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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Roganic (London): interesting but

One really wants to love this place. The front of house team (Jonathon, Sandia and the others)  are absolutely charming and enthusiastic. They genuinely believe in the project and they genuinely want you to be happy at Roganic, Simon Rogan's (of l'Enclume fame) very recent London opening with Ben Spalding at the helm.

The very fact that it's hard to describe all the dishes one by one demonstrates the complexity and uniqueness of the culinary experience: many ingredients, many unusual ingredients, many original ideas. Many dishes in tiny portions that articulate an itinerary to the special Rogan world. It's partly a forced itinerary though, as you can only choose between a 6 and a 10 course menu (we'll return to this issue at the end).

Some of these ideas strike us as less successful than others. A pear in a spelt dish is described by the waiter as 'caramelised', whereas the menu says 'burnt'. Unfortunately the menu is correct, and we wonder why anybody who hasn't some sort of ideological culinary point to prove would want to spoil a perfectly good, crunchy, delicate, spelt and grains 'risotto' with a hideous bitter burnt taste - perfect, though, if you love free radicals :)

Other dishes were more impressive, like the famous heritage potatoes with onion ashes, lovage and wood sorrel where the harmony of flavours and textures reigns supreme.

An amuse of rosemary and chickpea wafer with aioli, chervil and flowers was also extremely well conceived and executed, and the combination of the salty notes of a Kentish mackerel with elderflower honey, and beautiful green vegetables, was delicious and a joy to behold.

But other times the execution was perplexing, like the monkfish with chicken salt and chard, in which the cooking of the fish was not up to what one expects from a kitchen of this level (the fish was unanimously judged dry at the table), and which contained a really excessive amount of salt. Lovely chicken and cockle reduction though (small friendly advice for the waiter: if you don't remember what is in a dish, just say so, don't invent - we had to check again with the boss Jonathon to confirm the composition of the sauce).

We liked our slow cooked hogget, with an accompanying sweetbread adding interest, though a friend at the table found his not as pleasurable as one expects from slow cooked meat.

We again touched highs with a dessert of excellent Sweet ciceley, strawberry, buttermilk and intense verbena and after that a beautiful and very aromatic "fir tree" foam.

The breads are made inhouse, and are good (pumpernickel, spelt, and potato and buttermilk). But the coffees must, must be improved! And the petit four too (rather dry muffin like Victoria sponge).

So ups and downs overall. But this is not so much the point, as some snags within one month of opening are not the end of the world. For us, the main problem was that while we were always interested,  intrigued, amused and even educated, and we really rooted for them, we found it hard to fall in love with the whole concept. Perhaps it is the fact that when you have in the dish only a morsel of the main ingredient (and of the accompanying ones) it is difficult to develop a relationship with it. There was a slight sense of evanescence and lack of substance in pretty compositions which, we repeat, provoked in us interest, and pleasure too, but not the wows of the great powerful dishes that stay with you.

This is is obviously a subjective judgement, it's our taste and we know that many food-lovers disagree. Roganic definitely brings novelty to the London food scene, and we are happy to have tried the experience. What a boring world would it be if there weren't people like Rogan around.

But we also wonder if the formula that works at l'Enclume is such a great idea in London. The space here is not one for special occasions, the room small and reverberating noise, with the chairs not too comfy (Woman finding hers  positively uncomfortable). How many people want to repeatedly spend three hours for a 10 course meal with no choice? Many people would just like to go to a restaurant after work and be able to choose a few dishes. 

We think they are beginning to see the problem here. They started with just the 10 course at dinner, and now they have added a 6 course option (£80 and £55 respectively). They go out of their way to inform you that if you want some changes they'll try to accommodate them (a return with friends at another table was served, we were informed, mostly different dishes from those on the menu). If you become a regular you might even go for a Saturday lunch and have only a couple of dishes. They emphasise that the menu is always different (yet many of our dishes look almost identical to ones we had seen on other reports). They are adamant that they don't want to change who they are and what they stand for; yet they are already changing and we think they will have to change even more. We wish them good luck because, let us say it once again, they are really a great team that deserves success. We won't contribute much to it soon, but we'd like to be back in a year or so, it is a unique place after all.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On Gauthier: a couple more words

We wrote quite scathing comments on our last experience at Gauthier. We were angry and disappointed. However, we have now communicated with a very civilised Alexis Gauthier, who apologised but also made us consider certain aspects of what we wrote (and we ourselves considered more). Since not all chefs react in this kind manner to negative comments (how many times have we escaped by skin of our teeth some angry and crazed knife-wielding cook...), we think this reaction goes to his credit and so it is only fair to report it.

Secondly, although we hinted  in our review that we had been there other times before with good experiences (otherwise why return?), this was in the long spell when we had interrupted blogging, so we only wrote public reviews on our last and only negative experience. While the report for that bad night is completely accurate, that report alone does not paint a full and balanced picture of our overall experience at Gauthier. We apologise for that.

Third, Gauthier asks us if £35 for three courses is really such a bad deal in London, as we had ranted. Our answer is that no, it is not a bad deal. Although there are indeed some fantastic deals around for excellent cuisine (e.g., not to go too far, Arbutus), prices at Gauthier are perfectly competitive for London. And we add that they happily offer filtered water for free, which is the decent thing to do but is very rarely done. What we meant was that we would not pay for that particular experience.

It might be appropriate to clarify that we always pay for all our meals and we have never had, nor will we ever have until we make public comments, free meals anywhere, be they offered by way of apology or appreciation for regular custom, or else. In particular, to be blunt, we are not writing this because we have been sweetened: if we go back to Gauthier, we'll pay. However we confess to having accepted small attentions every now and then, like any regular customer in any place: Alexis, please prepare some nibbles. :)

To conclude: as we state in our blurb, we respect the professionals we 'criticise'; and who are we to criticise serious professionals anyway? We are not professional critics. We simply aim to report our experiences, the experiences of passionate, normal bill paying customers, and we are always happy to rectify or rebalance our perspective if it seems fair to do so. 


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Gordon's (Inverkeilor): Always pleasant

Very enjoyable lunch at Gordon' s, on the Scottish coast between Dundee and Aberdeen.

In spite of our driving them crazy with our changes of mind (it's four of us, no it's six, there is a vegetarian, no sorry she has turned carnivorous - and by the way do you mind a baby with a pram...), they accommodated us perfectly in their warm dining room.

We were the only guests for the Sunday lunch (simpler menu at lunch but priced fantastically at £28 for three courses and coffee with petit fours) on a frighteningly rainy Summer day (it can get busier in the evenings so book ahead).

Excellent, excellent raw materials like this hake

cooked very sympathetically (hake can get massacred because of its high moisture and needs some skill), resting on deliciously crispy samphire and joyously presented.

And this salmon,

a miniature of deliciousness.

At the end we had some cheeses whose Scottish names we'll never be able to remember (though we do remember they were in perfect conditions and served at proper temperature). But the star was this Valrohna Chocolate parfait:

with vanilla white chocolate ice cream in which the intensity of the flavours was magnified by the wonderful Morello cherries. The chocolate parfait had actually the velvety consistency of the perfect tiramisu' (just to give you the idea) - a great end to the meal.

Once again, lunch at this charming Husband-Wife-Son operation (Son is the Chef) is one of the best ideas you might have if you are at driving distance (for dinner, the higher prices invite comparison with some tough competition, especially if you look in the Fife direction, and while the quality is high, the foodie in you will become just that much more critical - still warmly recommended, though).


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Harvey Nichols 4th floor chocolate counter, Edinburgh

Everything looked so appealing at first...

A sushi-style belt for sweets and bubblies, what a nice idea.

There's an upmarket feel about this place, sitting on the fourth floor of the Edinburgh Harvey Nichols store on Princes Street.

(you can't actually pick the items by yourself like in a sushi place - here they are for display only).

And a nice view of Edinburgh tops outside, beyond the adjacent Harvey Nichols Restaurant.

Then we notice that the chocolate and pear cake is not made inhouse but by... Bindi? We mean, Bindi, really? Bindi the brand of the "granny's tart" that you find in any bar in Italy? Of the run of the mill tiramisu that any cheap Italian trattoria is sure to have in their display fridge next to the bar counter? That Bindi? In Harvey Nichols Chocolate Lounge? Ooooh, very disappointing.*

We scale down expectations and orders. And yet this ice-cream

is even worse than our revised expectations. Sickeningly sweet chocolate, artificial flavour. We have to leave part of it - a very rare event for us.

And the better part of this chocolate paste were the industrially made bagels

OK, done it, been there, now we now it: good bye. We regret not having had desserts at the excellent Ondine, where we had lunched on the same day.

*Woman really couldn't get over the sight of a Bindi cake, so she did a little bit of research. Bindi is now a huge company, exporting all over the world, to what looks like a massive market. It sells itself as a high quality patissiere, but the childhood memories are such that we cannot bring ourselves to try it - mind you, it is not positively bad, it is just your totally ordinary run of the mill mass market dessert stuff. We would have been prepared to try it again, if only we had managed to locate some ingredient list, but alas searching high and low we haven't been able to find it for any of its huge list of products. Quite a different approach from that of these guys...


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ondine, Edinburgh's Seafood Heaven

 (Added October 2012: Some more recent comments are here)

Standing in front of the restaurant, you have the unappealing Missoni hotel restaurant menu just to the right, and a Pizza Express just to the left: it shouldn't be too hard to resist either temptation and instead climb the stairs that lead to the airy, bright, modern room of Ondine, with a display of oysters and its appealing U-shaped bar area in a dominating position, and minimalist but comfortable table setup, the high chair backs a delight for the long Man's back.
Many classics, no longer often seen any more around except in old fashioned venues, are on the menu. A mussle mouclade
that belies the conviction of many Italians that mussles (how plump, tasty, fresh!) don't go with creamy or curried sauces.

And how much more classic can you get than with a Lobster Thermidor*:
just a shade, but really a shade, overcooked for us, and otherwise extracting murmurs of delight, the fresh herbs not skimped upon providing a pleasant background .

And the same did our Dublin Bay prawns, that came in generous amount and once again top quality, this time with faultless cooking:

It's very simple: if in Edinburgh you are in the mood for seafood, unfussily but competently prepared, served generously, and of top quality, go to Ondine. The service is smooth and the prices are reasonable: £34 for the lobster, same cost as for a mixed crustacean large plate, around £20 for mains such as the Dublin Bay prawns, around £10-12 for starters such as a lovely, ungreasy squid tempura like this

or the mussle dish, or a squid risotto that we want to try next time. Because there will be a next time!

*Here is how the great man did it (the
Sauce creme being a bechamelle with added cream):
Split the lobster in half lengthways, season and gently grill, then remove the flesh from the shell and cut into fairly thick slices on the slant. Place some Sauce Creme finished with a little English mustard in the bottom of the two half shells, replace the slices of lobster neatly on top and coat with the sauce. Glaze lightly in a hot oven or under the salamander. (from Auguste Escoffier "The Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery")


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Albarino Namorio Rias Baixas

And since we are talking about wine...

just another plug for an excellent little Summery white:

very perfumed, fruity of Summer fruits like peaches and apricots, and a touch of clean minerality. Utterly pleasant.

And once again obtained at a kind price in a Scottish restaurant (£21 for a wine that costs you over £10 in the shops), Gordon's - more on our lunch there in due course.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cloudy Bay Chardonnay 2006

If you like wine you must have tried it.

Don't you just love it? We smell and taste citrus, citrus and citrus, that's the easy part, but also other fruits (grapefruit?) and several shades of toasty and oaky notes. It's elegant; it's fresh; it's a pleasure.

And - an additional sweet note - we drank it at Sangster's at an incredibly low markup for a UK restaurant (£37 for a wine that costs £20-25 in the shops).

(Cloudy Bay please contact us to get the address for the cheque.)


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Sangster's, Elie (Fife)

Charming, small, one-man band, are the words that spring to mind: in the kitchen there's only him, Mr Bruce Sangster. We really mean only him - chopping away, prepping away, sizzling away ... a lonely hero at the stove! He finds it more effort to look after the supposed help ('these youngsters are frightened by the long hours') than help himself. The amazing thing is not so much that he manages to run a kitchen alone, but that he does so at Michelin star level! (Coming from a private corporate cooking background no doubt helps with organisational skills).

Bruce is not only well-organised, but also clearly talented: while relatively simple his dishes always have some intriguing component, with sometimes quite daring and original combinations of flavours.

Among the highlights, the above scallops come with a pungent Thai sauce and (like all other produce we had on the evening ) are top quality.

And this Halibut was cooked just right, so different from out recent experience at Gauthier:
The shellfish jus was for licking!

But most of all we were ravished by this salmon, first marinated and then cooked at low temperature,

where the balance of layered flavours and textures was perfect: acidity from the crispy cauliflower, sweetness from the beetroot and the miso (a recurrent oriental theme).

This is a very logical, solid cuisine; everything in the plate has a function. None of those annoying embellishments in minuscule amounts that contribute zero to taste and that are so often encountered in fine dining places nowadays.

More often than not, it's a one-woman band also in the front of house...very charming service, but be prepared for some waits while other tables are being entertained. Your turn will come...

A three course meal, inclusive of two amuse bouches and a pre-dessert sets you back just £40. As the short wine list is also very well priced, you are in for a treat at Sangster's.


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