The Ledbury is a wonderful place, and while having the blog means that we try many different restaurants, if you want to know the places we adore, look for the restaurants we return to time and again. The Ledbury is one of those and whenever we eat there, our immediate inclination is to book up for a return visit, not least because the popularity of this restaurant means that they are always fully booked, and advance planning is essential.
Food at The Ledbury, as has been well documented, relies on classic combinations and natural affinities, such that that one of our two beef dishes today is fillet of Belted Galloway with truffle purée and roast parsnips, certainly a combination that is hard not to like. But where the kitchen comes in to its own is the focus on the produce: Brett explains that fillet of beef is rarely on the menu at The Ledbury and that he only uses the thick cut Chateaubriand from Belted Galloway with no interest in the rest of the fillet or other cattle breeds (for this particular cut). But with our second beef dish, short ribs, it's the Devon Ruby Red from Philip Warren
a supplier and a breed that we've always been impressed by in the past, and a butcher with whom Brett has enjoyed a long and deep relationship, ensuring the very best of the best goes Brett's way. Again, here, Brett swears that there's nothing else out there that's as good: tasting the dish, we believe him.
But December means game season and there's plenty on the menu. Brett is a fully qualified deer stalker (DSC2) and knowing the difference between a fallow deer, the small roe deer and the larger red deer means that at The Ledbury, venison is not just venison. What's more, and we are in agreement with this, Brett does not follow the traditional path of excessively hanging and ageing game, believing that fresh game already has enough flavour while ageing can even lead to deterioration of the meat. Today there's a roasted woodcock on the menu, complete as it should be with the brains served from the split head, which are quite creamy and of course modest in portion, so eating them is no problem at all. But there's also a Boudin of Wood Pigeon and Partridge, which is oh so good, not only amazing flavours in the Boudin but in the textures there too. It only gets better with the natural pairings of chestnut soup and a veloute of white truffle. Again, what you get is never designed to shock you, but something for you to love, and we do, as it seems do others given how many awards the restaurant continues to garner.
Finally, nothing is ever static at The Ledbury, a fact that we also applaud. The beef would be coming off the menu in a couple of days, teal would be going on. This is a kitchen that takes the best of ingredients available on any given day and makes the best of dishes with them. Eat a week from now, and you'll undoubtedly enjoy different dishes, but the quality is of course unflinching. And then, equally unassailable, is the service with Stephen Quinn's front of house team always striking the right balance between professionalism and informality making the The Ledbury a most enjoyable place to eat in.
Simply put, The Ledbury is our favourite restaurant in London. Disclosure: we won this meal at a charity auction
salad of radishes with seaweed and horseradish
"Risotto" of celeric and new potato with smoked eel and parsley
Roast Scottish scallops with pumpkin, mandarin and ginger
Boudin of wood pigeon and partridge with chestnut soup and veloute of white truffle
Fillet of bass with broccoli stem, crab and black quinoa
Roast Woodcock with walnuts, nashi and cocoa
Aged fillet of Belted Galloway with truffle purée and roast parsnips
Short rib of Ruby Red with turnip tops, smoked onion...
... and grated English Wasabi
Burnt cream of fig leaves with crushed apples, vanilla and olive oil
Pear cooked in brown butter with crispy porridge and walnut parfait
Wishbone is the new venture from @thepubgeek (part of the MEATliquor team) together with @theboydonefood. Based within the indoor market in Brixton, currently, it occupies a relatively small space within the market downstairs, though there's a further 50 seats and an additional bar upstairs.
The menu is simple enough, combining 'free range fried chicken' and 'sides'. Chicken comes as wings, thighs and chicken sandwich. A 1/4 and 1/2 chicken option will also soon be available. Within the chicken offerings, we tried the Buffalo wings which are large and very messy - dry towels and wet wipes are provided in abundance at the table, as well as 'Chicken Shop', which is a dry fried chicken needing the BBQ sauce provided to make the most of it, and finally, Thai (tamarind dressing, mint, chilli & shallots) which are small boneless thighs, causing them to resemble mini chicken nuggets. Here though, the tamarind dressing had soaked into the coating, taking away the anticipated crispy crunch, while the Thai flavours are relatively mild.
The big winner on the sides is the deep fried mac 'n' cheese, undoubtedly the dish of the day with its crispy outside and cheesy centre. Regular fries come in a bag and hot mess, a mixture of fries, chilli, blue cheese and pickles smothered in buffalo sauce comes, like the chicken plates, in a grease proof paper lined bowl. There's a colourful black eyed pea salad too, though black eyed peas seem outnumbered by the other ingredients.
It's probably not worth over analysing chicken wings as these broadly deliver and it is a place to grab some fast(ish) food if you're in the area and if the style takes your fancy. It's not expensive, wing portions are £4.50, thigh portions £5.50, the right price then, and at peak times and on weekends, it will undoubtedly be popular and busy.
black eyed peas salad
deep fried mac 'n' cheese
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
When, in the middle of August, we requested the next available table for two for lunch at Le Gavroche, we thought maybe September, for this is a perennially busy restaurant. Even we however were more than a little shocked to find out that the first available table would be mid November, a full three months from my booking date. It seems that Michel Roux Jnr's television appearances have made a busy restaurant even busier as the Roux brand gets yet stronger. From BBC's 'Service' to Masterchef the Professionals, Michel Roux Jnr consistently comes across well, showing a warm natural authority and that high standards in a kitchen are not inevitably synonymous with swearing. In short, he's a great ambassador for the industry, pairing achievement with grace, dignity and humanity.
It's been two years since we last visited Le Gavroche and we are excited to return: it's hard not to be given the unique place that Le Gavroche holds in London restaurant history. Last time we very much enjoyed our meal but while it offered great, usually comforting food, we felt that some of London's newer two star restaurants were serving up more excitement on the plate with greater precision. We wonder on entering if we'll perceive things differently this time.
On entering, I also make my first blunder, I had neglected to wear a jacket and gentlemen are required to do so. There's no problem though as they politely produce one from behind the door for me to borrow for the duration of my visit.
There is in fact three of us for lunch today as we are joined by chef friend lending an extra set of taste buds and views into the mix. After some debate, we opted for the tasting menu which works out one of the cheaper ways to eat at Le Gavroche as both starters and mains from the a la carte are most often found in the range of £40 - £60 such that you're guaranteed a three figure per person bill for eating here almost regardless of how you order.
First out on the tasting menu, the constant in Le Gavroche line up over many years, is the Cheese Soufflé Cooked on Double Cream. We liked this last time, principally as an indulgence, but this time round, it worked less well. There was very little by way of a cheesey tang so the sweetness of the cream was uncontested while the soufflé was so unbelievably light, it was as ephemeral as a foam, and while that might seem perfection in a soufflé, the result was the feeling that all you were taking in here was the cream at the bottom.
Cheese Souffle Cooked on Double Cream
The next dish was something of a surprise however because there was real imagination in how they delivered the luxury two star staple, foie gras. Listed as Foie Gras and Confit Carrot Layers, Ice Wine Vinegar Jelly, Pomegranate and Radish, this now offered up a significantly complex foie gras dish that pushes all the taste buttons and with the Ice Wine Vinegar Jelly effectively pairing the wine on the plate itself. Very accomplished and rounded dish.
Foie Gras and Confit Carrot Layers, Ice Wine Vinegar Jelly, Pomegranate and Radish
Not a stunning looker perhaps, but the stone bass 'scented with Arabian spices' is somewhat undersold: it's not scented with them, it's exploding with them, hard to fathom that it could possibly be more 'scented' than this. While pushing it to the limit though, it didn't push it beyond and we thought this was really quite brave cooking to put in front of the traditionalists at Le Gavroche.
Stone Bass and Pastilla, Scented with Arabian Spices, Fennel, Red Rice & Meat Jus
A Hereford snail and a langoustine next, spooning together in a light Hollandaise, presumably that's light by Gavroche standards for it felt to us quite full on. This was another dish full of flavour as well as great texture in the prime ingredients. There had been something of a heavy hand on the salt however, something observed on the last dish also, but the huge sweetness of the langoustine was able to balance that out. And as for anyone unconvinced of eating snails, they would surely be won over by how brilliantly this was done, a beautiful tasting menu dish.
Langoustines and Hereford Snail in a Light Hollandaise Sauce Flavoured with Basque Pepper and Parsley
In some sense, what could be more commonplace than our next dish, Black Pudding, Crumbed Egg, Crackling and Spicy Tomato Chutney? Yet here, it becomes, well, worthy of Le Gavroche, principally because the black pudding was, and this was agreed by all around the table, the best we had ever had. It was delicate, coming apart when gently teased with the fork, but not crumbly for it was also very moist having retained the juices and so the flavour. Bite on the crackling and the crunch is so loud you're likely to disturb diners at the next table, and the egg, well that's just perfection.
Black Pudding, Crumbed Egg, Crackling and Spicey Tomato Chutney
The final hot savoury is more typically classical with Roast Loin of Venison, Red Wine and Green Peppercorn Sauce. This is a lovely dish with great flavoured venison cooked perfectly with Brussels Sprouts as your foil to the meat and jus.
Roast Loin of Venison, Red Wine and Green Peppercorn Sauce
Rather than two desserts, we like the fact that there's a cheese course in the tasting menu with no supplement. We're even more impressed that it's not a dictated course, rather, the full trolley is bought round and you can choose whatever you like from it. A truly extensive board with great cheeses served alongside lovely crisp fruit bread, quince, celery and muscat grapes.
The menu dessert is a Classic Baba with Calvados, Vanilla Cream and Apple though (at our request), for one person a substitute dessert was brought to the table, a passion fruit soufflé, which was considered one of the best soufflés ever tasted, and this is from a table that has eaten more than our fair share of these. The Baba is very good but is 'straight up', a classic done well, without a significant twist or reinvention.
Passion Fruit Soufflé
Classic Baba with Calvados, Vanilla Cream and Apple
and more petit fours
This was a very accomplished meal and given the three month wait list, we were tempted to rebook ourselves back at Le Gavroche right there on the spot (we resisted). As a single conclusion to a meal, it's a capture of how happy we were with overall despite being lighter of wallet (a given however for 2 star Mayfair).
We all agreed that the first course, the cheese soufflé and cream had been the weakest on this occasion but that the central courses of the menu were all exceptionally good with full flavours that showcased just how accomplished cooking at this level is when done right (even when that's the humble black pudding). What's more, we felt like they have pepped things up a little since our last visit with the food still of course classically based but certainly not old fashioned.
Michel Roux Jnr was there on our visit, in the kitchen, and later walking the floor talking to guests. With his TV career blossoming, we guess that's less common these days and we got lucky. Whether it makes any difference, who knows, but expectations around any visit to Le Gavroche always run high yet despite that, they were if anything exceeded. A celebrity chef, great food and twenty odd tables of London restaurant history, no wonder there's a waiting list.Return to homepage
Winchcombe is an ancient Cotswold town that continues to possess a yesteryear charm and where local shops rather than high street chains means there's more hours of window shopping to be done here than in towns ten times the size. There are butchers (yes, more than one) selling locally shot game, and there are cake shops for after dinner treats. And rather than a Cafe Rouge, there's 5 North Street, a 28 seat restaurant whose charming frontage of Cotswold stone, leaning black and white timbers, and bay windows gives it quintessential Cotswold appeal. Inside, warm reds, dark wood tables and exposed beams makes for a cosy habitat on a chill winter's day, but all this is a bonus, for we are not here because of its cuteness, we're here because 5 North Street has a mighty reputation for its food. In that sense, it is by no means your average small town restaurant.
The restaurant is run by husband and wife team Marcus (Gus) and Kate Ashenford, and the restaurant has held a Michelin star since opening in 2003. On the website they talk of sourcing ingredients from the local area, meat from the Cotswold Hills, fruit and veg from the Vale of Eversham and knowing their suppliers well does seem important to them.
Despite being Michelin starred, don't expect a phalanx of white shirted waiters, for this is very much a small family affair and on our visit, Kate was running the front of house alone. It's quite possible that Gus was similarly alone in the kitchen, but this approach makes it friendly and endearing and we are positively willing it to be good. A canapé of Welsh rarebit is a different and welcome approach and when this is followed by a cosy cup of tomato soup with chive oil, and a twin loaf of bread complete with your own bread knife, our interest is sufficiently piqued. So far, so very good.
Also, very thoughtfully, with chive oil appearing on one of our chosen starters, this was replaced in one of the soup cups to avoid repetition.
tomato soup and chive oil
twin loaf bread (apricot and walnut, sesame seed)
Of a lunch time, there's a two choice set menu, though with the restaurant reasonably quiet, we were kindly offered choices from the dinner menu also. The first dish brought to the table, Salmon and John Dory looked stunning with horseradish cascading over a fine piece of salmon to the John Dory below, all crowned with caviar. While there was a risk that there was simply too much going on with this dish, the end result was a very satisfying and flavoursome starter that ultimately tasted as good as it looked.
Tea smoked duck breast, confit spiced leg with plum chutney also delivered. The spicing on the leg was perfectly balanced, as was the tea smoke on the breast, while the chutney, crisp apple and greens provided the appropriate fresh and acidic counterpoint.
Home cured Loch Duart salmon, John Dory, blinis, caviar & horseradish, chive oil
Tea smoked duck breast, confit spiced leg, crisp skin, plum chutney, caramelised hazelnut dressing
With local partridge on the menu, that was simply a must and coming with a game and golden raisin reduction, it has all the makings of a winner. Perhaps the only real criticism of the meal here, the partridge was a touch over cooked. The Long Horn fillet of beef however was perfectly done and while it's a challenge to get some jazz into a traditional beef fillet dish, the addition of the 'crisp tongue' on the plate did just that. The plating too sought to further lend a contemporary touch to the classic, while for those who don't put so much store by how it looks, but rather by how much there is on the plate, this in the end equated to a lot of food. Everybody then can be happy with this dish.
Long Horn fiullet of beef, crisp tongue, sweet onion, girolles, artichokes & Madeira sauce
Winchcombe partridge, chestnut & Morteau bubble & squeak, creamed parsley root, game and golden raisin reduction
Desserts were an absolute treat with a dark chocolate delice, roasted pistachio, salted caramel, fennel and orange salad and fennel sorbet arriving like abstract art but delivering on every note. Meanwhile the warm malt loaf, poached figs, toasted sesame, honey & almond ice cream and mulled wine is Christmas in a bowl.
dark chocolate delice, roasted pistachio, salted caramel, fennel and orange salad and fennel sorbet
warm malt loaf, poached figs, toasted sesame, honey & almond ice cream and mulled wine
Overall, we were delighted with our meal at 5 North Street, lots of original touches, but lots of classic comfort too. Plating was well considered with considerably diversity, while dishes show skill, and more than a little love.
The Cotswolds are reasonably well blessed with places to eat, and 5 North Street definitely deserves to be included amongst the top rank. On a cold winter's day, to enjoy comforting local food while looking out to Winchcombe life passing by the windows feels like a real treat. And with prices offering real value, for anyone staying or living in the area, this is surely a must visit restaurant.Return to homepage5 North Street
also nearbyLe Champignon SauvageLumiere
With Le Champignon Sauvage now open following its recent refurb, a visit to Cheltenham brought a welcome opportunity to stop by and again enjoy the brilliant cooking of David Everitt-Matthias. When we first put LCS on our blog, we adored it, finding food that was imaginative, original and, of course, great tasting. With 2 Michelin stars (held for over a dozen years), it's already in an elite group, but even amongst that peer group, we felt that LCS was a cut above. Since that time, we have of course eaten at many more restaurants, and have even travelled the country from Lands End to John O'Groats
discovering the best of what the broader UK food scene has to offer, and yet in our minds, Le Champignon Sauvage remains uniquely special. Along with the likes of L'enclume
and The Ledbury
, it is a restaurant that continues to excite us, where we eagerly anticipate every return visit and where there's always new and exciting things going on within the menu. In short then, our view hasn't changed, and we continue to celebrate Le Champignon Sauvage as one of the UK's top destination restaurants.
the new dining room
Stepping inside the dining room, you'll now find a lighter, airier space, the dark blue carpet and upholstery giving way to a lighter shades. What hasn't changed though is the value offered by the restaurant or the standard of cooking. We opted for the tasting menu in order to see as much as we could of David's food. Even here, with the tasting menu at £85, it offers a price point below that of peers: the Taste of Midsummer for example is priced at £95, Le Manoir's Menu Decouverte is £150, and London 2 stars are all generally priced above £100 for their tasting menus.
We start with what must be considered something of a signature dish, the Dexter beef tartare and corned beef. It looks even more beautiful today, the plating even more precise. We've had it before and we know what to expect on taste: it doesn't let us down. This is a remarkably complex dish: textures, which vary between the two presentations of beef as well as the crispy toast, sea veg, mushrooms and onion; the tastes, umami, the acid of the pickled mushrooms, the heat of the wasabi; the overall satisfaction as every mouthful is different to the last, the plate components mixing in a myriad of ways, never the same twice.
Dexter beef tartare and corned beef, wasabi cream, pickled shimeji mushrooms
Dived scallops, miso glaze, turnip and verjus cream, toasted sesame puree.
Citrus cured mackerel, gayette of pig's trotter and whelks is devastatingly good. It's hard to believe that we're not eating quayside, the mackerel is so fresh. I love too the addition of the pork to this dish, adding some animal fattiness to compliment the mackerel leaving the 'cut through' to the citrus cure and pickled mooli.
Citrus cured mackerel, gayette of pig's trotter and whelks
Witchell potatoes, buffalo milk curd, caramelised onion purée, leek ashes
The maple glazed chicken wings was a substitute dish for me (in place of the Witchell potatoes) with the chef remembering that I had enjoyed the potatoes the previous month. A thoughtful gesture from the kitchen, and one certainly appreciated as these sweet sticky chicken wings are divine with pickled sunflower root the offset here.
maple glazed chicken wings, maple caviar, pickled sunflower root
The main course is local wood pigeon and simply seeks to deliver the best expression of pigeon to your plate, which it does. The pigeon leg comes confit and crumb coated, delivering a very different presentation to the vibrantly pink breast. In the winter months, game is always a regular feature at LCS and David is a master in its handling and cooking, and this dish highlights that skill to deliver a perfect plate.
Roasted local wood pigeon, black pudding purée, baby parsnips roasted with wqoodruff
David is a very accomplished pastry chef also and the author of the book dessert
, such that sweets, often a weak point for even strong restaurants, will usually be something special at LCS. There's plenty to love here but we're both struck in particular about how good the verbena sorbet is. I don't think I can remember us cooing over a sorbet before but here the texture is the smoothest we've encountered, the temperature perfect so it holds firm on the plate but instantly melts in the mouth and leaves us thinking how great chefs can even elevate the common place into the realm of the sublime.
The final dessert, iced prune and burdock mousse is yet another piece of art, very tasty art, though of course, liking prune is essential. Fortunately we do and again, the mix of precision, art and skill reinforces at the end of the meal just how original and unique the food is here.
Upside down pineapple cake, coconut 'ravioli', pineapple and verbena sorbet
iced prune and burdock mousse, prune kernel ice cream
This was a stunning meal, possibly the best we've had yet at Le Champignon Sauvage and continues to lead us to believe that David and his small brigade of chefs at LCS are doing some of the best food in the UK today. As we've already suggested, it is the cumulative effect of precision, art and skill in David's cooking that elevates his food, even versus its peer group and since David never misses a service (ever), the standards are rigorously enforced day after day.
Helen Everitt-Matthias continues to run the front of house operations and service was friendly, efficient and courteous throughout from all staff. In fact, we loved our meal there so much that we have already booked a return visit.
While Mayfair might boast an excessive concentration of Michelin starred restaurants, LCS is as good (if not better) than what is on offer there, while providing a unique experience because David Everitt-Matthias is his own man, doing his own thing and doing it very well indeed. We've said it before, and we're very happy to say it again: if you love food, you simply must get to Cheltenham and give Le Champignon Sauvage a try, it is one of the most special restaurants in the UK today.Return to homepage
Related posts Le Champignon Sauvage
websiteLe Champignon Sauvage (CC 2011 post)Le Champignon Sauvage 25 Years on
Not that season, rather, the truffle season, and Alyn Williams has a special menu. We couldn't resist.
It is now around a year since Alyn Williams at The Westbury opened and the restaurant is increasingly making its presence felt in the London fine dining scene. First came the AA rosettes (three of them, the most that can be awarded to a new restaurant) and then the Michelin star, while Alyn himself won the Craft Guild of Chefs National Chef of the Year. Not bad for a first year though Alyn's pedigree and craftsmanship were never in doubt. It is however always nice to see talent recognised and booking is becoming increasingly essential if you want to secure a table in the latter part of the week with Alyn Williams at The Westbury often now at capacity.
As we have found so often with new restaurants, even ones that set the bar as high as AW did on opening, they usually get better in time as everything beds down with the chef, the team and the restaurant; so it was the case here, and even putting aside the truffletastic nature of the menu, this seemed to us today the best meal yet that we've had at AW at The Westbury (and we've been lucky enough to have a few over the course of the year). Service, as ever, cannot be faulted and the experience, start to finish, is that of a two star restaurant.
Even before the menu comes, the canapés are spot on. His gougeres are second to none and a big bowl of those by themselves would be a treat in its own right. But the canapés seem to keep coming with arancini, prawn crackers and more; there's also their lovely bread of course but one must avoid getting carried away here, a big menu awaits.
The first menu course is scallop ravioli with white truffle. Scallop seems ubiquitous on menus in restaurants these days, and in most, it's a simple affair as they seek to allow 'the ingredients to speak for themselves', but it seldom offers a wow factor. It therefore takes a little bravery and a lot of talent to build a more complete dish around the scallop and take it up a level but here, Alyn did exactly that with silky smooth pasta encasing a generous filling of diced scallop with sweetcorn and truffle for a beautiful and elegant start.
scallop ravioli, sweet corn, white truffle
Foie gras mousse, Jerusalem artichoke, black truffle, chickweed
Spiced quail cuts a dash presented on a vibrant yellow pumpkin veloute while the truffle here comes in a 'preserved' format. the very word is likely to engender reservations (and suppliers of fresh truffles are unlikely to be fans) but there is remarkably good flavour to be had from them while it adds a little more texture to the dish. The quail of course has been respectfully handled and perfectly cooked while the spices are subtle and harmonious rather than aggressively forward. This is fine dining and fine cooking at its best.
Spiced quail, chestnut gnocchi, pumpkin veloute, preserved white truffle
A classic dish of egg and soldiers, but here with elite special forces: truffle soldiers and the egg slow cooked. The slow cooked egg is also now widely popular but it really comes in to its own in this dish, the sticky yoke perfect for dipping and scooping up on the soldier. Alongside that however we also tried the smoked egg from the vegetarian menu with the shaved truffle. Perfect little dishes.
smoked egg, creme fraiche, celeriac, shaved truffle
smoked egg, black truffle soilders
The next two dishes offer complete quality, highlighting some of the best of the South West of England's produce. Fish from Cornwall, beef from Devon and both dishes from heaven. The cod (from Fish for Thought
) is top quality and comes apart into big meaty flakes with the lightest of touches, the centrepiece of a creamy casserole with bacon hints and generous shavings of truffle.
The beef, Red Ruby from Devon is supplied by Cornish Grill
(and Philip Warren Butchers
) and as we've noted since the restaurant first opened (and served this beef on the menu), it is a great rare breed of British cattle with beef that is well marbled, tender and never less than 100% tasty. With a 'sauce perigourdine' and shaved truffle, the dish is right there.
Slow cooked cod, coco beans, white truffle, Ventreche, casserole
Devon Ruby beef, source perigourdine, ceps, pommes mousseline
Desserts come in the form of a hugely creamy rice pudding with white truffle that leaves you wanting 'one more bite' and then pear with crème Catalan and black truffle sugar.
Vanilla, white truffle, Devon cream, rice pudding
Pear, pine, crème Catalan, black truffle sugar
With the restaurant now full, everything is buzzing at Alyn Williams at The Westbury and the restaurant has really found itself. The food is getting smarter, it was always perfectly cooked, but now carries even more confidence, the type that comes when a restaurant has taken root and been recognised by the public and peers alike. As noted earlier, this is food that properly resides in the two star category, and gaining the second star is now a real possibility at some point in the future. It all means that 2013 is likely to be even more exciting at AW at The Westbury than 2012, and with a menu that is never static, we can't wait to see how Alyn and team develop it further, for this is a restaurant that will, we are sure, relentlessly push the quality of the offering forward. Return to homepageAlyn Williams at The Westbury
Alyn Williams at The Westbury on Twitter: @alyn_williams
Alyn Williams on Twitter: @chefalyn
GM Giancarlo Princigalli on Twitter: @gcprinci
Restaurants, in the current climate, should do all that they can to ensure that the customer does not leave unhappy, yet today, at Moreno at Baglioni Restaurant, that's exactly how we left. And yes, they knew, because when our waiter asked how the food was - the answer being not so good - we told him exactly that. Too often though, waiters don't know how to handle the honest appraisal when all is not well - ours suggested we fill out a comments card, but having given him our verbal feedback already, that seemed somewhat repetitious. For what promises to be, and is priced at, cutting edge Italian food, the whole meal was a disappointment.
The Moreno in the name is Chef Moreno Cedroni, an Italian chef whose flagship restaurant La Madonnina del Pescatore in Senigalla holds two Michelin stars, but while his name is above the door of the restaurant, here at the Baglioni Hotel on Hyde Park Gate, he is, we understand, a consultant rather than a principal.
The restaurant is plush, furnishings soft, but situated on the ground floor of the hotel, without partitions, the space seamlessly merges the restaurant, bar and then lobby of the hotel leaving you unsure where any one begins or ends.
the dining room
The menu is divided into starters, pasta, fish and meat leaving us unsure of how many courses were appropriate to order; our waiter steering us only approximately. With three round the table however and a natural curiosity, we got to see much that was on offer. The other peculiarity about the menu is that alongside the name of each dish is a number, such as .98, which we are told is the year in which the dish was first created. This is a chef then that doesn't cook, he creates, but innovation is mostly in odd pairings such as veal with raspberry and ginger sauce (.12).
For the sushi & susci starter (.98), the menu promises 8 small recipes from the cook book sushi & susci written by moreno cedroni, which seems to us slightly odd, to name check himself on the menu of his own restaurant. The starters were probably the most successful courses in a weak field. The tempura scallops infused with cuttlefish ink (.97) had the potential to be tremendous, and in the odd bite they were, though most of the time they we laid low by soggy tempura. The sushi was good in parts too while the veal and raspberry pairing proved a combination too far.
tempura scallops infused with cuttlefish black ink, served with clam and zucchini sauce
sushi & susci
slow cooked veal served with sweet and sour cous cous, raspberry and ginger sauce
Pasta dishes were a huge disappointment, more so because one feels this is what a lauded Italian should do best. All of us are instantly drawn to the tortellini filled with 24 month aged liquid Parmesan. We remember the similar carbonara fagotteli at Apsleys, Heinz Beck's starred Italian at The Lanesborough, a pasta dish for the gods if ever there was one. Sadly here, the liquid Parmesan is mostly a dribble, the pasta dominant but not luxuriant, with only one of the ten parcels really exploding with flavour.
The fusilli is hard going for little reward and the seafood lasagne with coconut and parsley sauce fails to excite, the coconut seeming to us again an addition that does in fact subtract.
fusilli "verrigni" with clams, calamari, prawns and tomatoes, served with green pepper sauce
tortellini filled with 24 month aged liquid parmesan, finely chopped raw beef, tomato sauce and balsamic jam
white seafood lasagne, coconut and parsley sauce, lime peel
Main courses looked drab and tasted drab. The "rossini" fillet of beef was woefully under seasoned though had little intrinsic flavour to give anyhow; the foie gras at least was nice. Bacon wrapped monkfish bites were tough as old boots and the slow cooked veal cheek was simply unpleasant, the majority of which was returned to the kitchen. There was simply no depth to any of these plates, with the quality of ingredients seemingly poor and the cooking often letting it down further.
"rossini" fillet of beef with foie gras, black truffle sauce and shiitake mushrooms
slow cooked veal cheek, lentil sauce and smoked potato
bacon wrapped monkfish bites, foie gras, globe artichoke served with jerusalem artichoke
The tasting plate of desserts, "christopher columbus" offered little style or complexity and felt like a supermarket selection. Finally, a map of Italy is placed in front of you and three small chocolates are removed with tweezers from a bowl on to the map in an essentially pointless exercise.
"christopher columbus" little profiterole, little tirami su, italian cassata
Our waiter again checked in with how we had enjoyed it overall, but after we expressed our reservations with the meal, our waiter suggested that this was not traditional Italian but 'avant garde' which might explain why we struggled to enjoy it. We have no problem with avant garde, but this meal was in our opinion simply poor, that's why we struggled to enjoy it. Too often, the basic cooking was lacking we felt, and never did it have real depth. Adding to the mix non traditional ingredient pairings was never going to make up for this shortfall, rather, it just makes for a bigger car crash.
The meal, as you'd expect in a Kensington hotel/restaurant by a starred chef (consultant), is not cheap, but at half the price it still would have been a disappointment. In the mothership restaurant in Italy, there might be genius on the plate, but it has failed to travel well and in London, you'll find better elsewhere, from Apsleys to Zucca.
This weekend we attended the inaugural charity dinner by the Dorset Chefs. Who, I hear you ask, are the Dorset Chefs? They are half a dozen of Dorset's finest including Michelin star holder Russell Brown (Sienna
), Masterchef winner Mat Follas (Wild Garlic
and Chesil Beach cafe), David Mason (Global Harvest
), Brett Sutton (The Eastbury
), Jean-Paul De Ronne (Chesil Beach
) and Mark Hammick (The European Inn
). They were also joined by some of their team members including Alex (Sienna), Dann and Katy (Wild Garlic).
These chefs, sharing the cooking burden, laid on a first class meal for 50 or so guests to support two local charities:Julia's House: The Dorset Children's Hospice
Sticky Friends Dorset Pollinator Trust.
The second charity, Sticky Friends, supports pollinating insects reflecting their significance in the food cycle where one third of all our food is dependent on pollinators.
All food eaten during was donated by local groups, as were some fabulous auction and raffle prizes. The Eastbury Hotel also generously closed the dining room for the night to host the event. The chefs did a remarkable job, so much so, I hastily demolished the scallop dish before taking a picture so apologies to Mat Follas for being unable to showcase his contribution.
There will undoubtedly be further Dorset Chefs events and you should, if possible, support this fledgling chef alliance because they're trying hard to make a local difference. For most of the chefs, the event, on a Sunday night, took place on their sole night off, but everyone here was smiling. All in all, the evening raised over £7,000 for the two charities.
For anyone who wants to know more, contact any of the chefs involved, follow them collectively on Twitter @DorsetChefs or check out their website TheDorsetChefs.
The Dorset Chefs and more (after service)
a cup of mushrooms, before mushroom tea added to mix
a picnic basket of goodies. All leading to...
Mushroom tea, pork & chorizo pasty, pulled pork, Scotched quail egg
err, sorry Mat, it was: Dorset scallop, black pudding and smoked bacon crumble (sweetcorn purée, foraged finds, fennel pollen)
Water bathed rump of veal, "tongue & cheek", squash, confit shallot, onion marmalade
chocolate mousse or chocolate mouse? with goodies.
Dorset Blue Vinny, Denhay cheddar, While lakes Driftwood
In a game of food-word association, if I said Danish, you might say 'pastry', or perhaps 'bacon', but few I would guess would venture 'steak-house' as their reply. But here we are, Denmark's leading steakhouse house company has opened a 300 cover restaurant in the subterranean space next door to Brasserie Zedel just off Piccadilly Circus.
The name MASH, rather than referring to their love of potatoes done in a certain style, is rather an acronym for Modern American Steak House, and the group behind MASH already operate four similar steak houses under this brand in Denmark. At the time of writing, the restaurant has been open less than a week and we're taking advantage of a 50% off food soft opening offer. While there were one or two service hiccups, nothing major, and overall, for a restaurant open less than a week, it was a pretty good showing by the team. Staff are enthusiastic and attentive and keen for genuine feedback on the operation; many are over from Denmark temporarily to oversee the launch with some even permanently.
glass cases of hanging beef line the dining room
Much of the room is in an art deco style with columns and lighting, while furniture serves up red leather seating and dark wood tables. Given that Goodman were similarly non American aiming for the American steakhouse look, there's some overlap in design, which also extends to the glass walled beef ageing room, though here, it is more of a design feature because with 300 covers (plus another 50 at the bar), they would get through the displayed beef in a single service I would imagine.
the dining room (well, a small part of)
We start off with the MASH hamburger, which comes with chilli fries. On ordering, there's a little confusion by the waitress of how they're able to cook the burger (not medium rare it seems), she suggests rare is possible but we think she meant well. We chalk that to soft opening credit.
The burger is a little underwhelming when it arrives, the bun strangely flat, giving it the appearance of a well filled panini; the density of the bun also doesn't really suit. The patty itself is quite nice, the usual fillers on top and well melted cheese all positives, but we ended up saying overall: this burger would be quite nice at... a stadium... a high street fast food joint... a motorway service station. It is simply not however the quality of a Goodman/Hawksmoor burger that presumably MASH must see as their natural competition. Maybe this is how burgers are in Denmark.
Burger & chilli fries
But it's the steaks that MASH will thrive or die by, so what have we got? There's basically four country offerings: Uruguay (NY Strip, Ribeye, Fillet), Danish dry aged (sirloin, ribeye, long bone ribeye), American (various) and an Australian Wagyu. Interestingly then, no British beef. I think that might be part of their USP, after all, why be a Danish steak house and do exactly what Hawksmoor are doing with their Yorkshire Longhorns.
The Danish beef is dry aged for 70 days and we opt for the Long Bone Ribeye (500g with bone) which is priced normally at £42. Given the 50% discount for soft opening, we also try the Australin Wagyu (200g) which normally is 'reasonably' priced at £50: CUT at 45 Park Lane for this charge £82 for 6oz (170g).
Sharing the two steaks between us, it comes to the table in a pan and both are carved at the table. The Wagyu is so juicy it's like chewing a wine gum, it almost bursts in your mouth. So pretty good and perfectly cooked, but generally we have a preference for dry aged beef. Here the Danish steak is decent, somewhat under seasoned and a pinch of salt added at the table improved it no end. But is it an improvement on British beef though? For us the answer is no, so while good, the most recent ribeye steak we've enjoyed (British beef at Hawksmoor) was in my view better.
bone in ribeye and Australian Wagyu
There's chilli fries that come with the hamburger and twice cooked chips but the chips we didn't like. Dry and without charm, we left them almost in their entirety. This I'm sure will be changed in due course when customer feedback is taken on board.
A side of Caesar salad was uninspiring.
The macaroni and cheese however was very good indeed and we were chasing the last of the macaroni around the bowl. This was the best of the sides we tried.
macaroni and cheese
The regular price of desserts at £10 seems somewhat expensive. Both follow the same formula, a slab of cake paired with ice cream on biscuit crumb. The chocolate dessert, while rich, was not actually that satisfying with the expected intensity from the chocolate absent. Cheesecake was better however but prices do seem too much for a reasonably basic offering.
chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream
MASH cheesecake with raspberry sorbet
With MASH so ridiculously large, even with seating for 300, there's plenty of space. Tables are large and comfortably situated so you don't have to listen to other people's conversations which we also liked. What was really nice (on our visit at least) is that with the restaurant not full, tables that could accommodate four people were laid up for two so you even have a lot of physical table space.
MASH is a good restaurant and they will undoubtedly do well, though filling something so large night after night will test even London's appetite for steaks surely. Admitting too that this is the soft opening, some things will change in time (let's hope it's the chips), though the beef, surrounds and service are good enough to justify this being a quality steakhouse. But in our opinion, the overall offering falls a little short of the market leaders who offer, quite frankly, an experience that would be hard to improve on. MASH might get there in time, but they have a little way to go.