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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mews of Mayfair

The day: 24th October 2008, Dinner.
The place: 10-11 Lancashire Court, New Bond Street, London W1S 1EY
The venue: Mews of Mayfair
The food: French
The drinks: Interesting, reasonably priced wine list, few choices under £30.

In the heart of Mayfair, we were attracted to this restaurant by a combination of factors: its menu (we’ve had mostly positive run of late with French cuisine), a promisingly negative review of AA Gill, and a 50% discount on food (why do these places do that instead of setting directly more reasonable prices?). The restaurant is on the first floor, from which you can contemplate the wall of vociferous crowd standing out of the bar downstairs:

A climb up the narrow staircase and a warm environment engulfs you: floorboards, cream walls and upholstered benches along the walls, spacious tables. Unfortunately the tables for two are very close to one another – but then again space is expensive in Mayfair (otherwise we’d live there, no?).

On the menu, starters are in the £6-10 range, with an intriguing ‘Le Landes’ Duck and Ham Hock Terrine with Figs (£8). Among the mains, we are tempted by a Peppered Monkfish with Red Wine and Oxtail Risotto (£17), but we’ll opt for something lighter.

The bread arrives:

Offered from a tray, and always refilled, it’s either rosemary or plain. Not much of a variety, you may argue, yet quite good - and you know we do not use the ‘g’ word very often when referring to bread.

Our starters appear:

- Pan Fried Sea Bream with celeriac and thyme (£7)
- Seared scallops with cauliflower and Cox’s apple salad (£9.50)

The scallops were seared wonderfully according to Woman, and you can see from the photo what she means - whereas fussy Man found them very good but ever so slightly rubbery, i.e. overcooked (but just). Nevertheless the cauliflower sauce, in psite of its offputting purple appearance, was incredibly luscious and intense on both palates. An excellent variety of flavours came through in the garnishes and accompaniments (aside from the cauliflower, the tangy fine apples, a remarkable basil flavoured olive oil, and fresh sorrel). An impressive, gustatively complex and good looking dish: a motive that will continue.

The seabream tail, while not fantastic in terms of raw material, was cooked egregiously, with mustardy and smoky flavoured sauces and finely sliced mushrooms and beautiful garnishes adding richness and finesse to this labour intensive work.

Here are our mains:

- Pan Fried John Dory with calamari and parsnip tart (£19)
- Fillet of Pollock with braised lettuce and shrimp gnocchi (£16.50).

With the Jonh Dory a truly regrettable incident happened: Man, carried away by his enthusiasm for its masterful cooking, gobbled up bit by bit the entire piece of fish without leaving anything for Woman! So you’ll have to trust him on the cooking…The miffed Woman can only add her favourable opinion of the reduction (probably veal) and of the tender and flavoursome fine calamari. And as usual by now, many interesting plays and subthemes going on in this rich, meaty dish, the parsnip tart and the ‘polenta’ soaking up and sublimating them. (One of the subthemes were unadvertised frog legs: were they afraid of scaring the public?).

The masterful cooking theme continues with the humble Pollock. However the ‘gnocchi’ were not gnocchi: served in an Italian restaurant, they would have made their way directly back to the kitchen with the complaint that they were just a floury mess with no shrimp flavour to speak of: but these objects being merely a supporting piece in a French dish, we took a more relaxed view…The pollock wasn’t very flavoursome, but conversely, the braised lettuce was a delight, so simple but so intense and well executed, and so well fitting the other material.

And to conclude:

- Pecan pudding with bay leaf ice cream (£7)
- Pistachio parfait with bitter chocolate sorbet (£7.00)

The pecan pudding is very good, very soft, very moist, honey flavoured. The strong pine nuts truly burst out on your palate. A pity this dessert is marred by the melted ice cream (and the bay leaf is very evanescent).

The parfait is good and has an impressive texture, but the pistachio taste has, like the bayleaf above, remained in the chef’s imagination without reaching the dish. It makes way for an alcoholic punch with a whiff of almonds. Very good were the pistachio praline’ and the chocolate ‘sorbet’ (it felt like an icecream).

The water consisted of an expensive 0.75 litre bottle at £5, and the wine of a good Bourgogne (Faiveley 2007) at £29.50. With 12.5% service added, and deploying our 50% bill buster, we reduce a total which would have overshot our £100 rule by more than a tenner to a very reasonable £76.94.

The waiter was pleasant, humorous and swift (we admired his strong but polite and professional attempt to push the specials of the day). Service is informal, with wine and water left on your table and glasses not constantly refilled (we actually like it this way!). The kitchen must have been slightly under pressure, as a swift starter was followed by a long wait for mains (nothing too dramatic anyway). Quite an attractive set of dishes we had at Mews, full of intriguing combinations of neat, rich flavours and rather elaborate preparations, handled by an obviously very able chef. The materials were good even if sometimes probably not top notch. Perhaps because of this, or in part because of this, we were merely pleased, but not ravished, by most creations. So, all in all, an enjoyable and interesting culinary experience which, while perhaps we just about wouldn’t come back to at full prices, is excellent value with the special offer.


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