The Savoy doesn't do things in half measures. After the 2010 grand reopening, the River Restaurant proudly opened boasting Escoffier inspired menus, but as a fine dining restaurant it wasn't, the evidence would suggest, bringing enough non resident guests through the doors. While we enjoyed the food there (see our River Restaurant
blog post), and we described it at the time as 'classy', it was undeniably a little on the old fashioned side. Rather than trying to force a fine dining square peg through a more casual dining round hole, they have decided instead to start from scratch and the result is Kaspar's Seafood Bar & Grill.
From our memories, no trace of the River Restaurant is now evident and the space has enjoyed what we can only assume is a (multi?) million pound makeover to create something that is entirely new. With no expense spared, the quality of the finish is outstanding and brings to bear the full class of The Savoy experience, yet Kaspar's is pitched as an all day dining restaurant where there is no dress code. With a decor that sparkles and a menu that pleases all tastes (see below), it is a very nice place indeed to take a lunch or dinner, or something in between if you prefer.
Returning to the menu, the seafood bar, centrally placed in the room, offers a offers a variety of smoked and cured fish in a small(ish) plates format (choice of two £14, or four £22) and these include on the smoked option: various salmons, eel and sable fish; on the cured side: halibut, sea bass and monk fish. There's also a fruit de mer (£34) that makes an excellent shared starter providing oysters (2x rock, 2x native), poached prawns, scallop and Cornish crab. Not included, and to be honest, not missed, was the often space filling item of winkles and whelks that too often are more effort than they're worth. The quality of the seafood served was first class.
If seafood is not your thing, other starters include snails, beef tartare, chicken liver parfait and oxtail consomme as well as a variety of salads. Even in listing all these, we have not covered all of the available choices. Dedicated mains similarly offer over 20 options where more than half are not in fact seafood.But seafood was our choice and we opted for a grilled Cornish lobster (£36) and a Dover sole (£34) that was so expertly filleted and plated, you could be tempted to believe sole is a boneless fish. On a second visit, we also tried the Hereford rib-eye steak (10oz, £28). The verdict on each of these was the same, the ingredients are excellent, well cooked, and served honestly, without unnecessary fuss on the plate.
For dessert, there's Savoy classics like Peach Melba, as well as a chocolate sphere, a version of which I had so thoroughly enjoyed at the River Restaurant we named it as a dessert highlight of the year back in 2011. In keeping with the move away from fine dining, it too has changed with again less fuss on the plate (though it still sees a hot sauce pour melting the sphere tableside). While the previous version offered white chocolate and marshmallow inside, this has now been replaced by 'passion fruit sensations' providing crisp acidity rather than unending sweetness.
While the old River Restaurant was enjoyable, it was not a venue we might consider regularly, except perhaps for entertaining our parents. Kaspar's however is a restaurant that we envisage using a great deal. It is a high class environment but not gaudy or pretentious, the menu much more than seafood (for those who don't want to be shackled) and the service always smart (this is The Savoy after all) but still friendly. While we were lucky enough to be guests at the pre-opening, we enjoyed it sufficiently to return just two days later for lunch and we already have a further return visit booked. A small part of us is sad to see the River Restaurant go, but in Kaspar's, they have created a fabulous, and no doubt significantly more popular, successor.
the dining room
a little taste of caviar
fruit de mer
the fruit de mer even comes with its own little bottle of Tabasco
Cornish lobster (the claw laid out in the top part of the shell)
apple tart tartin
chocolate lolly petit fours
And then there were four. Burger & Lobster's winning formula for serving up something fab for just £20 continues with their latest branch in Bread Street, yards away from Ramsay's Bread Street Kitchen and pitched squarely at the more budget conscious end of the City (for better lined wallets, sister restaurant Goodman City is less than 5 mins walk away).
But while the original Clarges Street B&L opened to a frenzy and queues of over two hours (apparently queues in the Soho branch on a Saturday night can still reach 2 hours), in Bread Street, you'll have an easier time of things. What's more, you're also unlikely to meet a food blogger as the restaurant has on Urbanspoon just two blog posts against its name. Two points in its favour then.
The queues may be different but the format remains the same: a menu familiar to all, cocktails beer and wine and, I am pleased to say, service as friendly as ever. And on this later point, nor is it because we are bloggers, we wandered in as we just happened to be in the area, unknown to the mid afternoon service staff, but it was still smiles and friendliness all round. Indeed, we have yet to visit B&L without encountering that, the group's ethos toward service is admirable, as much part of the DNA as lobster for £20.
We wont dive into food descriptions, for surely there can't be anyone who doesn't know what the offering is or what it tastes like by now. So we'll simply conclude by saying that if you like Burger & Lobster, you'll feel right at home in the City branch: we do, and we did.
"I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble" said Augustus Caesar; I wonder if Rick Stein feels the same about Padstow. Rick Stein's presence in Padstow is ubiquitous and on the occasion of this visit, as I Google local hotels, I discover that in addition to restaurants (of which he has four) and shops, he offers accommodation also. But while the expansion has not always been greeted warmly by locals, I've been longing to try his flagship The Seafood Restaurant for some time as I know so many chefs who have passed through his kitchen and have nothing but good things to say about the man and I have always enjoyed the gentle manner of his TV output; would I similarly enjoy his food?
Padstow now seems perpetually busy and Rick must surely take some of the credit. The main harbour car park is already full at 11:30am on a late March Monday morning where the thermometer never rises above two degrees. At 11:45am, families are already queuing for Stein's fish and chip shop to open at midday. The fish and chip shop is my back up plan if I can't get into The Seafood Restaurant that night, though fortunately, with the help of local friends, I am able to score a booking. When I enter The Seafood Restaurant at 7:30pm, it's buzzing, can't really see an empty seat in the house and you can only be impressed with the strength of the brand he has created here in Padstow. I can only imagine that in July-August, it's more difficult to get a table here than it is at The Fat Duck.
The restaurant is definitely a place to relax and enjoy a night out. It's not about 'airs and graces' or hushed tones, recognising that its customer base is drawn from people on holiday who want to let their hair down a little, even if in midweek March that hair tends toward blue rinse. The room is vibrant, there's a central seafood bar (with unreserved seating) and the art work on the wall is modern, even sometimes challenging.
The menu is substantial and clearly influenced from the travel Rick has undertaken that formed the backbone of his TV work. There's a choice of 17 starters and over a dozen mains and I do really like the menu's range, for there's fish and chips with mushy peas if you don't want to be challenged, all the way through to Singapore Chilli Crab, Indonesian Seafood Curry and Lobster Thermidor.
There are however two things you must know and appreciate before eating there. First, don't expect Rick to be in the kitchen. The guy is 66 years old now and has built an empire (which Wikipedia
values at £32million), so he's not behind a hot stove flipping your fish. Second, it is expensive to eat there. Lobster Thermidor (with local Padstow lobster) will set you back £45.50; in Scott's of Mayfair, one of London's most expensive seafood restaurants, the same dish (lobster origin unknown) costs £42. Realistically, you are looking at £100pp while it would be quite easy to push this even higher with only modest drinks with the meal. That however is the power of brand and he's got a full restaurant in March, so good luck to him really.
I feel obliged to start the meal with local oysters (Porthilly) taking two fresh ones, as well at two tempura batter rock oysters which are deep fried sympathetically leaving oyster flavours relatively intact but with a nice crisp batter. Someone else's plate of langoustines sits on the bar and it does look amazing but they are from the Scottish coast and it seems to me wrong to visit Cornwall, have a seat with a view of the harbour (almost) and order Scottish seafood.
Padstow is a small town and a complimentary Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with foie gras, bacon and chives arrives for me: it is decadent and creamy and possibly the best use of artichokes I have come across. My other ordered starter is Shangurro - Basque Stuffed Crab. Fortunately they provide a further explanation: spider crab meat, tomato, garlic, and olive oil, baked in the shell with parsley and bread crumbs and again, I like that they are doing more than just obvious dishes - the other crab starter is Cornish Crab with a wakame (seaweed), cucumber and dashi salad with wasabi mayonnaise, so no ordinary dressed crab here then.
My main is simply a classic: roast troncon of turbot with Hollandaise sauce. Menu notes (given for all dishes) say 'Turbot in the English style, simple and probably a nicer way of eating this wonderful fish than anything more elaborate'. I'm also impressed they've eschewed the fillet, respecting the customer's ability to deal with the bones. It's a handsomely large cut with good crispy chips (thin and thick are both available) and a tangy Hollandaise and is the kind of dish that satisfies. There's more complex stuff on the menu for sure, with Rick's Mediterranean and Asian influences evident, but for me, sitting in Cornwall, I wanted and was hoping for simplicity in the English style, and I got just that.
I would love to spend more time exploring the menu at The Seafood Restaurant though my bank manager might be somewhat less keen about that. There is a huge amount of variety: sole, turbot, hake, John Dory, brill, and that's just the top half of the mains menu, all cooked in a wide variety of non obvious ways; it's a restaurant that could easily withstand repeat visits. I like too that it's not a 'dumbed down' menu, and while the restaurant facilitates those on holiday, it respects them with the food and it does feel a sort of personal expression of Rick Stein's love of the sea (from what I've seen of him on TV) which makes it too a differentiated experience. With Paul Ainsworth and Nathan Outlaw also now flying the flag for great food in Padstow and Rock, there's no doubt that this is now a food town, and all these years on, Rick Stein's The Seafood Restaurant continues to pull its weight in the heart of Padstow.
Oyster in tempura batter with sesame seeds and lime
Local Porthilly Oysters
Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with foie gras, bacon and chives
Shangurro - Basque Stuffed Crab
roast troncon of turbot with Hollandaise sauce
Paris Brest with praline cream and chocolate ice cream
Location map for The Seafood Restaurant
Bloggers like to try new places for obvious reasons. When a blogger returns to a restaurant to eat, you can be sure they're big fans of the place. On our recent trip to Edinburgh, and this is without precedent, we visited Ondine every night of our stay. We were about to say the reason behind that is simple, because Ondine serves up the best seafood there is, but that is in fact only part of the reason. More roundly, Ondine is a lovely restaurant to spend time in, to have a drink, an oyster and a chat with the staff who are, without exception, all so warm. In short, it is simply a place that you want to be. The combination of food, place and people, all sprinkled with a little X factor of its own, completely won us over, and as we left Edinburgh to return home, we were both a little sad that Ondine was no longer a short walk from our front door, knowing we would miss our nightly visit (we have!).
Even on this trip, it wasn't our first time eating at Ondine, we were there on our previous visit and you can read that post here
. We wont therefore return to the ethos of the restaurant (sustainable, local, fresh etc) which is covered extensively in the last post, but a few more words on the food are required.
Since starting this blog, we cannot remember having better seafood, and since time didn't exist before the blog, we cannot therefore remember having better seafood period. There is seafood and seafood of course. We love what Restaurant Nathan Outlaw
does with the South West's finest ingredients for example, but with its two Michelin stars, it's not a place to get moules marinieres or a fruit de mer; that however is what we craved at Ondine, though here it's a no nonsense Mussel Mariniere and Shellfish Platter/Fruits of the Sea. It's seafood to get involved with and our favourite (if you pushed us on it) was the hot Roast Shellfish Platter, where surf clams would pop with juice and flavour simply on biting into them. And razor clams and mussels, further brilliance, none of that chewiness that sometimes leaves you wondering why you ordered razor clam. And the langoustine, well, they're simply awesome, see for yourself in the pictures below. Likewise the oysters. And the lobster thermidor? No surprise, it's the best of its kind. It was a nightly problem, what to order, which treasure amongst treasures?
The pictures below represent meals from several visits then. Worth noting, the quality over those days never varied, it was always consistently brilliant.
a dozen mixed oysters
There is a fair range of non fish items on the menu including for the mains Orkney Fillet on the Bone, which we too found to be very good. As with the fish, only quality ingredients find their way into (or out of) Ondine's kitchen.
Orkney fillet on the bone
Burns Supper returns
Having just missed out on Burns Night, the restaurant most kindly laid on cullen skink and haggis for us one night as a treat, complete with a piper welcome, an address to the haggis and a dram of Glenfarclas 105. To finish, a Glengoyne whisky tart with Glengoyne cream. It was a superb and memorable meal and our thanks to Roy and the team, and especially our piper Chris, for going to so much effort.
cut haggis (neeps and tatties in background)
Glengoyne whisky tart
Good food in a restaurant is of course an essential, but it's the people who can lift it that little bit further to make the place itself special and that's the story at Ondine. Chef-patron Roy Brett is simply a great guy, amongst the best we've met since starting the blog, dedicated to his kitchen, always there, and super serious about the quality of what's on every plate, a master of his craft. And always with a smile.
But with a huge appreciation that the fish he serves in the restaurant is only possible because of others, that is, real people, families and communities working hard every day often in difficult conditions, Ondine is also an award winner for their support of the Fishermen's Mission
. In a nutshell (or should that be lobster pot), that's the kind of place Ondine is, a place that cares about its suppliers as much as it does about its customers.
chef patron Roy Brett
kitchen crucial: Raj
(some of) the kitchen team: Francois, Jamie, Lee and Raj
Peter, Sophia, Daniello and Chris
(so Rob doesn't feel left out)
piped in for a Burns Night sequel
The Twitter account for Ondine is @OndineEdin
where they often sign off tweets with #happyfish. It's a fitting sentiment and our visits to Ondine made us very happy indeed. We try to get to Edinburgh as much as we can, we adore it there, and now we can't imagine visiting Edinburgh without stopping by Ondine for some #happyfish. #happycriticalcouple.Return to homepage
Disclosure: we sought to pay for everything but Ondine kindly comped some items.
Wheelers Oyster Bar in Whitstable is a curiosity. It has a mere 14 covers, has been around since 1856, is the parent of Wheeler's in St James's now run under the Marco Pierre White banner (and no longer associated) but has neither a credit card machine or a licence to serve alcohol (giving rise to a zero corkage charge policy). It promises the freshest of fish, and impressively, ranked 89th in the Sunday Times: Britain's Top 100 Restaurants, enough to place regionally (in that survey) as the 9th best rest aurant in South East (excluding London), a geography that also embraces The Waterside Inn, Le Manoir and its more famous neighbour, The Sportsman.
On the High Street in Whitstable, less than five minutes walk from the still working fishing harbour, the restaurant is painted pink and blue so can hardly be missed. Squeeze inside and the you'll find the following: shop counter is in the front, the dining room in the middle, and the kitchen is out back. Beyond the kitchen is the yard and at the back of the yard are the toilets. But since walking through the kitchen is not allowed, to use the toilets requires you to exit the restaurant, turn left followed by another left and then enter the third door down the alley (also painted blue). This would be a miserable journey in the rain, and even when dry, with the yard full of empty packaging and rubbish, it's hardly a blast.
The dining room is tiny, and set up broadly as three tables of four and a table of two. However, there's insufficient space in fact even for that, and two of the tables for four are necessarily pushed together so making it a table of eight. It feels like you've squeezed into a domestic space rather than a real restaurant and Come Dine With Me and Restaurant in Your Home come to mind, though we're praying the food will be somewhat better.
There's a fairly wide variety of food on offer (all fish of course) with both a cold 'fruits de mer' style menu and a full cooked food menu. Some oysters seem appropriate to begin with and we opt for the '1/2 A dozen wild Whitstable native oysters'. These are fleshy affairs that are best suited for a good chew rather than to slurp straight down so maybe not for your oyster novice. These are however (for Wheeler's) premium priced at £12.
For £5 however there is also listed '1/2 a dozen rocky oysters', though if you want '1/2 A dozen rocky oysters with sauce mignonette' that bumps the price up to £6.75, perhaps a deliberate policy of social engineering. Unsurprisingly then, ours come with only a wedge of lemon.
Starters include a 'clam, leek and home smoked pork cassoulet' which in fact came with a pastry lid so more of a mini pie which was nice enough. The other starter was a pan fried crab cake that was perhaps the dish of the day, being cooked to hold its form but pull apart easily with a fork, and full of beautiful high quality moist crab crab meat offset with a pear and saffron chutney, pickled pear purée, rocket, walnuts and blue cheese croutons.
So far so good, nothing spectacular but a decent start.
Clam, leek and home smoked pork cassoulet with roasted baby artichoke, crisp quail's egg and sorrel salad
pan fried crab cake, pear and saffron chutney, pickled pear purée, rocket, walnuts and blue cheese croutons
When it came to mains however, things seemed confused.
For fish restaurants on the sea front, one obvious style is to keep it basic and let the fish shine in its fresh simplicity. Plates might look modest, but the great flavours of the sea more than compensate the diner. The second style is to go full on clever and work some kitchen magic into the ingredients, a style best exemplified by Nathan Outlaw
's award winning seafood restaurant in Rock. Sadly, Wheeler's does something that lies midway between the two and suffers badly for it.
There's a natural elegance to a whole fish brought to the table as the centre piece to a plate, but here, lemon sole (complete with bones) is smothered in the cream sauce, with everything piled on top of everything else. The food is not too bad in itself but it does lack refinement, so does little to tempt the diner. Bone removal from the lemon sole is difficult when the fish is buried under the rest of the menu, and while the lobster claw placed between my two lasagne hills is out of the shell, the cartilage is left in. It was only last week that we saw Monica Galetti upbraiding the weaker contestants on Masterchef The Professionals on this very issue. If you're offering the basics, it's fine (and understandable), but in a more ambitious kitchen, which, from the menu, this must be considered, it seems amateur. So where does that leave Wheelers?
Taste-wise, the food was okay but never stunning for it lacked depth, while busy plates can smother not only the appearance of the dish but also that extra something that quayside eating is supposed to bring. These mains were anywhere mains and if there is something special about the fish sourced by Wheelers in Whitstable, it was sadly lost by the time it reached us.
Blanquette of lemon sole and cockles with garlic kale, lobster ravioli, lemon and chive sauce
A lasagne of whole local lobster, with a leek and white crab ragout, lobster bisque, chanterelle mushrooms and parmesan shavings
A hot chocolate and New Zealand mud cake soufflé was quite average, too dry in fact, and benefited from tipping in to it the accompanying chocolate sundae.
Service throughout was at best indifferent, passive aggressive even. Most of the time we felt ignored as if we were unwanted visitors who were simply getting in the way of them doing something more important. It seemed like a final nail in the coffin.
If the food had been brilliant, a cramped dining room sandwiched between a shop counter and the kitchen with an outside toilet might have seemed delightfully eccentric, but with terrible service and mediocre food, the sum total left us shrugging our shoulders and declaring 'you win some, you lose some', and today we felt we had lost. Return to homepage
Nathan Outlaw is perhaps the biggest name in seafood in the UK right now, having the country's only two star seafood restaurant, located in Rock, Cornwall. In fact, at the St Enodoc Hotel, Nathan operates two restaurants, the more casual Seafood and Grill, and the fine dining offering, Restaurant Nathan Outlaw. Now he's opened his first restaurant in London, Outlaw's Seafood & Grill at The Capital, located within another hotel, The Capital in Knightsbridge. Naming the restaurant in line with the more informal of his Cornish eateries suggests that the offering here is going to be about great ingredients, simply, but brilliantly done.
This is however a big challenge for Nathan, not only because he now has to divide his time between Cornwall and London, he's based in London two days a week we believe, but also because his Rock restaurants are very much a reflection of the local catch. Recipes and techniques do seem to have travelled up from Rock intact while the restaurant has remained faithful to Nathan's focus with little compromise for those who are not fish fans. Diners have the choice of an a la carte menu or a tasting menu which is essentially a selection from the a la carte dishes.
With three people around the table we are in a position to see much of the offering. We start of with a scallop sent by the kitchen, beautifully presented on a watercress purée Here, as we'll see elsewhere in the meal the textures of the ingredients are wonderfully preserved in the cooking process and it's in dishes like this where Nathan's affinity with seafood simply shines.
Scallops & Hazelnuts, Watercress & Smoked Oil
The ordered starters are equally excellent. A lemon sole fillet with crispy oyster and cucumber is perfect with the clean cut lemon sole, the freshness of cucumber and the naughtiness of the crispy crunchy fried oyster proving another dish where relative simplicity completes the dish more than complexity ever could. Lobster cocktail too is a masterpiece, amazing depth to the lobster sauce and real flavour and again texture in the lobster cocktail itself.
Lemon sole , crispy oyster, oyster sauce & cucumber
Lobster cocktail, orange & basil, lobster sauce
Peppered venison, beetroot & English truffle salad cream
Mains arrive with a vivid splash of colour across the plates, not least the vibrant red-orange of my crusted cod. If the complaint arising from many a fish served up in a restaurant is that the fish/skin is not cooked properly, it is simply never a concern at Outlaw's because fish is what they do, all they do, and where years of experience at doing it go on to every plate. Playing to this, the plates are definitely ingredient led with the fish up front and centre, while there are no fancy foams or 'out there' concepts: it's fish, veg and a sauce.
Wreckfish, a meaty fish that we first enjoyed at Restaurant Nathan Outlaw has made the trip to London with him it seems and comes with a perfectly crisped skin and a potato and anchovy gratin. Cod with scampi is just that and no less wonderful for it. As a point of interest, we later learn that the shellfish are cooked together with some of the vegetables on a Josper grill. Finally there's a mackerel dish, here as a main rather than starter which, as you'd expect from Nathan, is top quality.
Cod with scampi & rosemary butter, crispy courgettes
char grilled mackerel, smoker mackerel, paprika and soured vegetables
Wreckfish, red wine tartare dressing, anchovy & potato gratin, squash
Desserts are comfort style offerings with a treacle tart (that needs to be pre ordered as it takes 30 minutes) ordered and a chocolate sponge that was almost fondant like, served with a personal favourite, peanut ice cream.
chocolate sponge, peanut ice cream, lime curd
Given Nathan's talent, experience and reputation, there are two things that are a given when dining at one of his restaurants: first, that the fish used is of the best quality available, and second, that it will be cooked to perfection, with both of these factors reflecting the depth of experience of not only Nathan himself, but Head Chef Pete Biggs, who has worked with Nathan for over a decade.
Currently, the offering is, as noted, ingredient led and relatively straightforward, though style might change in time as the restaurant has already found that some things that work well in Cornwall are not as well received in Knightsbridge; this is however, still very early days. Accordingly, as the restaurant beds down, it will certainly evolve, and given the talents of the team behind it, the outcome will be fascinating to watch, especially if there's eventually convergence with Nathan's two star offering from Rock. Return to homepageOutlaw's Seafood & Grill at The Capital
CC post on Restaurant Nathan Outlaw
In the 1990's, Quaglino's was one of those places to go, a dose of glamour on an enormous scale. Conran was in full flow, opening restaurants across London, and bigger was definitely better. The economy was pumping, stock markets, from Quaglino's opening in 1991 through to the advent of the new millennium, were up over 200% (staggeringly, the FTSE 100 first hit its current level in March 1998!) and everybody in London seemed to be doing well; back then, we were all in it together. You went to Quaglino's to see and to be seen.
With the restaurant now part of the D&D Group and food trends having decidedly moved on, Quaglino's carries on regardless, but doesn't seem to be suffering for that, with business levels still decent it seems. The place too remains as grand as ever, though the non clothed tables, now quite badly chipped and in need of retirement, are the only pointer to harsher economic times.
It was my first visit to Quaglino's in over six years and I wondered how a place that I have traditionally held with some affection would fare on this revisit. I discovered that the restaurant itself remains a show stopper but the prices, for quite unexciting food, are somewhat steep, a theme I'll return to later.
The menu at Quag's always did have a primary focus on seafood and that continues. There's a reasonable selection of meat too for main course option so that even for large groups with diverse tastes, everyone should find something to eat. The website describes the offering as 'classic brasserie food' such that the menu, while extensive, is a reasonably simple affair and nothing had me super excited. It could easily be 1993 all over again.
Starters feature a lot of seafood dishes such as lobster bisque, dressed crab and seared scallop. Non fish starters included 'heirloom tomato & campana mozzarella', 'belgium endive & papillon roquefort' and caesar salad. I opted for the lobster cocktail, baby leaves & marie rose (£14.50). This was actually a very big starter, something not necessarily clear in the picture, in fact, it only became clear when I started eating. Like the restaurant, it's a dish on a grand scale, and included probably half of a very decent sized lobster.
The lobster itself came in sizeable chunks, too large to comfortably put in your mouth which was something of a problem, as trying to use a knife and fork to cut a lobster in an outsize Martini glass is nigh on impossible. In addition, there was a lot of Marie Rose sauce though when you could get beyond that, the lobster had little intrinsic taste. Accordingly, about half way through this, it became quite monotonous. I found myself bizarrely savouring the lettuce most for freshness and crunch.
The main was a whole roast plaice with brown shrimp, capers and lemon (£19.50). Sides were extra and I elected for some chips (£3.75). It was nice enough, well cooked. I did have to ask for a side plate for the bones which was a small slip in an otherwise pleasant and smiling service.
Other fish mains included red mullet, smoked haddock fish cake, confit salmon and Dover sole.
Desserts were a little less predictable than I had guessed though still keeping in the brasserie theme. Not having had bread and butter pudding for years, I couldn't resist the Panettone bread and butter pudding with sherry cream and vanilla ice cream. This turned out to be the best of the day's dishes with the pudding itself light and moist, though to make sure it never felt dry, there were actually three cream variations provided. I especially enjoyed the sherry cream for that nice Winter touch.
Panettone bread and butter pudding, sherry cream, vanilla ice cream
I think Quaglino's continues to look amazing. Despite being a basement space, the use of flowers, colours and light makes it the most fascinating and comfortable of subterranean dining rooms and you would hardly figure it as such.
The brasserie food however doesn't seem to match the surroundings, the dishes too plain in my view for the opulence. At Brasserie Zedel
, they get away with it because the prices are so cheap, you feel you're getting the room for free, it's a bargain. At Quaglino's, you're paying in full and the meal above with one Coke and one bottle of water, with service came to £59. My comparable meal earlier in the week at The Wolseley
, just round the corner, came to £49 by way of comparison.
Warming to the theme, I note that at Quaglino's, a starter of 'seared scallops, bayonne ham' is £16. A starter of 'Roast scallops with seaweed and brassicas' costs less, £14.50, at The Ledbury
, arguably London's best restaurant. Then my eye drifts to The Ledbury classic 'Buffalo milk curd with Saint Nectare and truffle toast' which is divine, and priced at £15; my lobster cocktail here at £14.50 takes on a new dimension of wrong.
It's hard then to know what to make of Quaglino's. It's an amazing space with a great bar, but the menu is probably too simple to warrant a visit for the food, while the price of what they offer is too much to go there for value. In essence then, you go there for a good time with friends You can be a large group of people, make noise, have plenty of space and all find something to eat on the menu. It's another grand room that has a buzz and you'll probably remember having a great time (unless the cocktails mean you remember nothing at all). But if you want to remember the food, there's better places than this, even a short walk away.Return to homepage
Burger & Lobster continues its push East. With the first restaurant in Mayfair and a second in Soho, the third is in Farringdon (St John Street by Smithfield market) while a fourth outlet is planned to open before Christmas in Bread Street in the City.
If you've been to Burger & Lobster before, you'll instantly get it here for there are no discernible changes to the format, it's burger, lobster or lobster roll, all at £20. There's desserts that come in a tub, and that's it. Staff in the new branch are as friendly as ever including Saraa who looked after us wonderfully on our visit, and despite the new venue having been open only a few days when we ate there, everything ran smoothly.
The interior of the new branch is a little different to the other two outlets. The site itself is quite large but it's naturally partitioned into a number smaller areas so generally feels more cosy and less frantic. The bar has its own area and the grill is in the middle of the restaurant, open plan, so you can see your lobster on the grill, and smell it cooking. For the décor it's exposed brick and wood.
There were no queues on our visit and I suspect that the Farringdon branch will see fewer queues generally. Lunch time could well be popular with City folk nearby though the Bread Street branch will shortly take much of that crowd anyhow. The overall impact then of Farringdon is likely to make Burger & Lobster yet more accessible; given its popularity, that's surely a good thing.
With a stopover in Whitby, it had to be fish and chips, and when I asked Twitter the question: who serves the best fish and chips in Whitby? the answer came back by an overwhelming majority The Magpie Cafe.
Whitby itself is a small but famous fishing town and there are multiple fish and chip shops on every street it seems. Outside of fishing, tourism is its main industry and with fish and chip shops able to tell you what boat and at what time the fish was landed, Whitby's fish and chips have become legendary. The classic combination here is cod/haddock and chips with mushy peas and bread & butter, usually priced around the £10 mark (cheaper if you take away). Of the fish and chip shops, about half offer an 'eat in' option.
The Magpie Cafe however is legendary even by Whitby's standards, with the result being both an entry in the Good Food Guide and a queue outside the door for the sit down restaurant, for they don't take regular bookings. At 6:30pm on an October Saturday night, the queue was about 30 deep, by 8:30pm it had fallen to about 6 people which seemed okay and we joined it: even then it took around 15 mins to get a table.
the beach at Whitby
Ignorant of Magpie's Cafe before arrival, I had expected mostly a normal fish and chip shop with a few thrills and a few seats, but it is in fact a fully fledged fish restaurant serving a wide variety of fish including skate, ling, pollock, woof, lemon sole, halibut, monkfish and more. There's shellfish and crustacea too and I even saw a whole lobster thermidor on the menu at a very reasonable £23. I was even more tickled to see 'orange juice' listed as a starter at £2.45, sandwiched between kipper pate and soup of the day.
In this sense, we really can't pass comment on what Magpie's really does as the menu is pretty huge and we turned up simply for the fish and chips, and were then too full to even try pudding.
That said, I would guess that the majority of people go here for the classic fish and chips. The restaurant itself, when we went, was a boisterous affair, and on the night of our visit played host to families with loud children, a lively birthday party of young adults and what must have been a stag do (unless Whitby men usually wear grass skirts and no tops in October). With tables shoe-horned into every corner, eating there is a community experience. Against that backdrop, to order dishes like lobster thermidor, or one of the day's special such as pan roasted pancetta wrapped hake fillet would be like wearing a ball gown to the Jolly Sailor pub down the road.
As for the fish and chips, they were great. The cod was beautifully white in lovely crisp batter and the chip shop chips were chunky delicious, with nothing being at all greasy. My only complaint would be that of two identical plates ordered, one fish was twice the size of the other, mine possessing no depth so making you believe that cod might even be a flat fish. In turn, there was disproportionately too much batter; fortunately it was nice batter, but even so, can't help but feel that my cod fillet should have been for the fish pie pile rather than the deep frying pile; just a good job I wasn't that hungry.
the famous fish 'n' chips
On our very limited sampling then, great quality fish and chips but for us, too many boisterous kids and other parties to be a properly congenial atmosphere. Would return there for sure if there were no queue, but in the event there is one, I would be trying Quayside next door.
Visit The Magpie Cafe
Previously I visited: Raby Hunt
, near Darlington
Next stop: Morston Hall
, NorfolkThe Magpie Cafe location map
Catch seemed to me an awkward restaurant in every way. It's part of the Andaz Hotel, Liverpool Street, and suffers badly for it. First off, it doesn't even have its own room, rather, it has a space within a larger area with partitions (like those defining cubicles in an open plan office) separating it from a corridor and a back staircase that presumably leads to the guests' rooms.
There's no natural light while the electric lights are turned down low, to try and give it perhaps a romantic atmosphere. Any pretence to such atmosphere is however shattered by the noise drifting along the corridor from the adjacent George pub which is also part of the Andaz Hotel. Piped jazz into the restaurant does little to hide the background noise of a pub full of drinkers. I can only think this was a dead space in the hotel that, in an ill conceived moment, they thought to turn into a restaurant.
The reason I had chosen to eat at here in the first place is that on my recent visit to Duck & Waffle
, passing Catch on the way, I saw they advertised Norwegian King Crab as a starter on their menu. It stuck in my mind and made me think they are serious about seafood. One-O-One
attached to the Sheraton Park Tower in Knightsbridge is a remarkable seafood restaurant and shows that hotel restaurants can be first class and I was hoping Catch would be in the same mould.
When I placed my order for the king crab, I was told that it was not available today which was a disappointing start. The waiter told me that dressed crab was available instead which hardly seemed like an adequate substitute. Deflated, I went with it anyhow.
The dressed crab came but was nothing special, the food feeling generic like the hotel setting. The waiter too, while he was polite and did everything he should do like asking me if the dish was okay, gave the impression that his heart wasn't really in it, as if the very setting itself was sapping his energy. The sommelier showed the most enthusiasm, a credit in a room that radiates apathy.
For the main course, North East Arctic cod with lemon & ricotta tortellini and peas (£24). Sadly uninspiring in every way with a presentation that even a home cook should aspire to surpass; tasting it did nothing to lift my flagging spirits. The pasta on the tortellini was thick and rubbery (and left on the plate), while the cod lacked any sparkle offering up a texture more often mushy than flaky. At this price, it simply wasn't good enough, one only has to look to Bibendum
earlier in the week where the hake on the '£30 for three courses' lunch menu was a league better.
I declined dessert. The ever enthusiastic sommelier smilingly brought some chocolate truffles to the table for me while I settled the bill, which proved to be, sadly, the best part of the meal.
poached cod with lemon & ricotta tortellini