Much has been made of Kitchen W8 being a 'neighbourhood restaurant' though that neighbourhood could only be Kensington & Chelsea since mains go as high as £28, the venue has a Michelin star and if it were transported to say Wales, it might possibly be considered the best restaurant in the whole country (sorry Wales). Pushchair buggies lining the walls suggest mothers or nannies who lunch reinforcing that neighbourhood image, but without mistake, there's some serious cooking going on here and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Having recently eaten at the incredibly well regarded Medlar also (we're moving west it seems for lunch these days), we think Kitchen W8 trumps it on execution of dishes, providing more balance and depth in the food. To top it all, Kitchen W8 delivered up what instantly became one of our favourite desserts since starting the blog. Not a bad lunch then.
The menu is well constructed and while offering lots of stuff you know and love, there's usually something extra going on to lift it just that little bit more. One starter 'tartare of veal with smoked anchovies, pickled radish, capers, raisins and quail's egg' has clearly gone that little bit further than your average neighbourhood restaurant to make veal tartare even more interesting but when it arrives, it has been thoughtfully, and artfully, plated, and it all points to a kitchen that combines skill with caring.
These are all also hearty plates of food, my raviolo of Cornish lobster is substantial, and substantially covered with other things, but never too much so; the result is to keep every mouthful interesting without feeling plates have been over laboured. And the lobster in the raviolo, Cornish as noted, really came through nicely so despite everything else, there was never any doubt what the point of, and star of, this plate was.
And so the meal continued in this fashion. Mains were all very enjoyable, usually the most difficult of the courses to prevent diners becoming bored but we breezed through easily enough and whether it was turbot, or rump of veal, no one had any complaints. But it was when dessert came, and we were recommended Roasted Hazelnut Parfait with Salted Caramel Ice Cream, Chocolate Soaked Brioche and Praline (apparently the most popular dessert on the menu), well, had the rest of the meal been bad, we would have forgiven them everything. Since it was not, this was a crowning glory. Chocolate Soaked Brioche? Oh yes, no holding back there, and a big slice of the parfait, no skimping on portions but a dessert you can never get enough of. Very much the moment of the meal. For some variety around the table, I ordered the banana ice cream with thyme caramel, milk chocolate and crushed pop corn and this too was very good, so much so that I was only a little jealous of the chocolate soaked brioche, which is some praise.
This was accomplished food and extends well beyond what most would think of as a 'neighbourhood restaurant', though the venue itself is somewhat beige. Prices are not so you'll be looking at around £50 for three courses before drink yet it didn't feel out of line given the quality. Service was always friendly, though felt a little absent at times.
As most will know, Phil Howard of The Square, is a partner in the restaurant, though doesn't, as far as we understand involve himself in the kitchen. Nevertheless, the team are doing him proud and overall, our view is that this is among the best of the London one star restaurants.
tartare of veal with smoked anchovies, pickled radish, capers, raisins and quail's egg
Ceviche of Orkney Scallop with charred fennel, shellfish oil, chilli, coriander and lime.
Raviolo of Cornish lobster with a vinaigrette of English tomatoes, peas and lemon verbena
rump of veal with caramelised cauliflower, hazelnut spatzle, mousserons and broad beans
fillet of turbot with new season's pea puree, fricassee of bacon, peas, gnocchi and lettuce
caramelised loin and raviolo of pata negra pork with ruby grapefruit, charred lettuce, spring carrots and crackling
Roasted Hazelnut Parfait with Salted Caramel Ice Cream, Chocolate Soaked Brioche and Praline
banana ice cream with thyme caramel, milk chocolate and crushed pop corn
If you're wondering why SushiSamba has made a resurgence on blogs lately, it is because they have a new executive chef Claudio Cardoso heading up the kitchen and he's shaken things up at this Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian fusion restaurant. To be honest, previously we have avoided the place because the reviews after opening were not so good, but when we recently bumped into Dan Doherty of Duck & Waffle, he was singing the praises of Claudio so perhaps the time had come to pay it a visit; a subsequent invite from the restaurant's PR company sealed the deal.
We were pleasantly surprised with the meal, the flavours were clean and bold and all dishes were well judged balancing out freshness with the zing. Service once inside was excellent though we did stand around for an actual five minutes at an unattended reception desk which was not a good first impression. Overall though, we very much enjoyed our meal at the revamped SushiSamba.
So it's goodbye to Roganic. When Roganic was announced back in 2011 as a 'pop up', it raised a few eyebrows, but two years to the day, the restaurant popped back down again with little by way of fanfare.
Being a properly seasonal restaurant, the final menu still reflected the ethos of the past two years and the last outing was very much a Roganic meal as normal; when the kitchen extractor broke just before service and the temperature soared in what is normally a hot kitchen anyway, I think the chefs were beyond pleased that they had not gone OTT on the last night. So there was the usual Roganic things we've come to know and love: mackerel in coal oil, carrots with beef tongue and vintage potatoes with ashes etc. It was a beautiful meal (as always) and is recorded below as a matter of interest and a fond memory of a great evening rather than a practical blog post, for the restaurant no longer exists.
So the last words to Simon Rogan who five days ago tweeted:
Just left @Roganic for the last time, job done, bye bye London for now.
Peas and sugar snaps with mint
mackerel in coal oil, yoghurt and rye
Cornish crab, cabbage and chicken skin
carrots with beef tongue, dill and buttermilk
potatoes in ashes, onions and lovage
scallop with turnips, horseradish and barley
pollock in brown butter, smoked roe and fennel
Herdwick lamb, wood blewits, sweetbreads and Good King Henry
Strawberries with sweet cicely
cherries, lemon verbena and woodruff
the final bite... spruce milkshake, flapjack
Disclosure: we were guests of the restaurant
Even on a Monday night, Dean Street Townhouse was rammed, can't imagine the chaos of the place on a Friday or Saturday. The greeting on the door, for a place already full up was nevertheless charming and helpful, not a touch of arrogance which really set a good tone for the rest of the meal (first impressions!). We did get lucky though for while we didn't have a booking, we barely had enough time to order a gin and tonic at the bar before we were led to a very good table in the back half of the restaurant where, staring out on to Dean Street itself, we could watch the world go by. There are however also a limited number of outside tables where if you really want to get close...
The menu reads well, nothing overly inventive but food that sounds enticing to eat. From the starters we chose marinated scallops, cucumber and borage, together with a twice baked smoked haddock souffle. We were also enticed by the pheasant eggs with celery salt which came listed as 3/5. When we asked if we could have four, our waiter did seem momentarily stunned and started talking about how they were divided into portions but he didn't say no and came back in the end with four eggs which were really enjoyed, seeing us mop up every grain possible of the celery salt, sad to finish. The haddock souffle was a shade heavy on texture but we really didn't mind because the flavour was first class with great balance. Starters then totally enjoyed.
Broadly think meat and two veg or with chips for Townhouse mains and you're on the money. But there was a dish I couldn't resist, and the cheapest main on the menu, 'mince and potatoes' (£13.50). Intrigued by this, I ordered and expected the worst. I was so wrong, I absolutely adored this dish for the mince had a lovely texture, a satisfying richness, perfect seasoning and bags of flavour. I wouldn't have been more happy even if I had ordered steak. Not complex but satisfying, done so well, I would happily return for this alone. The other main, calves liver, bacon and onion was similarly well received.
Only with desserts did the standard drop a little. Our indecisiveness of old school plates resulted in us getting a selection. What didn't work at all was their contemporary dessert, Hendricks gin jelly with cucumber sorbet, with the sorbet far too icy and the dish overall too sharp. Cherry pie and a slice or two of Battenburg cake suffered from dry pastry and a dry cake generally, while Arctic roll (how many decades since I last had that) could too easily have been bought at an average supermarket.
Overall however, we really did enjoy our meal at Dean Street Townhouse and with three courses from the a la carte costing for the most part £30-£35, it offers a good time and fun food without breaking the bank.
Note on the picture below: The principal light source for the pictures of the food below was a candle on the table (that's what is causing the long shadows). Coupled with the fact that I didn't have my regular blogging camera, we recognise the pictures could be better. Apologies to DST for this. Those in the market for romance might enjoy the lighting though the restaurant itself has a healthy buzz to it.
marinated scallops, cucumber & borage
pheasant eggs and celery salt
twice baked smoked haddock souffle
calves liver, bacon and onion
... and potatoes
Hendricks gin jelly
When the sun is shining, Angler restaurant has one of the best places to enjoy lunch in the City with a 7th floor roof top terrace situated atop South Place Hotel. These tables can't be booked however - first come, first served - so it pays to be early, or late, when you can pick up a turned table. This is in fact my third visit to Angler (both previous visits took place in 2012), but while the first was excellent, the second took place during the busy run up to Christmas and was less good. We decided that this meal would act as the decider.
As its name suggests, Angler is a seafood restaurant and while there are non fish dishes (1x beef, 1x pork, 1x lamb, 1x veggie on mains), it's best that you're a fish fan if you eat here. Located in the Square Mile, a place still short of good restaurants and certainly fish restaurants (the awful Catch at the Andaz has now closed and been reinvented as a champagne bar thankfully), Angler has become something of a City lunchtime favourite it seems and on our visit, there were no shortage of suits on display. Given the clientele, and with South Place Hotel positioning itself in the market as a stylish boutique hotel, don't expect prices to be cheap, with starters averaging about £13 and mains £25. On our visit, there was however a good looking great value set lunch menu at £30 that included three courses and a glass of Laurent Perrier champagne; we were almost tempted.
The first page of the menu has headings Crustacea, Oysters, Caviar, Starters. We picked half a dozen Rock oysters to start (split between Colchester and Mersea) with the Colchester oysters just huge though the slightly more expensive and smaller Mersea were the better of the two. After that, starters proper, with a langoustine and lobster cocktail that is priced at £18, and a shellfish ravioli at £13.50. Both of these dishes were excellent, and as we mused on the £18 price tag for the cocktail (Orkney Island langoustine at Angler are priced at £5 each so the cocktail price is perhaps no big surprise), because this classic had been re-imagined so well, there was no later remorse.
Mains fared less well. We chatted with the restaurant manager later about the merits of leaving the skin on a fish if it is not intended to be eaten. With the steamed wild sea bass, because of the cooking method, the skin remains soft and not suitable for eating but is left on for presentation purposes. We recalled Michel Roux Jnr telling a Masterchef contestant that things that aren't supposed to be eaten shouldn't be on a plate. The sea-bass itself however was nice though the ragout of razor clams, chorizo and marjoram was dominated by what seemed like tomato paste, sadly allowing the razor clam to offer only texture to the dish.
The halibut meanwhile was a cross section cut through the fish and then halved along the spine. Accordingly there was skin top and bottom of the steak, neither of which was asking to be eaten, and while the main spine bone was easy and obvious to remove, inappropriately, over a dozen other bones of around 10mm in length were also present through the fish. Management apologised for this error and offered a free glass of champagne to us. Angler is not trying to be Nathan Outlaw and do something super clever with fish, it's mostly classic stuff, and having been open for around 6 months now, they should be nailing dishes like this every time, surely? If this were a business meeting with a client (or being a client) which are so plentiful here, hunting for and pulling a bone out of your mouth with each bite would be a major distraction during the meal at the very least.
For desserts (around £7), it was a chocolate fondant with cherry yoghurt ice cream and hazelnut cake, salted caramel, lime and vanilla sorbet. They were the weakest part of the meal. The hazelnut cake, offering no thrills, was dominated by a biting lime sorbet, the salted caramel not registering at all. The chocolate fondant was good enough but the cherry yoghurt ice cream not so. With so many high quality ice creams available from the supermarket now, a restaurant should never fall at this particular hurdle.
This is not a cheap meal, with prices appropriately pitched for the City market (which is mostly expensed), but at those prices, the dishes should be nailing it more than they are. The setting was lovely, the service generally good, though stretched due to the good weather adding 40 more outside covers to the lunchtime tally, and the early part of the meal excellent. While there is a shellfish platter as a shared (?) starter, we would have been more happy to see a big fruit de mer available as a main course, especially with hindsight. Third time lucky still sees me pondering the merits of Angler. Overall, we enjoyed our meal, but should have enjoyed it more.
Oysters (Colchester left, Mersea right)
Langoustine & lobster cocktail, baby gem lettuce, brown shrimps
shellfish ravioli, tomato and chive butter, fennel & ginger slaw
steamed wild sea bass, ragout of razor clams, chorizo and marjoram
roast halibut, brown shrimps, capers, butter, parsley
chocolate fondant, cherry yoghurt ice cream
hazelnut cake, salted caramel, lime and vanilla sorbet
The pictures below were taken at a dinner in 2012.
Cornish Cod, mariniere of cockles & squid, basil emulsion
Angler & Lobster pie, button mushrooms, mashed potato
Roast figs, yoghurt and honey parfait, pistachio crumble
After achieving 5 AA Rosettes in the 2012 guide, a second Michelin star followed in the 2013 Michelin Guide meaning that Michael Wignall at The Latymer is one of the most decorated restaurants in the country; we visit with big expectations. The restaurant is set within Pennyhill Park Hotel, a country house hotel in Surrey placing it 34 miles from Piccadilly Circus with a journey time (on a good day) of an hour, but with the hotel set in over 60 acres of ground, it feels a million miles away from the bustle of the capital.
The website shows a three course a la carte menu available for dinner at £78 per person and a ten course tasting menu at £92. This places it slightly below its London 2 star peer group where typically three courses might be £90 and the tasting £115. At lunch, there is a reduced tasting menu for which we were charged £60, though the kitchen kindly sent out additional courses so it more closely approximated the dinner experience. While there may be a price discount to London, The Latymer is very much a full on luxury experience with a plush dining surround befitting a country house hotel that means that you'll be perfectly comfortable at your table over the duration of your meal. Exquisite crockery meanwhile serves to further enhance the appeal of already beautifully presented food (the main course dinner plates, cropped in the photo below, are perhaps the largest we have even seen and are themselves objets d'art).
We asked some chef friends ahead of our visit about Michael Wignall's cooking and we were told that it involved a lot of hard work and was highly complex, which intrigued us more than a little. On Pennyhill Park's own website they note that while Michael first won a Michelin star 14 years ago, he was also given the accolade of Best Chef you have never heard
of by Olive magazine. Michael Wignall himself describes his food 'complex and carefully crafted'. What does this mean in practice? Well, one dish is on the menu as 'poached cod and langoustine, scallop and charcoal emulsion, textures of cauliflower, Iberico lardo veil'. And breathe.
So Michael is very much his own man and while the young guns are serving burnt onions in the Nordic style, and rarely use more than three ingredients on any one plate, Michael clearly lets his vivid imagination flow and every plate is packed with multiple ingredients and multiple techniques. Critically though, it all works and across the ten courses we ate, we adored every dish.
Will it wont it? Tasting menus at any restaurant you don't know carry some risk and the first dish is invariably a good signpost to how the rest of the meal will go. Heaven or hell? Here, our first dish is Smoked eel cigar and salad, chicken poached in Asian stock, coriander and yoghurt, ponzu pearls, curry emulsion. As soon as it is set down in front of us, the intricacy of the plate leaves you in no doubt how much hard work has gone into this dish, something that would be true of everything we were served that day, and the journey begins.
Every single ingredient is cooked to perfection, the flavours shine individually but work brilliantly well as a whole; the food is incredibly sophisticated, yet it is neither unapproachable nor excessively out the box (like say 21212
). We love the fact that it is neither classical nor avant garde, and it certainly doesn't play to any of the prevailing trends, rather, the food is Michael Wignall and that most definitely should be applauded. The result too is diversity but without it ever feeling disjointed: the main of 'Poached and roasted breast of croise duck' plays a more traditional card while the 'exotic egg' for dessert simulates an egg with a coconut 'white' and a mango 'yolk' that places a broad smile on your face when you split it open to see the 'yolk' run through the dish. It brings more joy when you spoon it up with the cinnamon "pain perdu" rounding out for a pleasing and reinvented egg and soldiers. Genius.
Earlier however in the menu you'll enjoy a 'cassoulet of razor, palourde calms and cockles, cuttlefish gnocchi and wafer, poached quail egg' which is something else again, a beautifully presented dish where the wafer looks like a barnacle covered rock, the egg hinting at a closed sea anemone and a foam that evokes the breaking surf. We loved, loved, loved this dish, delivering an original taste of the sea. Talking of foams, Michael seems happy to use the technique as necessary, and spherification too, but it works and is only ever a part of a greater scheme, it's never a point in itself.
There are so many reasons to love this meal. We have argued in the past that a number of 'top restaurant' tasting menus are too predictable, bordering on lazy, with their ballotine of foie gras, scallop and other luxury staples, all presented little more than cooked well; admittedly, not everyone has agreed with our view. But where we will always sing our highest praise is where a chef has a unique style that presents a personal vision of what dining means to them, chefs like Simon Rogan, David Everitt-Matthias and Brett Graham; we find Michael Wignall to be another such chef. We had high hopes prior to visiting Michael Wignall at The Latymer, all of which were exceeded. When you get tired of yet another London brasserie, or the new new Nordic scene, The Latymer offers something unique. Accordingly, until you have actually enjoyed Michael's cooking, you haven't enjoyed Michael's cooking.Scroll down for a few words on the Pennyhill Park.
the dining room
dips and sticks
Smoked eel cigar and salad, chicken poached in Asian stock, coriander and yoghurt, ponzu pearls, curry emulsion
Broccoli: sprouting broccoli, courgette, garden peas, pine nut foam, brillat truffe, morels, toasted pine nuts
Tuna: seared tuna, cannelloni with ponzu, broccoli salad, nunu with kecap manis
Poached cod, scallop and charcoal oil emulsion, textures of cauliflower, Iberico lardo veil
cassoulet of razor, palourde calms and cockles, cuttlefish gnocchi and wafer, poached quail egg
Poached and roasted breast of croise of duck, pressed leg, caramelised celeriac puree, rosemary scented borlotti beans, confit wet garlic
Cheese: herb and blue cheese lavosh, Roquefort, hazelnut powder, Pedro Ximenez jelly, goats cheese and roquette salad
"Exotic egg"Mango, coconut, cinnamon "pain perdu"
Lemon: organic lemon curd and cloud, soft meringue, digestive crumbs and tuille, crystallized lemon, lemon thyme ice cream
Raspberry: textures of raspberries, white chocolate namelaka and powder, chocolate sable, clotted cream
post dinner sweets
Chef Michael Wignall
Pennyhill Park is country house hotel and is part of the Exclusive Hotels
group, who include in their group South Lodge Hotel (Matt Gillan, The Pass
restaurant) and Manor House Hotel & Golf Club (Richard Davies, The Bybrook
), both of which are Michelin starred. It's a group that takes hospitality seriously and their CRM system is second to none (they had even recorded our still/sparkling water preference!).
We were kindly given a tour of the hotel, a room or two, and their spa which is simply fantastic. Below are a few pictures we took at the time which show the beautifully kept grounds in which it is set, the outdoor pool, the indoor pool and a room within the hotel together with one of the more interesting bathrooms. Admittedly, we're not spa people so are not totally qualified to comment on what is or is not cutting edge in the field, but the spa here looked the business and inspired us sufficiently to want to return not only for the restaurant but to enjoy the broader amenities of the hotel.
Theo Randall's recent TV appearance on The Chef's Protege prompted us to visit his restaurant at The InterContinental, for Theo came across well in the programme and his food, rustic Italian, always looked and sounded good on the show. The BBC series comes perhaps as a timely boost to Theo's profile as we both realised that in the three years of our blog's life, it had occurred to neither of us to eat here until now (and according to Urbanspoon, this is the first blog post on this restaurant in 2013).
Having heard Theo talk about the ethos of his food over the past few weeks on the show, we can confidently state that his food philosophy centres on using Italy's best ingredients for maximum flavour, but with only a few ingredients on any one plate at any one time - nothing should be over complicated. Balance, seasoning and precise cooking are key. This comes across fully in the menu that brings together all those wonderful Italian ingredients in classic combinations, so our antipasti dishes are Bresaola with wild rocket, pinenuts, Amalfi lemons and Parmigiano Reggiano, and Salumi misti - prosciutto di Parma, schiena, Toscano and fennel salami, capocollo, lardo bruschetta with marinated vegetables "agro dolce". Both are wonderful plates of food, and the quality of what's on the plate is unmistakable.
The same is true of the Primi where a linguine with Dorset blue lobster, tomatoes, parsley and fresh chilli provides an absolutely beautiful lobster with the pasta, though if there's a criticism here, it is that too much sauce on the dish sees it overly dominate the plate making it hard to appreciate just how good the pasta really is. A taglierini with new season's peas, prosciutto, mint and Parmigiano Reggiano is again classic and here, the pasta is so well done and the flavours balanced so nicely, even when you finished, the dish lingers in the mouth reminding you of just how good it is long after it's gone.
As nice as the food is however, the restaurant suffers in our opinion from being in the hotel. From our seat, which is a good seat, we can see the bell boys wheeling luggage through the hotel lobby, there's no windows in the dining room and while the room is smart, it is without character. It's also very big and with only a handful of tables taken, the atmosphere is flat. Taking a cue from the room perhaps, the staff too seemed flat, going through the motions with little enthusiasm. There's few features of interest to distract you either, a narrow window through to the extensive kitchen is something of a token as virtually nothing can be seen and none of the drama of the kitchen (if there is any) spills over to the dining room.
The space allocated to the restaurant seems too large even and with the restaurant already seating well in excess of 100 covers on our estimate, they've given over surplus space to what appears to be a reception area. Presumably there was some event to be held here at dinner because throughout our meal they're rearranging furniture and discussing what tables to put where and what cloths should be laid in what fashion, something usually done between, rather than during, service. It distracts us, and it distracts them and service feels patchy. Also, as if for comic purposes, they made a hash of it.
Service issues feature again when our waiter clears our main courses (veal chop and pigeon) and at the table, scrapes the leftovers between plates as if this were a greasy spoon cafe. We discuss the issues with the restaurant manager resulting in our waiter being visibly irritated with us, simmering hostility. When he delivers a 'selection of desserts to share', he sets it down and walks away. We call him back and ask him what desserts we have on the selection; he struggles to name the four desserts on the plate and then sources a menu so he can read off the description.
Of course, all this is forgivable in the majority of restaurants, but here, you're paying some of the biggest prices in the country to eat. On the main courses, the pigeon is £31, the veal chop £38. The lobster linguine was £23 while antipasti dishes are around the £14 mark. Food with service then will set you back just under £100 a head, and at this price point, for a Park Lane restaurant, the service standard should be impeccable, as it is at Galvin at Windows, or Le Gavroche.
In many ways, there's simply a brand incongruence here it would seem, for on Theo Randall's website he says
I hate formality and pretence. My favourite places to eat in the world are all in Italy... they are brilliant, not simply because they serve delicious food, but because they are fun and relaxed.
But as you enter the InterContinental hotel, passing the Rolls Royces parked outside, fun and relaxed can simply never describe this restaurant in our view. Instead, it's a smart but not fashionable, ultra-expensive restaurant that exactly fits in to its Park Lane surrounds, where the food really is first class, but where the ambiance struggles to rise above hotel lobby and the service gives the impression of simply not knowing better.
Our conclusion is quite simple: Theo Randall's food is undoubtedly excellent but the InterContinental is entirely the wrong situation in which to serve it, in our opinion.
Salumi misti - prosciutto di Parma, schiena, Toscano and fennel salami, capocollo, lardo bruschetta with marinated vegetables "agro dolce"
Bresaola with wild rocket, pinenuts, Amalfi lemons and Parmigiano Reggiano
linguine with Dorset blue lobster, tomatoes, parsley and fresh chilli
taglierini with new season's peas, prosciutto, mint and Parmigiano Reggiano
wood roasted veal chop with datterini tomatoes, slow cooked sweet fennel, Italian spinach and salsa verde
Anjou pigeon marinated and wood roasted on pagnotta bruschetta with slow cooked new season's Italian peas and pancetta
selection of desserts to share (panna cotta, lemon tart, soft chocolate cake, vanilla ice cream with marsala)
When friends in Suffolk suggested we stay over for a weekend, they said they had an ideal place for dinner on the Saturday night. When they told us it was The British Larder we were delighted because we have for some time followed their website www.britishlarder.co.uk
and think it is excellent.
The British Larder has a menu that reads very well indeed with a focus on local ingredients. There's a strong sense of Suffolk on the menu and it's a county that probably doesn't get enough credit for its wonderful produce as perhaps it should. The odd thing (in the more general sense) is that more places don't have a menu like The British Larder for if you are a country style pub/restaurant, this is the menu that you really should aspire to. There are no burgers, pies or fish and chips here. Instead, there's roasted rack of lamb, pan fried hake, Dingley Dell pork belly. It's a kitchen that does proper cooking and it's a wonderful thing.
As noted, we're there with friends, including a vegan, and a major plus point is that he's easily accommodated, but so also are we with around seven options on the menu at each stage. Accordingly, there's plenty of food diversity around the table, and with everything sounding so good, the only difficulty is choosing. Being in Suffolk, my choices had to feature pork somewhere and I chose the starting pork dish, Dingley Dell Pork Tasting: Hock Scotch Egg, Crispy Bacon and Frisse Salad, Raised Pork Pie, Pig Rillettes which was an astonishing celebration of pork in various forms and through variety and quantity, became momentarily the focus of conversation when it was brought to the table. It ticked the boxes with each component delivering a well prepared and well cooked porky treat including an unadvertised light and crispy crackling.
Good job that I ordered a lighter main after that pork dish, for me then a fresh and summery hake fillet. But of the dishes presented here, it was a generous cut on a fillet of beef that was the talking point, while the roasted rack of lamb looked similarly divine. It lifts the spirits to see ingredients carefully sourced, respected in the kitchen and presented with care at the table and it seems almost odd that this should be sufficiently uncommon to be comment worthy.
The British Larder then should be applauded for what they do. It's not a cheap menu by any stretch, but people shouldn't begrudge that if they care what is on the end of their fork. There are still too many town and country places that serve bought in food, reheated rather than cooked, but at The British Larder, it's the real thing by people who care. Suffolk doesn't seem over-run with high quality eateries, something else that seems odd, but this The British Larder should be on everyone's food itinerary if they live in, or pass through, Suffolk.
Ravioli of Lobster, Smoked Prawn Bisque Sauce, Samphire, Confit Tomato
Salad of Middleton Asparagus, Asparagus Mousse, Soft Boiled Pheasant Egg
Dingley Dell Pork Tasting: Hock Scotch Egg, Crispy Bacon and Frisse Salad, Raised Pork Pie, Pig Rillettes
Bob Wilden's Roasted Rack of Lamb, Lamb Shoulder Croquette, Middleton Asparagus, Wild Garlic
Red Onion and Field Mushroom Tart Tatin, Braised Gem Lettuce and Broad Beans
Pan Fried Hake, Crushed New Potatoes, Creamed Dry Sherry & Fennel Sauce
Fillet of Beef, Boulanger Potato, Caramelised Shallots, Red Wine Sauce
"Our Famous Treacle Tart" Vanilla Ice Cream
Chocolate & Hazelnut Praline Cremeux, Praline Ice Cream
American political satirist PJ O Rourke wrote a book entitled Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence and a Bad Haircut, and with the opening of The Grain Store, veteran chef Bruno Loubet shows that he has more than a thing or two to teach the young guns of the world about how to be both daring and brilliant when it comes to opening a new restaurant.
Indeed, just as London seemed tired to ideas, another brasserie here, another steak house there, a new Nordic approach once again, Bruno Loubet & team have pulled off the seemingly impossible in crafting a genuinely original restaurant. Open to the public for the first week, it already feels special, and it already feels complete. We almost never go to a new restaurant in its first weeks, believing they deserve breathing space to settle in before you take their measure, but at The Grain Store, we were reassured by the powers that 'they're ready now', hence our visit.
While Bruno Loubet is the man behind the pass, we should more properly note The Grain Store is a collaborative effort with long time partners Michael Benyan and Mark Sainsbury, which is important because this is the team behind the immensely successful Zetter Hotel and The Zetter Townhouse, so there's plenty of experience (and dare I say money) at work here. And with this project two years in the making, the time has been used wisely, which means the restaurant is now exactly what they wanted and the quality shows.
But don't get us wrong here, quality does not imply stuffy, and it only means serious where it needs to be (like the cooking), but there is a pervasive sense of fun throughout with quirky touches like the after dinner drinks trolley in a pram (scroll down the photos for that). And while many restaurants now have a window into the kitchen, a kitchen table even, here the dining room and the kitchen are more intimately joined with everything open: it's like every table is the kitchen table. And with the bar running the length of the wall opposite, much of the dining room is right in the heart of the action.
With Bistrot Bruno Loubet being the restaurant opened on Bruno's return from Australia, it was very much the restaurant everybody expected of him to open, namely French. It quickly secured a stellar reputation because Bruno can seriously cook. Yet The Grain Store is the restaurant Bruno has had in his head for the past 20 years, but only now was the time right to launch it, for him, and the wider audience. As for the food here, I can put it no more succinctly than they can, so this is quoted direct from their website:
There are no geographical boundaries to the influences that have inspired the eclectic menu,– it's the culmination of Bruno Loubet's extensive travels and the years dedicated to his beloved vegetable patch. Although many dishes have a meat or fish element, this menu gives vegetables equal billing, if not the starring role.
To be clear then, this is not a vegetarian restaurant - though vegetarians will love it - but it changes the relationship of the protein to the rest of the plate. Accordingly, on descriptions, the protein comes last, so the menu reads "young leaves, green beans & pistachio salad, chermoula grilled quail". Chef Bruno tells us that the menu is constructed by considering the vegetables first and then deciding what protein should accompany it.
It does mean you'll need a minute or two longer than normal to choose your food because you need to get your head around the reverse order, as well as the self described eclectic mix, and while such a menu would be positively dangerous in lesser hands, Bruno Loubet brings a magic touch to ensure that everything here is spot on. Bruno's cooking has always been about getting the full flavours out of ingredients, often with traditional and time intensive techniques, and here his years of experience pay dividends.
We start with a chilled lobster 'Bloody Mary' that promises a taste of summer. It not only combines a stunningly perfect lobster with tomatoes that really taste, but also a cocktail shaker with tomato water and traces of celery and vodka adding depth, but further seeming like a bonus when the solids are consumed and you lap up with a spoon your 'Bloody Mary'. Sprouting beans & seeds, miso aubergine, crispy citrus chicken skin, potato wafer as the other starter equally delights and a shiitake mushroom dumpling in a lobster broth leaves us near speechless for hitting the notes of near perfection.
With the chef kindly sending out some dishes for us to try, we were able to delight in all sorts from the menu, and everything here was cooked with an assured confidence providing balance, well judged seasoning and depth. We've made similar comments about Bruno's food at the Bistrot, this is food to be enjoyed and mains of 'spiced mash, mint pickled cucumber, raw snowball turnips, broad beans and confit lamb' and 'sticky rice, kimchi cabbage & stuffed chicken wings steamed in lotus leaf' were exactly that. Fortunately, the menu informs you that 'doggy boxes' are available to take away what you can't eat at the table because you liked the sound of it so much you over-ordered.
We predict The Grain Store will be a huge hit because it has so much going for it. You can book a table, but some tables will be held back for walk ins (and it's big, seating around 120); the inside is attractively and stylishly turned out, but there's outside seating also, so you can enjoy the weather and a traffic free square. We haven't even had space to mention the bar created by Tony Conigliaro. But most importantly, people will come here for the food because not only is it good, it's properly original. In a London restaurant scene where a few ideas are now being spread thinly across many new restaurant openings, The Grain Store is a breath of fresh air.
Granary Square, behind Kings Cross
the dining room
chilled lobster 'Bloody Mary'
Sprouting beans & seeds, miso aubergine, crispy citrus chicken skin, potato wafer
shiitake mushroom dumpling in a lobster broth
sticky rice, kimchi cabbage & stuffed chicken wings steamed in lotus leaf
spiced mash, mint pickled cucumber, raw snowball turnips, broad beans and confit lamb
Strawberry & balsamic jam, horseradish ice cream, nasturtium leaves
White chocolate rice crispy, dark chocolate mousse, almond ice cream
the after dinner drinks trolley
Chef Bruno Loubet
Staying in Suffolk, we chose to eat at The Lighthouse principally because it was included on The Telegraph's online Destinations page as one of the top ten restaurants in Norfolk and Suffolk (a domestic variation of 10 famous Belgians perhaps). Maybe we should have been suspicious about the research that went in to this article as it states 'here you'll find reasonably priced dishes based on fish caught and bought locally, such as Dover sole or Carlingford oysters'. Carlingford is of course in Ireland, 482 miles away. Were they thinking perhaps of Colchester, 50 miles south? Either way, it is the 500 mile oysters that are sold here today, not the 50 mile variety.
Only later would we find that back in 2005, The Telegraph was less complementary about The Lighthouse when Jan Moir suggested, after raising the 'did they have a bad day?' question, that:
I am minded not to be charitable, because the quality of the meal and the basic ineptness of the cooking and the service are unforgivable
We didn't have service issues, and the manager dealt with our complaint appropriately, but the cooking here was of a quality you wouldn't in fact expect from an average university student during his first term away from home; maybe we hit an off day too. Clearly The Lighthouse has its fans, it is rated '87% recommended' on Tripadvisor, but we struggle to see how based on today's performance.
Despite expecting a local seafood bias, the menu is not just all over the shop, it's all over the world. On the mains, Burmese chicken curry sits next to Moroccan lamb tagine which is a step away from Ale infused ratatouille gnocchi with melted mozzarella.
It's like the chef has picked a dish from every holiday (s)he has ever taken and created a giant fusion menu with it. Starters offer chicken liver & blue cheese salad with strawberry dressing, a local crab salad with Marie Rose sauce, or perhaps a crispy duck salad with bamboo shoots & hoi sin dressing. We're at a bit of a loss. We ask the waitress about local fish on the menu, she doesn't know but she does check: the cod and haddock are local, but they are both deep fried for fish and chips offered on the main (we later wish we had in fact picked this instead).
The oysters are the only thing that don't scare us (perhaps they should, for the month does not have an R in it, but that we understand applies to native not rock oysters). Even so, The Lighthouse are unable to supply oyster forks so they're served with a spoon, while the 'shallot vinaigrette' comes not with a fine dice of shallot but big chunks. Whoever did this has no knife skills whatsoever; it's worrying when a kitchen can't dice a shallot.
The mains however were mostly too bad to eat. The Burmese chicken curry had seen the sauce split, either that or they had added additional oil to the plate, so your first taste is oil, then uncooked off spices. The other dish, sea bass on an asparagus risotto delivered the worse risotto tasted since we created the blog. My guess is they prepared it for the start of service, after which it had been sitting on heat to maintain temperature, effectively cooking it for 2 hours, resulting in a soft sludge.
On leaving the restaurant, we both had the same idea: head to the newsagent to buy a bar of chocolate to take away the taste of our barely sampled mains. The Lighthouse has been going for many a year, it's listed in the guides even. For us however, seldom have we experienced so little skill on a plate and on the way home, we considered that this might be the worst meal we have recorded for the blog.
Burmese chicken curry with fragrant rice, raita & mango chutney (their description)
as above (note the rim of oil around the bowl)
sea bass fillet with asparagus risotto