food to discuss everything so skipping through a fabulous battered scallop and the pheasant main and a couple of desserts (pictures below), the meal ends with a plum souffle. Everyone knows that souffles are little devils to get right and over the course of this blog, we've seen substantial variation even at top notch restaurants. At Casamia however, they have seemingly done the impossible and when our two souffles arrive at the table, they have risen with precision and are identical. Everyone eating the tasting menu at Casamia in Autumn will get a souffle and the brothers didn't want a table of four say to have souffles that differed between diners, they wanted it perfect. Delving back to Antoine Careme's first published recipe for a souffle (1814), utilising specially commissioned ramekins and undertaking an intense study of the chemistry of why a souffle does what it does (together with endless practical trials), they have achieved an all natural but perfectly behaved, perfectly risen, perfectly identical souffle. Little further explanation is needed as to why we think Jonray and Peter are special.
Three menus into the year, Casamia have proven to us that they can deliver something exceptional time and again, across seasons, across ingredients and with consistency. Three menus in, there has not been a single dish we have not liked nor a single dish in which we can find fault. The Autumn menu is a terrific success, a celebration of the season and a real joy to eat. If you have yet to try it, you really should make the effort, Autumn wont be with us forever and it's a menu not to be missed. For us however, we say roll on Winter.
Peter (left) and Jonray (centre) put joy in cooking
Mushroom tartlet, Parmesan
"Our own smoked Loch Duart salmon"
Jonray & Jim plating the Duck Egg
Duck Egg, Truffle
Jim and Jonray plate the beetroot
Beetroot, spelt, yogurt
Peter and Sam plate the scallop
Scallop, apple, kale
Hake, leeks, pink fir
Pheasant, celery root
Peter & Jonray preparing the final dessert
Plum souffle, hazelnuts
Peter and Jonray reflect after service
In our own travels we've heard a few top notch chefs talk whimsically about throwing in the towel on fine dining and opening a fish shop, but this is the first time we've come across a chef actually doing it. Arguably, Des McDonald, owner of The Fish & Chip Shop is more than a chef, having been we understand the right hand man to Corbin & King as well as Richard Caring. The website accordingly affords him the title of CEO. In addition, Executive Chef at The Fish & Chip Shop (hereafter TF&CS) is Lee Bull, former Head Chef of Le Caprice while Head Chef is Steve Wilson. A fish and chip shop with a CEO, Executive Chef and Head Chef sounds like a serious case of title inflation or does it lift itself above the genre? Always partial to fish & chips, I headed to Islington last week to find out.
A takeaway menu is available at TF&CS but don't expect to walk through the door to be greeted by Steve wrapping up a portion of fish & chips in newspaper, it's not that sort of place. It does have a bar manager though who was formerly with... you guessed it, Caprice Holdings. Cocktails? Yes, it's that sort of place too. While on the subject of drink, I note they advertise BYO Monday where you can bring your own wine 'for just £5 corkage'. Aside of this hardly being the offer of the century, what this all means of course is that TF&CS is a proper restaurant, bookings are taken and you shouldn't really mistake it for, well, a fish and chip shop. It's a restaurant that serves fish and chips.
Despite being a restaurant that is less than a year old, they've done a good job to make it look like it's closer to 40 years old with the design, though the newness of the old furniture gives its more recent origins away. It has its own charm however and has clearly been thought through, even if the booth in which we sat required us to breath in before sliding between the banquette and the table. Elsewhere, adding to that old fashioned feel, a pot of tea is served with milk in a small milk bottle that TF&CS's target market would have been served at school during playtime. TF&CS then is something of a nostalgia play also.
On food, with a friend, we shared a couple of starters. Well, the breaded langoustine tails (no scampi here) is really a main course but sharing it makes for a good starter. A decent portion of crisp, fresh white langoustine tails, toss in a couple of lemon wedges, it's again good traditional fayre. The London Particular Fritters, named such that you can guess what they might be, but are 100% guaranteed to ask just in case, beg to be ordered. It is pea and ham hock similarly breaded with a quick spell in the deep fryer. The fritters are actually quite nice, the peas fresh not heavy and the ham having enough depth to carry the fritter so that it doesn't seem just a gimmick with a clever name. So after starters, we are happy.
Cod and haddock for the mains, both priced at £9.50 without chips, arrive looking very proper, so well behaved. The fish is straight, the batter coating it like a glove rather than arcing off here and there with crispy batter bits. A dark gold that betrays little and not in the least bit greasy. From memory, The Ivy serves fish and chips, I've never had it, but I can imagine that it looks a lot like this. What's more, I can imagine that every fish that is presented here at TF&CS looks exactly the same. It's the kind of fish a place with a CEO would serve: disciplined. It's actually rather good and I instantly like its structural integrity. At Poppies
, the batter was so crispy that taking a knife to it fractured it into a million pieces so you in fact had to then scoop batter up onto your fish to enjoy the two together. Here, the batter and fish were in union and as a proper bonus, the batter had a deep flavour to it, imparted I presume by the Camden Hell which they use in the batter. It doesn't look initially the most impressive piece of cod you've ever been served in a fish and chip shop, it is too flat, a bit like the fish that comes out of boxes in the supermarket, but there the comparison must stop for it was most enjoyable and I really have no complaints.
I imagine the chips cause a few heated arguments among diners however and possibly a few grumbles. Like the fish, they're a little posh, and certainly not the big fat chip shop chips that you would expect from a place called TF&CS. They're not bad, rather, quite decent chips in fact, they're just not what you think you're going to be served alongside fish in a chip shop. They are however what you think you will be served alongside fish at The Ivy. Some people will no doubt be furious. We didn't mind, it was good fish and chips, so all is forgiven.
Only on dessert do I actually want to grumble. What's Whyte & Mackay "white pot" I ask our waiter after being given the dessert menu? It's a posh bread and butter pudding I'm told. There's a lot of posh grub going on here it seems. But with some fond memories of recent bread and butter puddings, I give it a go. When it arrives, I pull a spoonful from the edge of the pot and it's okay albeit a touch on the heavy side. The closer to the centre I go, the heavier it becomes to the point where event though we are sharing the dessert, we don't finish for it is too dense to wade through. Rather than the bread feeling sliced, it instead feels like a whole uncut loaf squeezed into a small pot. It's a blot on an otherwise enjoyable meal.
Service was friendly and overall I like what they are doing at TF&CS. It's set up to be old fashioned but perhaps that is done to soften the impact of the modern touches they felt necessary to make the place a success (like serving cocktails). Most importantly, the fish and chips are good to eat and that has to be key factor for a restaurant that has aligned itself with the genre, though the inability to see a man in a white coat gently lowering battered fish into a fryer seems at odds with the venue's name. Indeed, I can't imagine anyone calling this place a 'chippy.' If I lived or worked local however, I would be delighted to have this on my doorstep and would be for sure a regular visitor (while avoiding the bread and butter pudding).
TF&CS has a two tier restaurant, this is the lower tier
and this is the upper tier
London particular fritters
cod and chips
Whyte & Mackay "white pot" (or bread and butter pudding to you and me)