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Monday, October 31, 2011

Galvin La Chapelle (London)

This is the type of place where they begin with 'A little champagne to start?' Normally we find this pushy upselling deeply irritating, but here the service staff have sufficient natural charm and are sufficiently un-stuck-up that we didn't feel all that pushed after all.

Moreover, the Maitre d' on the day was from Aberdeen and we ended up discussing the cheapest way to get to Scotland - which identified us as cheap bastards and put paid to any hopes of selling us expensive drinks.

We went for an a la carte and a prix-fix menu. While waiting we were entertained by the kitchen theater, in full view from our table, and had the chance to slowly take in the enormous, complex, almost overwhelming space of the room.

Two starters of terrines were both pleasantly moist and rich and dense in flavour. One (of game), from the fixed price menu, was more basic and offered a more obvious, saltier, punch (the side raisin puree was remarkable, however). The other, of guinea fowl, ham hock and foie gras, played on softer, more subtle and complex notes, the red onion marmalade oozing luscious sweetness. Both  were impressive in their own way.

A well executed grouse was suitably potent and flew quite high, though perhaps not as high as others (for flavour and texture) we've tried this year, here, here and here.

A simple dish of lamb, green beans, carrots and a rich fondant potato from the prix fix had deep flavour enclosed in a meat that didn't yield so easily, and supported by a classy jus; all in all a stunning dish when considered as part of a £25 menu.

The famous rhum baba' with chantilly cream (vanilla) certainly did not disappoint with its big alcohol cut and ethereal dough.

The prix fix dessert presented a tough choice between Tarte Tatin and a well presented and well kept cheese (Chaource). No prizes to guess what we chose:

Service was extremely well organised, relaxed and, as we said, charming: a very smooth machine. Compared to their cousins at Windows, while also formally attired they tend to create a less formal atmosphere.

This place reminds us a little bit, for the style of cuisine, of Koffmann's, although, to our taste, not quite at the same stupendous level. We wouldn't say it is an ultimate destination or worth regular long trips, but it is worth trying once if you are far, and worth returning if you are close. Here kitchen, Front of House and ambiance combine seamlessly to yield a pleasant, relaxing experience. We spent around £150 including very well made coffees, water, an a la carte and a prix fix menu, and a wine in the forties. Having ended on the high note of excellent espressos and petit four, we are indeed tempted to return for the tasting menu.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Archontico Papadopoulou (Kornos, Cypurs)

Forget the autumnal gloom, here's is our second installment from our late Summer Cyprus holiday.  

Moving up one notch in refinement from the wonderful, basic Ladas taverna, tonight we drive up to the village of Kornos, a stone's throw away in the woody inland from Limassol or Larnaca, to try a new and ambitious opening. The restaurant is set in a fascinating mansion over a century old, which housed the Papadopoulos family and shop. 

The charming hostess – the current generation of the Papadopoulos – gives us a tour of the mansion showing us many interesting objects found during the restoration and the rediscovery of the place: vases and other crafts, photographs and...but look, Man is already in the cellar, almost fainting at the musty sweetness of the perfume of Commandaria emanating from a very old, huge vase – we are told this is the oldest remnant of Commandaria in the island!! 

Man has to be dragged away forcibly before he falls in. This is an emotional beginning.

The bread with sesame was fresh, fragrant, well-made, and also pleasant was a sort of gazpacho served as an amuse bouche.

We were very curious to try one of the pasta dishes – we learned it is traditional in this part of Cyprus. We opted for ravioli, which were accompanied by other irregular bits and pieces of pasta -as in the old family kitchens, where nothing was to be thrown away. The pasta was well-made, and it was covered in a pleasant, yogurty-feeling sauce, creamy and quite light. The filling of the ravioli was intriguing, presenting our palates with flavours that are unusual to us, just a little on the salty side for our taste. 

A dominant theme of the evening were the sweet-salty contrasts. As in a main of pork cutlet, 

which had been marinated probably in honey to great effect, so much so that although the dish presented several faults to the fussy tasters (the meat was overcooked and hence slightly hard and dry, the tomatoes were on the contrary undercooked and frankly not too good), ultimately a sense of deep satisfaction prevailed, so spot on and beguiling was the taste.

In the other main, an old recipe of pork cubes stewed with beetroot, 

the coriander was not a mere side detail but it became a protagonist, lavished in large amounts and thus suffusing everything with fiery freshness. This lifted the rich, spicy, sumptuously greasy dish, certainly not one for the lily-livered, but a real dish from the heart and the tradition.

The same powerful role was played by the coriander in a very different offering as a starter, a huge mixed salad where once again sweet and salty played with each other in a myriad of variations.

We concluded with a dessert consisting of a sort of millefeuille which alternated phyllo pastry and the sweet Anari cheese, very typical of Cyprus (it is produced together with Halloumi, which more special to Cyprus than Feta -  or so we are told), worked in a fluffy cream. 

It was a fitting conclusion, together with the best Cyprus coffees we've had in the island,

to a sweet dinner.
 This is a place run with obvious passion and a clear sense of mission, that of reviving the Cypriot culinary heritage. They have basically all worthwhile Cypriot wines - which can be extremely pleasant, hic - on the list (some 150 of them) and even a fully dedicated Commandaria bar – where you'll find samples that would be hard to get in any other part of the island. 

Although there is some elegance and formality in the ambience, don't set your mood on 'fine dining' or look for too much finesse of presentation as if you were in a continental Michelin star venue, because then you'd be disappointed. Just enjoy the warm hospitality, the beautiful setting and especially abandon yourselves to the rich flavours that this cuisine brilliantly recreates from the tableau of the Cypriot tradition. 

We paid less than 100 Euros including a bottle of local rose' (called Poze') in the low twenties, which makes this lovely...well let's call it 'trattoria' in the best Italian sense, good value too. Had we had more time, we would have loved to return to try more dishes. And more wines.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Pommard Les Petits Noizons 2005

Bought at a forgotten price at the excellent Majestic a couple of years ago and just rediscovered, with great pleasure, in a dark corner of our cellar (or, more prosaically, wine fridge), but safe in the knowledge that this Burgundy from Domaine de la Vougeraie would set us back around £100 in a standard UK restaurant and we certainly did not pay near that much, we enjoyed this Pommard, though to our somewhat untrained palates and eyes felt as if if could have stayed in the bottle for a few more years

 The colour is quite dark for a Burgundy, we smell earthy notes and cherries. On the palate, there is something big and important but unfinished going on, quite a lot of acidity, and tannins that feel still a bit unruly to us.

That said, it was bloody good.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Ladas Fish Taverna (between Limassol and Larnaca, Cyprus)

This is the first of a couple posts about a holiday in Cyprus. We'll spare you the trite landscapes and, even worse, the sight of us in swimming suites, but you've got to look at the food!

No, the above beauty (his name is Spyros) is not on the menu. We met him in...a fish taverna.

Who'd have said it's so bloody hard for the tourist to find good fish in Cyprus, despite the thousand fish tavernas that adorn the coast? We mean really good fish, interesting, seriously fresh and unfarmed; something that makes you remember you're in a small island surrounded by warm waters and a bewildering variety of enticing marine offerings. 

But instead you can consider yourselves lucky if you land a fresh but banal farmed sea bass or bream.

We're not claiming that's the only worthwhile place, but after several disappointments Andreas Ladas simple, charming fish taverna, set on the stretch of the coastal road between the taverna-littered fishing village of Zygi (in our opinion, AVOID) and Larnaca, became for us the venue where we we found what we were looking for (do NOT confuse this one with the one by the same name in Limassol). There we found the freshest snappers, mullets, barracudas (pike-like in appearance, mightily tasty), and their numerous cousins, all described to to us by the charismatic Andreas in person. It was our University of Fish for a week.

We stumbled on it by chance, wondering in, one hot mid-morning, and finding Spyros the pelican as the only occupant of the premises. As he was in a cage, we immediately thought the owner must be a mean animal mistreater and that we'd find the poor animal on the menu in the evening. 

But no, Spyros may in fact be one of the luckiest pelicans in the world: retrieved on the beach injured and unable to fly, he found a comfortable home in the taverna, normally kept free to fly on the rare occasions when he feels like it, well nourished with tons of fish (reassuring the customer that the fish that is no longer superfresh still has a good use), and able to interact with customers. He's in fact quite a primadonna, showing an interesting range of expressions.

Of the various dinners we had at Ladas taverna, we took pictures of one where we chose to have a grilled snapper, preceded by the usual mix of salads and dips - the basic version of an amuse bouche... 

We say 'usual', but in fact the quality of the humous, the taramosalata, and the chips was distinctly above average. 

As soon as you taste the chips you realise that - rather unusually in our taverna experience - they are 'real', not frozen, hand-cut and cooked in good oil. The humous tastes mostly of good tahini and not of the standard bland concoction, and true is also the flavour of the taramosalata. And the zingy beetroots are a pleasure.

Before the main course, we always had squid or cattlefish, very fresh, grilled to perfection, and enhanced by herbs and good olive oil, those basic yet thrilling flavour combinations that have survived centuries of Mediterranean civilisation...

And here's the big event of the evening 

Intensely delicious as only very fresh and properly cooked fish can be, this snapper was in no way inferior in texture and delicacy of taste to 'nobler' types such as bass and bream. This is an experience that it would be impossible to replicate where we live, and thus it alone was worth the trip. It reminded us of Barbara in Sardinia, although here it is a far more rustic setting.

You'll find Ladas taverna on the coastal Road between Limassol and Larnaca, near Maroni village. Fresh wild fish was 45 euros per kilo, squid and cattlefish 35 per kilo, the salad and dips10 all inclusive, and the nice, refreshing and perfumed white Cypriot wines are available at very reasonable markups. This means that you can have one the best simple fish meals of your life, with a good wine, for less than 40 euros per head! 

When you enter you can choose the exact fish you want from the display, an option that in our opinion is better than going for the standard fish meze - even here you need to exercise some judgement when selecting the fish... Even better, make friends with Andreas, and he will guide you well! Perhaps he will also tell you the story of why there is a taverna by the same name in Limassol, in the same spot where his father used to have his, and which you should avoid...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

63 Tay Street (Perth): well worth the while

En route to a walk in the Perthshire Highlands, we needed some calorie intake - an excellent opportunity to stop at one of our favourite addresses, overlooking the Tay river in Perth.

Chef Palliser's cuisine is not always the most prettily presented, nor the service the most refined, and a three course menu (plus amuse bouche and an intermediate palate cleanser) at £35 is bound to face some constraints, but this is a case of substance over style, it's goodness with the hair let down. He definitely has that touch and ability in extracting flavours from the raw materials that marks out the talented from the run of the mill. 

This starter of smoked roast wood pigeon with remoulade and cherry jus

was intensely satisfying and balanced, the crisp and unsoggy salad for once serving a purpose in the dish rather than being a mere add-on, and the pigeon of good quality.

And this sea-land combination packed a real punch:

 It's an Ayrshire pork belly with Scottish (where else?) langoustine in a ceps sauce. The produce is excellent and skillfully cooked. The addition of the egg creates yet another protein dimension in a dish where a lot is going on already, but everything holds together beautifully. And we had similar thoughts regarding this:

An admittedly rather confused mass consisting of an Angus beef shin with pearl barley risotto, Summer truffles, girolles and Parmesan. Once again, much, much flavour (literally) compressed and bursting on your palate, even though for us the Parmesan was  one step too far in an already rich, creamy, moist dish.

We also had a refined starter of line-caught Scottish mackerel, a fresh, intriguing dish with fennel and smoky aubergine.

We said we needed calories. At some point we implored the waitress to bring us more bread, on the grounds of our carbohydrate need derived from our Italian genetic makeup. The waitress patiently said: 'I know, I know...', and kindly contented us. On this and other occasions the service was most kind, and smiling, although those looking for formal precision will find some points to pick...

The dessert section did not disappoint either on the calorie front nor, more fundamentally, on that of taste. 

The above is a rhubarb crumble with vanilla custard and cinnamon salty icecream: simple, well-made, rich, and interesting. 

But the next one was a different level of creativity: layered chocolate cappuccino, hazelnut fudge doughnuts.

Layer upon layer of pure pleasure in the "cappuccino", and well, you coffee and chocoholics know what we are talking about.

63 Tay Street is not the place where you will be indulged or pampered - but it serves good and interesting dishes, delivering powerful flavours, at prices that approach rock bottom for this quality.


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