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Friday, February 26, 2010

Tomino at Latium, and much more

This was a personal 'amuse bouche' before the many delicious dishes we enjoyed recently at our London fave Latium

It's a 'tomino' resting on wild mushrooms trifolati (i.e. sauteed), with pancetta and Norcia black truffle. Tomino is a delicate tasting cheese from Piemonte. It marries joyously with the saltiness of the pancetta and the notes of the noble products from the earth.

These simple delicacies of Italian cuisine are all about ingredients, all about balance: stuff always in plenty of supply at Latium.

That night we were showered with truffles...look at these tagliolini

...and here's one of the great Italian classics:

Ossobuco, in this interpretation beautifully presented in its own sauce, polenta and baby onions, the potent flavour invading your palate as the meat gently yields (the ossobuco is from Cumbria), before you finally tuck into the luscious bone marrow - pure pleasure!

A Herdwick lamb

was paired with perfectly cooked artichokes of metallic intensity, an Anglo-Italian culinary marriage made in Heaven.

And, finally, even Man who lacks a sweet tooth just goes crazy for Morelli's baba' with Zabaione, Pistachio ice cream and hazelnuts

with the full interplay of all the consistencies you might want, from the crunchy hazelnuts in their liquid sauce, souped up by the beautifully springy and spongy baba', drowned in creamy zabaione and topped with a seriously good pistachio ice cream

And what about his Red wine poached pear, water chocolate mousse and almond buscuit.

only apparently more restrained than the Baba': distinctly clean notes in the deep chocolate mousse, the wine soaked pear cooked to the exactly right consistency, with the almond biscuit adding the third texture and rounding all off.

We are always so happy at Latium - Morelli's dishes are simply good and win hands down on so many of the more elaborate, sometimes pretentious and always pricier offerings in the capital. In its category, Latium is just unbeatable.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The end of fine dining in Trentino?

The new year has wreaked havoc in the Trento fine dining scene, with three chefs, all previously starred, having to leave their restaurants.

No more fine dining (and local cuisine instead) at Chiesa. Chef Peter Brunel is going (not clear whether entirely of his own will) and more tradionally oriented young local chefs are coming in.

And the even finer chef Markus Baumgartner was sacked by the owners of Maso Franch, also making space for more traditional cuisine.

And there are rumours circling the other starred venue Lo Scrigno as well.

But, more tragically for us, the Lunelli family (producers of the Ferrari bubbly and Surgiva water) has said goodbye to Walter Miori (and his wife Franca) of Locanda Margon. With great elegance, they informed the press before the chef and the staff, who were the last to know. A nice world, indeed.

At least we now suspect we understand the otherwise inexplicable loss of the star by Miori after fourteen years - could it be by chance the case that the Lunelli have quietly whispered to Michelin about the impending sacking of the chef, in order to spare the the embarrassment of awarding a star to a no longer resident chef? How malicious we are.

We are fond lovers of Trentino's regional delights (think of the Osteria or the 2 Camini) but this debacle of fine dining is worrying and puzzling: why are people willing to spend hundreds of euros on frivolous gadgets but not on the noble culinary products of artisan skill and research?

Time will tell whether this is a local phenomenon (perhaps the Trentini are just too much in love their Lucanica susages and their 'carne salada', to the detriment of other delights), or just the beginning of a general trend in Italy towards traditional, more 'popular' and lower budget cusine.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Peat Inn

The day: Wednesday 27th January, Dinner.

The place: Peat Inn, Fife (Scotland)

The venue: The Peat inn

The food: Modern Scottish French

The drinks: Impressive, well constructed list

When the worst thing you can find to say about a restaurant is that they should have a larger parking lot, it means either that your critical faculties have sclerotised together with your arteries after too much foie gras, or that the place is really good…

In the middle of Fife, among pastures and fields of Brussel sprouts and potatotes, there’s this newly starred Inn led by Chef Geoffrey Smeddle - where you can also stay the night should you have indulged in a whiskey too many and lack the will to deal with the straight-angled turns of the narrow unlit countryside lanes and crossing deers.

You mull the menu sitting comfortably by the fireplace in the ante-room, and nibbling the first greeting from the chef:

Besides olives and nuts, it’s a smoked mackerel mousse on new potato. Amusing and intense.

After that, you are accompanied to one of the three warm, countryside elegant rooms

OK, after the parking lot, let us also say that the bread they serve at the Peat Inn (from a tray) has good intentions and looks, but doesn’t achieve the pinnacles of the art in terms of consistency. Forgiven, as we know we are too fussy about bread.

The amuse bouche proper,

A simple, almost spartan, parsnip and almond veloute’, is a delightful interlude that wants you to forget the canapes and prepares your mouth for what is to come: it serves its purpose exactly and does not aim at exhibiting any cheffy muscle. The scarce seasoning sets the tone, a lack of saltiness which we very much appreciate, and that we find is a feature of chefs with very sensitive palates.

And here we go. Several stunners await us, the best of which, a bisque, we showcase later. This pigeon salad

Warm salad of wood pigeon, apple and fennel, with prune and Armagnac puree

features a pigeon which is still partly alive, as you can see, and deliciously moist and tender, accompanied by a perfectly judged and punchy Armagnac and plum sauce, making a clean, fresh tasting, colourfully presented, cold dish.

We didn’t know that a hare could be cooked so well:

Roast loin and braised shoulder of hare, chestnuts, pancetta, roasted Jerusalem artichoke and sauce salmis.

There’s a double story in this complex dish, the noble, moist, tender, delicate loin, just falling apart, and the humbler, but powerfully flavoured shoulder. There are in fact many stories here, stories for example of multiple textures, not only in the meat but also in the crispy vegetables, and the chestnuts, and the sweet garlic, and more, in a criss cross of flavours. All magnificently carried by the salmis sauce (and by a great technique!), this was a very close contest for our ‘the high’ section below.

The desserts were no less memorable:

Delice of Amedei chocolate with rum’n’raisin icecream.

Really clever: you tuck in, and a perfectly liquid fondant comes out of this cold and perfectly formed chocolate cake: how is that possible? This is also quite a technical accomplishment. It turns out the 'cake' is a very dense mousse, not cooked but put in the mould to set, into which a rhum, cocoa and syrup 'cream' is inserted after opening and then closing a section. How the 'fondant' is not absorbed into the mousse is a mistery. And apart from the admiration for the total precision in this delicate operation, what ultimately counts is that it’s really a ‘delice’: what great chocolate! And what inebriating ice-cream (remember, we are as stern as with the bread on this front…).

Vanilla and almond rice pudding, caramelised pear sorbet and winter fruit compote

The compote is poured at your table from a pot (not the top performance by a waiter on this occasion :)). Nice textures, concentrated flavours supporting each other beautifully, in a kind of refined/rustic combination.

The low (naah, not really)

It was a very relative low, amid such peaks – but having to pick one, we would name one of our mains, the

John Dory, potato galette, pearl onions, savoy cabbage, champagne beurre blanc

It feels strange talking about low with such a magnificently fresh and perfectly cooked fish, with such accomplished condiments and garnishes, and amid multilayered flavours that delighted our palates. The problem for us was that the dish felt a little unbalanced, really too rich, not quite matching either in finesse or in presentation or in light-handedness all the others (your fault for setting such heavenly standards, chef!).

The high

Langoustine bisque, ricotta gnocchi, poached langoustines, and scallop tartare

What to say, when there’s a perfect dish it’s just a perfect dish. Lots of work behind it, many fine judgements, and a final product of total balance and apparent simplicity: the chunky tartared scallops, offering pleasurable chewability, the absolute intensity of the soup, with a hint of lemony and alcoholic sort of sharpness and an airy yet bodily consistency, the milky lusciousness of the ricotta, the freshness of it all, this is a dish of true finesse (for those of you who are curious, the ricotta comes from... Scotland!).

The Service

Truly excellent. Friendly and professional from everybody, with (we believe) wife Katherine's in control. The charming and unassuming head waiter advised us really well on wine, demonstrating a deep knowledge of the extensive and carefully constructed wine list.

The price

With a Loire Cabernet Franc at £30 or so, a coffee and free Scottish water carafe, this three course meal for two (+amuses) cost less than £120 (starters all around £12, mains £20+, desserts £9). A fair price even just considering the quality and quantity of the materials. And there is a set dinner menu at a very enticing £32, plus the 6 course tasting menu at £55. A pity we don't have time to go for lunch, as it is a total bargain at £16 for 3 courses!


That night, the meal conclusion summed up the cuisine style: champagne truffles and orange and honey Madeleines to scream about: few unassuming looking pieces, but the airiness of those madeleins, the flavours!

You know, those places where you eat well but where you don’t quite feel at home? Where you feel the staff is just going through the motions needed to get or maintain their Michelin star(s), but where there is a general sense of coldness, in the dishes and in the room? Well, the Peat Inn is the exact opposite. It’s a restaurant where, as soon as you enter, you feel treated like at home, generously, where calmness reigns and you forget any pressure in the world.

And, even more importantly, where you eat bloody well! At the Peat Inn we’ve always enjoyed refined, technical, studied and meticulous but substantial dishes, founded on great raw materials, a cuisine that it is hard not to like from whichever angle you judge it. The Chef says: ‘the perfect dish for me is one with a lot of work behind it, but which looks simple to the customer’. He succeeds. We love his elegant touches and his restraint. Try it.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A French Bistro and more in Paris

Its name is Le Jeu de Quilles (45 r. Boulard F - 75014 Paris) and you will find it slightly off the beaten track, not too distant from Montparnasse.

Not that this makes it easier to find a table. The place was completely packed, replete not only with enthusiastic locals, but also with foreign speaking adventurers.

What’s the secret of a good and successful bistro in Paris?

Well, certainly not comfort. The tables are crammed in the tiny room, practically adjacent to each other, with not even the space to walk to your seat without having to move them initiating a complex domino effect.

Let’s call it charming atmosphere.

And the overworked single manager/waiter/sommelier may well ignore you for long periods of time, when you are craving for the wine to be brought while the food on your table is cooling while in dire need of the noble liquid accompaniment (only to be totally charming when attending to you).

Let’s call it great character.

So, what is the secret?

As always: great raw materials aptly and unpretentiously cooked. On this Le Jeu does deliver.

No elegance, but overall strong, rustic, pleasant flavours.

As in this squash soup, where you can even see the concentration:

And even more in this Boudin noir:

Whatever it is they put in this black pudding (and not everybody might want to know), it created a fantastic, meltingly textured explosion on your palate,. Probably not suitable for a low-cholesterol diet.

There are occasional cooking letdowns. The skin of this bream

was demoralising, and the fish was slightly overcooked. But ever so fresh (wild not farmed), and the condiment and root and green vegs delicious.

And a lamb was cooked just as Grand Maman would have

The meat so tender, moist, delectable, and no less so were the accompanying root vegetables, so intense and bodily they could have stood as a vegetarian dish on their own. The tapenade which constituted the base for this dish was so pungent that, when back to the hotel, we found our clothes impregnated with its humour down to our underwear!

The concluding plum clafoutis which we shared was the least memorable part of the meal, so much so that we did not even bother to take a picture.

With a bottle of noble red liquid at €28 (one of the cheapest on the fine list) and free and freely offered water, the cost was €100 for the two of us. We left no tip as there was no service to speak of, but we felt the price was not too unreasonable (if not cheap) for the quality we had in a great city (this said, we will soon report on a similarly priced stunning meal in Scotland with materials as good and superior cooking).

We came out happy, satisfied. If there was a next time, we’d want to try their Corse charcuterie and their cheeses, which looked and smelled terrific, sitting in a corner by the entrance.

PS: The following night, however, we had the better meal. It was work, or post-work talking shop with colleagues, so no photos. At the Musee’ du Vin (the Wine Museum) in the memorably named Charles Dickens square, Metro Passy) we had a superior foie gras terrine, a great roasted lamb (again), the most classic of pineapples flambee’, and delicious cheeses (quite obviously, once again, cuisine not suited to low-cholesterol diet...). And, of course, very interesting wines. Man dreadfully came very, very, very far from winning a wine tasting competition, identifying a Pinot Noir (the easy task) but failing to identify a Bordeaux, his head now hanging in shame and his reputation with colleagues in tatters.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010


The day: Sunday 24th January 2010, Lunch.

The place: Inverkeilor by Arbroath, Main Street

The venue: Gordon’s

The food: Modern Scottish French

The drinks: Wallet-friendly list

Lunan Bay is a well-known tourist spot on the Scottish East coast, between Dundee and Aberdeen. As you can see the Main Street of the nearby village of Inverkeilor is buzzing with activity this Sunday afternoon:

Off the deserted street, inside we cannot fail to notice we are the only two customers. But the atmosphere feels immediately warm thanks to Ms. Watson, who takes care of front room in this totally charming husband-wife-son 25 cover operation. Husband and son are jointly at the stove. The previous night was busier, we are told.

We had gone without any particular expectation, just wanting to tread beyond Dundee (which we’d never done) along the coast, to see the Angus region, to sample the famous Arbroath smokie, and – why not? - to try this venue. And we came out happy we had discovered another little gem in Scotland.

The room reminds us, for its warmth, exposed beams, fireplace, of some places in Trentino-Alto Adige.

There’s no amuse bouche, but there’s a really notable home-made bread, our favourite incipit:

Observe the variety: it’s three totally different types, milk bread, focaccia, and walnut. And it’s a basket! And it is not even an Italian restaurant! Lovely.

The bread soon becomes useful to accompany one of our starters,

Roast red pepper soup, plum tomato, balsamic crème fraiche soup

a cheerful, vibrantly coloured, intensely flavoured but light beginning.

If this is taunting, the other starter is a real knock-out

Parfait of Foie Gras and chicken liver with grape chutney and toasted brioche

Now this begins to be serious cooking indeed. The chicken liver, in that proportion, is inspired and really adds a dimension to the foie gras in this cleanly presented dish. Pleasant sweet acidity from the grape chutney, all suffused by an incredibly intense mushroom smell (unadvertised!).

With this dish we begin to fly. A duck will airlift us to heaven – more on that later, but check out this offering from the North sea

Pan-fried fillet of North sea hake with creamed greens, butternut squash and sauce Grenobloise

Cooked superbly by somebody who clearly knows how to treat fish, aptly garnished with capers, as beautifully tiny as intense, sitting on a bed of (for us) slightly too creamy – given the rest of the fats in the dish - but refinedly cut veggies. We are extreme in searching lightness, but to our taste this would have been perfect had it been slightly lighter.

Our meal is pleasantly interspersed by interesting and charming conversation with Ms Watson on the world of food, restaurants and critics. While we talk comes dessert time:

White chocolate and mango iced parfait with pineapple compote and orange crisp

Mango and white chocolate are a very good idea – but once again it’s all a matter of proportions: here the mango is just in the right amount to pierce into that chocolate richness.

On the other side of the table, in the meanwhile…

Cheeses: Strathdon blue, Blackwax Cheddar, Crowdie, Grimbister, Morangie.

What a wonderful assortment of cow milk flavours, redolent of peasant history and tradition. Man enthusiastically gobbled up even the blackwax (no discernible consequences – the Burgundy had finished him off anyway). And the beautiful oatcakes, in a crisper and a softer version. Great.

With our menu are included also coffee and petit four, which we forgot to take a photo of. Pity, as they looked beautiful.

The coffee is good (these guys really do things properly) and the petit impressive: cassis chocolate, hazelnut chocolate, vanilla tablet.

The high: the duck that flew us to heaven

Roast breast and noisette comfit shoulder of Gressingham duck with purple cabbage , white bean cassoulet and Pinot noir jus

Yes the duck was good and perfectly cooked, tender, tasty. Yes the ‘shoulder’ comfit was in a pot of treasure, enclosing the most concentrated flavours, with the rustic bean cassoulet. Yes that braised cabbage in the winey sauce was powerful…. But we were mesmerised by an unadvertised unusual sweet spice and slightly pungent flavour… it’s a vanilla and parsnip cream – fantastic! It lent magic to this multidimensional ensemble.

The low - not really

Hard to say. This is a Michelin star level experience (in our judgement, not Michelin’s), but one shouldn’t expect the paraphernalia of service and cellar and imposing cheese trolley that are often associated with that. It’s more rustic, it preserves a family cooking atmosphere. If you are fine with that, as we were, there are no lows.

The service

Well, Mrs Watson wasn’t put too much under strain on that day, but we imagine that even with a full 25 cover room she’d continue to be the charming host that she was with us.

The price

The three course lunch (plus coffe and petits) is great value at £27. We drank a good Burgundy for a bit over £30. At dinner you get a fuller treatment (though this one was generous enough for us!) for a significantly steeper £44.


Quite an amazing little restaurant, where everything, including the basic conception of the cuisine, is rustic, but with dishes burning with ambition (we like to think from the son, tempered by fatherly wisdom), and showing off accuracy, confidence, integrity, and inspired touches of creativity.

If you want to try something other than the usual suspects in Scotland, this a place where to go.


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