Old Amersham dates back forever and when, in 1086, it was entered into the Domesday Book, it was noted that there were 400 woodland pigs, 41 ploughs, 7 slaves and all in, Amersham was valued at £9. Just 27 miles north west of London, it is now worth considerably more and with a rich history, period buildings and the congestion of the capital far enough away to ignore but close enough to commute, it is a much sought after area. Accordingly, there are plenty of local folk interested in good food and The Artichoke, based in the very heart of Old Amersham, just steps away the ancient Market Square, is where those in the know go.
Run by husband and wife team Laurie and Jacqueline Gear, the restaurant dates back to 2002 though had an 18 month break when a fire in the neighbouring restaurant forced closure. While few things would seem more traumatic for a restaurant than this, they used the break wisely with, amongst other things, Laurie spending time in the kitchen at Noma. The restaurant meanwhile came back bigger and better, a full makeover of course, state of the art kitchen, and the acquisition of the next door premises doubling capacity.
We don't know how the 'old' Artichoke, was, but the new and improved Artichoke is in our view stunning, and the food delivers from start to finish. Cooking is precise, ingredients fresh, flavours bold and presentation excellent. And it's not just us who thinks so, The Artichoke has met with universal acclaim as it becomes more widely 'discovered' and is a favourite amongst chefs: the restaurant can even count Raymond Blanc amongst its regular diners. Indeed, at the restaurant's recent 10th anniversary dinner, Chef Blanc teamed up with Laurie, donned his whites and helped cook up the meal, delivering it personally to diners' tables. Yes, we too are kicking ourselves that we didn't attend that particular meal.
Despite all of the above, it's an unpretentious place with friendly staff and accessible menus. On the lunch service we attended, there's a set lunch, a la carte, five course tasting or seven course tasting with prices ranging from £25 through to £65; given the quality of cooking on offer, it represents excellent value. The tasting menu, our choice for the day, also provides diners with options on mains and dessert, so giving flexibility to the menu also.
The quality shines from the start, with Cornish mackerel served alongside 'isle of bute seaweed jelly', which initially brings to mind the richness of soy. Also with pickled mushrooms and pomelo, it's a plate that sings from the first moment and is a pointer to the quality that will unfold throughout the meal.
In a menu that is full of moments, it is two more seafood plates that perhaps edge in to our top slots for the meal. An Isle of Skye scallop with pork belly, cauliflower purée and cumin foam takes a few risks mixing cumin with some classic combinations but the dish maintains balance, with each of the elements still able to shine, but coming together to deliver that something extra. Needless to say, everything is beautifully cooked, but the precision and delicacy of the poached fillet of brill leaves us hushed with awe. An exceptional dish, plated with smoked chicken oyster, pumpkin mousse and crisp capers, it would have a deserving place served up in any of the world's finest restaurants.
And so went the meal. With brevity suggesting we should cut short our praise for the foie gras with hibiscus poached rhubarb, or the perfect quails breast, the pictures are nevertheless shown below, though you'd be best advised to plan a trip to Amersham and try it for yourself. On our visit, the place was humming and no one was in a rush to leave, so booking a table in advance is a must. With many awards already under its belt, and more undoubtedly on the way, we can only say they are all so well deserved. We will certainly return (that is, if we can get a table).
a secluded corner of the dining room
charred fillet of Cornish mackerel, Isle of Bute seaweed jelly, pickled mushrooms, pomelo
Pan fried Isle of Skye scallop, braised pork belly, cauliflower purée, chard romanesco and cauliflower, cumin foam
foie gras yoghurt, hibiscus poached rhubarb, malted macadamia nuts, puffed wild rice
pan fried quail breast, crispy stuffed leg, pickled artichokes, watercress, hazelnut mayo
poached fillet of brill, smoked chicken oyster, cumin feuilles de brick, pumpkin mousse, young red chard, crisp capers
maple glazed stokenchurch farm duck breast, confit leg pancake, sherry vinegar jelly, plum purée, spring onion, cucumber, young turnips, chinese cabbage, duck sauce
roast saddle of venison, slow braised shoulder croquette, venison salami, young beetroots, horseradish mousse, sprout tops, slow gin sauce
goat's milk mousse, sorrel sorbet
pear and caramelised white chocolate galette, poire william sorbet
Laurie (far right) and team
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's Matt Gillan, the Michelin stared chef who heads up The Pass restaurant at the South Lodge Hotel in West Sussex. Over the past year, we've increasingly been hearing Matt's name mentioned by chefs we respect, telling us that Matt's food is definitely worth the journey. With South Lodge Hotel being conveniently close to Gatwick Airport, our first visit there last year, a stopover before flying out the next morning, left us sadly disappointed when it turned out that The Pass is closed on a Monday, the night of our stay. That alone hints toward a key idea: while the restaurant is in a hotel, it is not a hotel restaurant.
The restaurant design has in fact given several professional critics considerable angst. First off, it's a very modern restaurant, so that while you enter the main building through a venerable reception area, the restaurant itself is more Pollen Street Social than Downton Abbey. Second, the restaurant is very much in the kitchen. The Pass is not so much a name, more a description, as all (but one) tables line a wall affording views into not one, but two kitchens, that of The Pass and that of The Camellia, the hotel's principal guest restaurant. So there it is, 22 seats of in kitchen dining, the Marmite of the modern restaurant.
The contemporary approach to the restaurant design however is reasonably fitting because The Pass takes a contemporary approach to food also. First off, there's no a la carte for any service, but at lunch time, a choice of three tasting menus: The Experience (3 courses, £25), The Gourmet Experience (5 courses, £35) or The Pass Experience (7 courses, £55). We opted for the middle option with a surprise dessert.
Following a cauliflower amuse, the savouries follow a traditional trajectory, a liver parfait, a fish course and a beef main, but it is a clever and modern take on each. A silver flicked tube of chicken liver parfait comes with a fabulous confit chicken leg and a spoonful of quince gel. Micro-greens and the red circumference of sliced radish lift the dish visually from the shared humdrum brown of the chicken and the quince, while in addition, the radish also offers some textural snap. It's a lovely dish executed well.
Hazelnut crusted pollock is an equally strong fish dish, again showing consideration for both textures and colour, but most importantly, serving up a really lovely piece of fish. With the five course menu at just £35, this is probably never going to be a menu for turbot, scallop or Cornish lobster, but the ability to bring out great flavours and textures in more humble ingredients like pollock is a great showcase for both Matt's vision and skill.
The main course, fillet of beef, is no doubt something of a crowd pleaser, but is stepped up a little from the ordinary here with ox tongue and mushroom purée. It's a well judged main.
On dessert, we're treated by the kitchen. Viewers of Great British Menu will have seen Matt on the series for the first time this year and his entire GBM menu is currently available at The Pass (£65). The plate for which he received the highest score was his superhero dessert and this comic book Comic Relief special is kindly sent out in place of the pear parfait on the gourmet menu. It certainly raises a smile and the food here bursts with colour, textures and fun.
In 2011, The Pass won a Michelin star, and in 2012, four AA rosettes; with Matt Gillan just 32 years old, he has a huge future in front of him without doubt. We don't know if he's faster than a speeding bullet, we don't know if he can leap tall buildings in a single bound, but we do know he's a super cook, leaving us to concur with everything we've heard: The Pass is certainly worth the journey.
Disclosure: we were guests of the restaurant
The banquette faces the kitchen, rotating chairs and TV's in the wall allow dining companions to also follow the action
chicken liver parfait, confit chicken leg, quince
pollock, hazelnut crust, celeriac, muscatel vinegar
fillet of beef, mushroom purée, ox tongue, parsley, shallot
Aniseed custard, pistachio, vanilla and lemon cream
Matt's GBM Comic Relief comic book dessert
apple and cherry parfait, caramelised apple, popcorn
Some things at Ducksoup are done almost certainly to keep costs down, while other things are most likely there to add an air of Bohemian chic to the place. Where one stops and the other begins leaves you puzzling. Menus are handwritten daily which surely cannot be time efficient for them, suggesting purpose, yet it also meant that our table of three had to share a single menu which made it unrewardingly awkward for us also. Knife and forks from the starters are taken from our plates and put to one side by our waiter for us to use again with our main course, perhaps to add a 'pop up experience' effect, but then that just seems amateur, while paper napkins dispensed from a metal holder are identical to those provided at exhibition centre hot dog stands. The folk behind Ducksoup have, presumably, identified that for some, this is cutting edge cool, a final austerity driven poke in the eye for fine dining, but the appeal of putting your dirty cutlery on the table for re-use, where no doubt the dirty cutlery of the previous party likewise sat just an hour earlier is lost on us.
But then the surprise comes, the food is really good. Everything we ordered was excellent, a chef friend around the table agreed, and you look at the prices and have to acknowledge that it is also good value, with three courses setting you back around £25. Deep fried salsify, rosemary and aioli (£5) and Sprouting broccoli, pickled walnut, salted ricotta (£7) highlights well their style: no nonsense or finery, few ingredients but well judged, and great flavours from good cooking.
Indeed, when it comes to the mains, Partridge with lardo (£14) sits only on greens, but it too is fabulously done; just months ago, a partridge served in a Michelin starred restaurant was not a patch on this. The dish is again devoid of frippery. The small niggle here however is that it comes in a bowl (needlessly) with a knife and fork: as a whole bird that needs some knife work, a rimmed bowl and a flimsy short handled knife once again delivers awkward over easy. Ossobuco (veal shank) is served on a traditional risotto alla milanese, much then that can go wrong here, but nothing really does, there's talent in the kitchen for sure.
Desserts offered fewer choices (three in fact) and a panna cotta is billed as a 'buttermilk and rose pudding' with rhubarb while Bergamot marmalade ice cream is served in a cheap water glass (style or cost cutting?). Not quite an afterthought but pudding is not where the heart of the kitchen lies.
Ducksoup is open throughout the day, and while we don't know if they continue to experience peak hour queues as they did when they first opened, we nevertheless chose mid afternoon to avoid any bustle. At this time however, front of house was frustratingly absent. We appreciate that staff might want downtime between lunch and dinner, but if the restaurant is open, customers should be attended.
There is some magic in the cooking, but something essential gets lost between the kitchen and the enjoyment of the meal because despite being open for more than a year, eating here feels like a pop up gig on its first night but without the energy that might otherwise carry you over the slips. For some, the place will be smart enough that food and ambience will combine to deliver a special night out, but for us, and many others we suspect, you'll leave wishing there were just a few creature comforts available and that staff would trade a little cool for a little caring.
tuna, arrocina beans, soused onions
deep fried salsify, rosemary, aioli
sprouting broccoli, pickled walnut, salted ricotta
7 hour lamb, saffron, prunes, smashed chickpeas
buttermilk and rose pudding, rhubarb
Bergamot marmalade ice cream
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.
Where to celebrate a birthday? A restaurant that celebrates food seemed a good idea. And we don't want to take chances, we want a restaurant that we can get excited about beforehand and know that it will deliver an amazing meal on the day. We've got some days free for short break and are willing to travel. In the end, it seemed a remarkably easy choice: Tom Kitchin's Leith restaurant 'The Kitchin'. Furthermore, learning that the 'Game Tasting Menu' was being served for the final few remaining days of the 2012/13 game season was all the more reason to make the pilgrimage to Edinburgh. We're thrilled we did, The Kitchin is a lovely restaurant, Tom Kitchin a remarkable chef and the food of courses sublime. Look below, see for yourself, this really felt like two star food; we were blown away.
For a restaurant delivering such seriously good food, The Kitchin nevertheless remains a place where you can relax. There are no white table cloths, no intimidating maitre d' (but bountiful Scottish hospitality) and no starchy dress code. What there was, however, was a room alive with chatter, the sound of people having a good time, people who are dressed in every style, suits to short sleeves and people who are comfortable. Yes it's Michelin, yes, it has been voted in the top three restaurants of Scotland, and yes, it has a famous chef, but The Kitchin remains a down to earth restaurant with only the food 'out of this world'.
We had chosen the game tasting menu well in advance for Chef Kitchin is well known for his talent in this area and when we cook game at home, his cookbook, from nature to plate
is always kept close by for handy reference. Today, it would be a masterclass. A jellied pheasant consomme starts us off, as clear as the lochs of Scotland and almost as pretty, helped by the sun coming out for the first time in a week, allowing the dish to literally dazzle at the table. The tartare of venison with game terrine that follows is another luminescent plate with citrus orange more prevalent than the advertised red currant jelly, but it is expertly judged and the balance of the plate is exceptional, something that is a recurring theme of the meal.
Next up, a pithivier is a perfectly delicious parcel of game, though despite the nod to a smaller portion, this remains a mighty offering on a tasting menu. A classic follows: woodcock. As is traditional, the whole bird is utilised and the open head offers up a morsel of the sweeter tasting brain. An intestine pate on toast delivers intense flavour but again, nothing throughout the entire meal is 'too gamey' and we might reasonably guess that people who ordinarily shy away from game would have their eyes opened by this menu that shows just how accessible game can be when expertly done. Also here, the leek terrine is so stunning in its artistry that taking a knife and fork to it seems almost wrong.
Often underutilised, roasted teal proves to be the 'surprise' dish of the day, possibly due to the endive tatin on which the breast sits. The teal leg, falling off the bone, is served with a sticky sweet glaze and the sweet tatin, making a guest appearance alongside that, is an eye opening yet mouth watering revelation. We finish the hot savouries with hare a la Royale which is a rich dish challenge after all that we've eaten but despite its depth, there's balance and measure here and we both cross the game finish line before cleaning up with a sea buckthorn sorbet. Rhubarb cheesecake closes.
This is the first game tasting menu to appear on the blog and our high hopes and excitement ahead of visiting The Kitchin were amply rewarded in a stunning and unique meal that emphasises both the quality of Scottish produce and the brilliance of vision by Tom Kitchin. By the time you're reading this post, the game menu is likely to have finished, until it returns again much later in the year, but we have no doubt that whatever menu is featured, it will provide you with plenty to look forward to ahead of the visit and plenty of talk about after. We loved our time at The Kitchin, for it is truly a world class restaurant, and for a way to spend my birthday, well, there was no other restaurant in the country in which we would have rather been.
the dining room
Jellied pheasant consomme served with a celeriac cream and bacon
Tartare of venison from Humbie served with a game terrine and red current jelly
Game pithivier served with apple, quince and grapes
Woodcock from the Borders served with Jerusalem artichoke and a pressed leek terrine
Reoasted teal from Blackford Estate served with spinach, beetroot and an endive tatin
Wild hare from Humbie cooked a la Royale served with salsify, pumpkin and gnocchi
Sea buckthorn sorbet
Yorkshire forced rhubarb cheesecake served with a rhubarb and blood orange consomme
We take every excuse to pass through Edinburgh as often as we can because we love the city, love the people and adore the restaurants. Amongst those places that we will always stop by if we can is Castle Terrace. We loved it from the first time we visited in 2011 and when, shortly after, it won a Michelin star, it came as no surprise. For good measure, The Sunday Times in 2012 ranked it as the 5th best restaurant in Scotland. All of this is thoroughly deserved and with Chef-Patron Dominic Jack's continued commitment to food excellence, not a single second of resting on laurels here, we predict a future with many more accolades ahead, while a second star is definitely a possibility in the future, it's that good.
We have already written two blog posts on Castle Terrace and it was not our intention to blog this meal, but the food was so beautiful, we thought we'd put up the pictures so you could see for yourself and we shall burden you almost no further with words. As a final thought however, we would say that at Castle Terrace, no detail is too small, with the food highly intricate by a kitchen striving for perfection; the result is something fantastic. If in Edinburgh, it is our view that you simply have to visit. Enjoy.
A taste of carrot and coriander finished with a toasted cumin crumble
Tartare of wild Scrabster sea bass, served sushi style
Free range corn fed chicken liver parfait with apple and quince
Seared hand dived Orkney scallops, served with a cannelloni of tarragon and lemon
Risotto of organic spelt from Doves Farm served with winter vegetables and marjoram
Ravioli of ox tongue, served in an oxtail consomme, with basil, orange and mooli
Poached fillet of Loch Duart salmon with 'pink fir apple' potatoes, Scottish sea kale and sauce bearnaise
Red legged partridge from Tullbeagle Estate served with seared foie gras, braised red cabbage, celeriac and lemon confit
Roast 'Conference' pear and Scottish honey panna cotta, served with lemon and thyme sorbet
Souffle of forced Yorkshire rhubarb, with earl grey tea ice cream
The new year has itself brought something new to John Salt with Neil Rankin, aka @frontlinechef
now in charge of the food. If that name seems familiar to you, it's possibly because Neil was previously at the well regarded Pitt Cue Co
, but here at John Salt, the food enjoys a wider vision, though the passion to deliver something special remains unchanged. Ahead of our visit today, we broadly know what's in store for we were kindly invited to the pre launch dinner here and were so impressed with the food that night, we're back, less than two weeks later, as paying customers.
At lunch, it's downstairs only, with a shorted version (we understand) of the evening menu, but there's still plenty of choice and as we discover, plenty of food to satisfy even the biggest appetite. Is it a starter, is it a snack? We begin with crab on crackling. This is really superb, white Cornish crab on light pork crackling giving a whole new take on surf and turf: freshness sweetness with soft textures from the crab, salty umami with crunch from the crackling. Seriously, you could snack on this all day.
pork crackling & crab
Our 'proper' starters immediately become talking points. Red mullet, apple bergamot on one plate and raw beef, pear and sesame on the other. With an eye on both flavour and value, the beef is skirt steak giving huge mouth feel but is for sure a commitment to chew. Some chilli gives ample heat while the pear, as it stands, needs to bring a little more to the dish in our view. The red mullet equally has huge flavour but with raw pinky grey flesh, some people will inevitably shy away from this dish which would be a shame because it tastes great. These dishes are not going to be for everyone simply because they are so in your face with flavour but for those who are tired of food that's too bland too often elsewhere, this is food with real impact.
red mullet, apple, bergamot
raw beef, pear, sesame
It is perhaps one of the sides that we order alongside the mains that we liked best, tried previously, we now don't think we could visit John Salt without ordering it: chicken skin hash. Crispy roast potatoes, peas, sweetcorn and an egg yolk, and everywhere, massive chicken flavour. This is like the best roast chicken dinner you'll ever have, there's more chicken flavour here than most chicken roasts achieve with an actual bird on the plate, seriously. It's billed as a side, costs £3.50, yet to be honest, could easily satisfy many people as a main.
chicken skin hash
For the main plates themselves, first out it was green chilli poussin (£12) which arrived looking beautiful, with a brown sticky glaze and perfect form, offset with a chilli garnish, it is undoubtedly the prettiest dish of the day. And maybe a little overkill since we had the chicken hash, but we wanted to compare the pork hash (£12), which follows along similar lines to the chicken dish, apart from the fact it's twice the size and contains huge chunks of pork in it. Given that Neil previously was responsible for Pitt Cue, he knows how to cook pork, and both mains offered food that you really want to eat, perfect for a (very) cold winter's day. A grilled salad was our other side and here, the grill really did add an additional dimension to the greens.
Green chilli poussin
We really didn't need desserts but with three on offer, bacon panna cotta (£3.50), old fashioned triffle (£5) and the banana dog (£4), all three set you back just £12.50 so it's not break the bank stuff. The bacon panna cotta is likely to get the most attention on taste as the savoury bacon flavours in the dessert sends your head in a spin as you try to resolve the conflicting messages of your senses; it really works though and offers a sort of Heston moment. The banana will get the most comment around the table simply for its looks (no elaboration), and is bananatastic, while the triffle wins the award for having the most booze in, like a shot and a dessert in one; it's a crowd pleaser for sure.
the banana dog
Bacon panna cotta
old fashioned triffle
The food at John Salt is great. Flavours are big in every dish and even when combinations are classic ones, Neil manages to squeeze a little more out of everything so it never feels anything less than a new discovery. Given the price too, a three course lunch can easily be enjoyed (with service) for £20, it's astonishing value. You'll leave very full and very satisfied, and we can think of many a meal at two, three and even four times the price that didn't offer the enjoyment that this meal delivered. Service was relaxed and friendly, the place informal, and we're sure that of an evening, it's bursting out the seams for John Salt is billed as a neighbourhood bar, but as John Salt turns a new leaf in a new year with a new chef, they have too at least one new fan, us: we loved it.Return to homepage
The smartly named Disco Bistro is daring to do things a little different and we like that. First off, they are based upstairs at The Rising Sun pub in the City, approximately midway between St Paul's and Blackfriars, an unusual choice of location. They might not be the first to break away from W1 postcodes but it is always welcome to see new things happening in non traditional areas of the capital. And while the City might be experiencing something of a food renaissance currently, the backdrop is mostly big business taking shiny sites in the likes of New Change shopping centre, it's good therefore to see genuinely independent ventures bringing diversity to this sometimes crusty area.
Furthermore, as already noted, it's in a pub, which brings a double benefit. First, you can get a real pint of beer with your food, and second, you can enjoy a limited selection of the food in the bar downstairs if you want to keep it really casual, or choose the upstairs restaurant. Don't be fooled though into thinking the upstairs restaurant is going to be all posh however, this is still a pub (and a proper boozer at that) and the upstairs has an informal and very often quirky style.
And then there's the food. While the Disco Bistro restaurant is a residency, it has not gone down an exclusive burger route. Nor however is it pitched as tasting menus only, showing off the chef's wares that way, the chef in this case being Carl Clarke, whose former ventures include the Rocklobsta and God Save the Clam projects (neither, we have to admit, did we sample). Rather, it is we guess what Carl wants to cook, using great suppliers (see below), to give the punter broadly what they want.
The upstairs menu in fact has snacks, which can be considered starters, followed by 'plates', yes, real plates of food, cooked and all that, and burgers of various proteins. There's even desserts, and in that sense, it is recognisable to all, not simply those in the food know, and you can even construct a traditional looking three course meal if that's what you want.
Pigeon pea fritters and sticky wings are our starters, while there's even an impressively grown up option of scallops, black pudding and apple. The more I consumed of the wings, the more I liked them and the tangy sticky exterior adding a little crunch made this an enjoyable if messy starter - clean napkins were, thoughtfully, regularly offered and service was friendly and well judged throughout. On the other side of the table, the pigeon pea fritters proved the preferred dish so that all worked out well. Hot wings are also available, and were described as, well, hot, but were not on this occasion tried.
Pigeon pea fritters, ranch dip
sticky chicken wings
When it came to the mains, we both opted for a burger option, sampling both the Disco Burger (beef and a bit more) and the Crackled jumbo shrimp burger. If you don't want a bun, there's also a ribeye steak, with the online menu advertising a 35 day aged Dexter steak, bone marrow and chips at a more than reasonable £21. What we didn't know at the time of ordering however, is that the meat at Disco Bistro comes from the butcher Philip Warren
Readers of our blog will know that we are huge fans of Philip Warren who, as many of you will also know, supplies a limited wholesale market with customers that include The Ledbury, Alyn Williams at The Westbury and Pollen Street Social. On a personal level, we have been so impressed by Philip Warren's meat this past year that at Christmas, we ordered both our Christmas Day goose and Boxing Day beef from them (and loved both). It's a quality burger then with the beef inside, both the patty and the short rib, amongst the best meat you'll find in a burger. It's a mighty burger too, for there is also bacon, cheese and more on top such that when it arrives at the table, you simply stare at it for the first minute wondering how exactly to tackle it. I could barely finish it and certainly couldn't manage the fries as well.
The crackled jumbo shrimp is crackled with pork and comes additionally with spicy crab, buttermilk and fennel slaw. This burger was, however, somewhat unbalanced in our view as the spicy crab was too dominant a flavour
Crackled jumbo shrimp, spicy crab & buttermilk, fennel slaw
Disco burger: pure Devon Ruby patty, cheese, bacon, BBQ short rib
Desserts, from memory, came in two varieties together with the option of a cheese plate: definitely not your typical pop up then. Sadly, the cinnamon doughnuts were off that day as Carl was unhappy with the mix leaving us reluctantly impressed that Carl would rather take one of two sweets off the menu rather than send out sub standard product. Making up for this fact, he kindly sent us the rhubarb with white chocolate and miso custard, offering up rhubarb strips and rhubarb jelly with biscuit crunch and a really excellent white chocolate and wasabi custard which we eagerly put away despite being full up.
rhubarb with white chocolate and miso custard
Try and think of anywhere decent to eat close to Blackfriars and you'll be scratching your head for a while (if you do know somewhere, pray tell), leaving the field wide open no doubt for Disco Bistro, though under the current residency, it is only scheduled to last through to mid year, though might of course be extended. And against the backdrop of a square mile that offers Jamie and Gordon, Nandos and Prets, the unique Disco Bistro is a most welcome addition for sure.
We visited at lunch time when things were reasonably low key, but we understand that in the evening, the place gets really quite lively. And talking of lively, even at lunchtime, as you enjoy your burger, expect the music to be pumping, for this is no ordinary bistro, this is, of course, a disco bistro.
Duck & Waffle, not content with the unique appeal of being at the top of one of Europe's tallest buildings, added further to its proposition by opening all day, every day, so being there for you when other restaurants simply aren't. The combination of theses two factors pretty much guarantees D&W a good trade, so you might think that they wont be trying so hard with the food, but then you'd be wrong.
You might also think they would be predictable, but then you'd be wrong again: they have avoided cliché, avoided the Michelin trap and the tourist trap, charge normal prices for the food (it will cost you £25 to visit the top of The Shard, no food included), and instead, have done their own thing. The menu looks interesting, features items rarely found elsewhere while the food itself tends to be full on with flavour: it's a winning formula.
This is our second visit to D&W and with the snow outside ensuring we had no view (for the restaurant now nestled amongst the clouds), it bothered us not one bit, for while our first visit might have been partly motivated by the draw of altitude, this time, we're simply here for the food. What is different to our last visit is that we have chosen a Sunday for the brunch menu. We've been doing something of a 'Sunday lunch challenge' for a while now with mixed results: being well fed on a Sunday in London is not as easy as you'd think. We had wanted to eat at D&W on previous Sundays but found it fully booked, so with a little planning, here we are, back on the 40th floor.
The brunch menu is divided up between 'brunch favourites', 'eggs', sweets (but not desserts), and large plates, the last of these being duck & waffle itself, sirloin steak or a whole roast chicken. We took a little selection of plates to share from around the menu.
Chef Dan Doherty also kindly sent out a venison carpaccio sitting on a base of pear and macadamia, together with pine embers (a vestige of Christmas), and all of this on the Himalayan salt block. Beautifully done, amusing, tasty, all then typically Duck & Waffle. If the venison was subtle, bacon wrapped dates were anything but. With linguica sausage inside the wrap also, three of these dark sticky parcels arrive at the table and each one takes three or four good bites to see it away: it's rich, hearty and quite frankly gorgeous.
bacon wrapped dates
It's eggs next, with our chosen dishes duck egg en cocotte (wild mushrooms, gruyere, truffle, soldiers) and steak 'n' eggs benedict (braised ox cheek, charred sourdough, hollandaise). Both are good but the steak 'n' eggs benedict is a clear winner bringing together many threads and many favourites for a winning brunch dish. We're now beginning to think we've overdone the food a little.
duck egg en cocotte (wild mushrooms, gruyere, truffle, soldiers)
steak 'n' eggs benedict
The spicy ox cheek doughnut was the one dish that didn't work for us, not because we didn't like the flavours so much but because, in our view, the doughnut was too stodgy, weighing the dish down with it. It came with apricot jam on the side and certainly has the potential to be great, just a little tweaking needed perhaps.
Finally, almost finally, it's duck & waffle. We had this last time too and it is a dish that not only sticks in the memory but has you thinking in idle moments, 'I want it again, I want it again'. The name of the restaurant reinforces the idea and there's no where else you can really get it, so here we are, back, eating duck and waffle. Crispy duck, runny egg, regular or mustard maple syrup and a few carbs, what doesn't this dish have (apart from vitamins)? Another great brunch dish, and not a million miles away from steak 'n' eggs benedict when you think about it.
duck & waffle
We are so very full, stopping of course would be the sensible thing, but so many favourable comments have been made by foodies about the warm chocolate brownie with peanut butter ice cream and crunchy caramel, for the blog, we thought we had better try one. It is indeed a winner of a dessert centred around a really great brownie, crumbly but gooey, just as it should be.
warm chocolate brownie with peanut butter ice cream and crunchy caramel
We enjoyed the brunch menu at D&W, a nice change to the usual Sunday roast, and clearly a winner, for the restaurant was full when we arrived and full when we left, despite the snow on the ground. The website for D&W lists multiple menus including breakfast, brunch, all day and late night, though when one menu starts and another ends, you'll have to check with them. Head Chef Dan Doherty is another young man with a big talent and is really making a name for himself at Duck & Waffle. After all, when you run the restaurant on the highest floor of the second tallest building in the UK and people are coming for the food, not for the view, you know you must be doing something right. Return to homepage
Readers of our blog will know that we have an enduring love affair with Le Manoir, though ask anyone who has stayed there and you will rapidly discover that we are not alone in doing so. At the heart of why it is so good is that it knows what it wants to deliver to its guests and seeks to do it with perfection, which for them, is not just a goal but something that is often achieved. While Le Manoir in summer and autumn is no doubt spectacular, showing off the gardens in full bloom, our preference has been to visit in winter when you can wander room to room and never be more than a few feet away from a real log fire. Even better, many of the individual rooms have real fires too and when there's snow on the ground outside, being able to curl up in front of a real fire in your own room is simply the best.
Foodwise, it is, as it always is, a real treat, with @chefgaryjones
preparing for us 'les saveurs de janvier' menu, seven courses of beautiful ingredients beautifully cooked. Indeed, extending the beautiful theme, Le Manoir's plating of food is amongst the very best there is in our view and each dish is a visual treat that has conditioned you to hunger from the moment it is set down in front of you. This is immediately evident with the terrine of baby beetroot, the big slab of deep purple dotted around the pate with orange, red, pink and greens, making art that is stunning.
Quail's egg ravioli is always going to be special, but served up with Parmesan foam cascading down into the base of poultry and rosemary jus and a bed of hazelnuts and croutons, it's cooking that is set apart from almost all other. Two luxury seafood dishes follow with turbot, scallop and oyster in a single bowl with wasabi and cucumber, again, another dish that is captivatingly beautiful in every way. Then it's Scottish lobster with red pepper and cardamom, surrounded by sentinels of caviar topped potato. Two dishes that have taken the very best of what the sea offers and made the very best of it; did I mention earlier about striving for perfection and achieving it?
Not enough? The main is an assiette of piglet, together with cabbage, onion and prune and includes loin chops, belly and black pudding, food we know and love, here, given Le Manoir's magic touch. Coconut with chocolate is now forever associated with bounty but textures, coconut three ways, and Ghana chocolate Grand Cru, means it's like no Bounty that comes in a wrapper. The menu is brought to a close by intense citrus fla, cleaning, refreshing and somehow able to slip down after this magnificent meal, perhaps our best meal yet at Le Manoir.
As before, it is all too short a stay, and despite the fact that we're just two weeks into 2013, Le Manoir is likely to prove one of the highlights of the year. It looks like our love affair with Le Manoir will endure a little longer.
Terrine of baby beetroot, cottage cheese, horseradish sorbet
Quail's egg ravioli, spinach, Parmesan, poultry and rosemary jus
Braised Cornish turbot, scallop, wasabi (and oyster)
Plancha seared Scottish lobster, red pepper, cardamom
Assiette of organic Denbighshire piglet, cabbage, onion purée and prune
Textures of coconut and Ghana chocolate Grand Cru