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Sunday, December 9, 2012

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Do you know Brezeme?

For us it's a wine discovery, courtesy of the excellent sommelier at The Ledbury:

Brezeme is a Northern Rhone appellation, and the sample we tried is from a grape called Serine, a clone of Syrah.

It is quite spicy in fact, and we taste cherries and lots of Summer fruit, as well reminiscences of sun-warmed Mediterranean beaches, and desire of a vacation.

We think it's also biodynamic. If so it would be one of a lengthening list of biodynamic wines we really like, which is funny because we think that what in biodynamics is beyond organic is just biobullshit.

Be that as it may, what a lovely discovery.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Tavern at Strathkinness: Nice pub

(Visited September 2012).

Not sure they would satisfy beer lovers. But we are especially incompetent about beer and we couldn't recognise a good selection from assorted warm water (the many locals looked happy though). 

Nor is it too likely that they will win any interior design award. 

But on the food front, on the food front... something is going on...

We were immediately pleased by the savoury scones served with the good, soft butter

Then, we delighted in the lovely freshness of the seafood produce, 

in the apt cooking, in the balance and assertiveness of flavours. Both these plump mussels and these sweet scallops with black pudding could be proudly served in far more exhalted establishments

When we read the adjective 'tropical' next to 'chicken' and we saw the accompanying rice, we must admit, we feared the worst student kitchen style culinary crimes. 

But no, the son at the stoves (mum in the front of house, dad everywhere) clearly has that touch that makes dishes pleasing even when they are not elegant and look a little stodgy. This dish was alive, vibrant with herbs and spices, fruit and vegetables.

And then an eternal pub classic:

You can see that the chips are home-made, quite well, but what stood out here was the quality of the peas and the tartare sauce, in the stratosphere compared to that of the celebrated and multi-award winner Anstruther fish bar (not too distant in Fife), whose fish to us tastes very good but no better nor fresher nor better battered than this.

We stopped at this point that night, satisfied after the very short drive from St Andrews, having paid very fair prices and regretting only that their wine list wasn't more interesting, but we went out already full of desire to come back, and to try other dishes and their desserts. This is one of those little local miracles, simple food low in pretensions and rich in personality, in an atmosphere of kindness and charm (well done mum and assistant).


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Finally three for Crippa

Piazza Duomo, which blew us away last year, has finally got its third star. For anybody who wants to understand modern Italian cuisine at its highest level, this (together with Francescana) is the place to go.
Congratulations Crippa!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Diana (Bologna)

(Visited September 2012)

Continuing our 'tour' of Italian restaurants....

Once upon a time the Bolognesi used to go to Diana when they wanted a good traditional eat with that touch of elegance. Nowadays its reputation is a bit that of a tourist trap, banking on its past and its very central location.

The truth, we suspect, is that maybe Diana was never more than a perfectly decent restaurant, but the world has moved forward while they have remained exactly in the same spot. Neither the cuisine, nor the waiters in their demeanour and attire have adapted one bit to the times. Here you can touch the past, something that may have its charm and interest.

But... OK,  this is one of the decayed Queens of the Bologna restaurant scene, but it ain't so bad either.

We stuck with the classics, we had low expectations (that old trick for happiness), and were indeed quite happy. For example, pappardelle with porcini - right in season - were well made, eggy and generous.

And a bollito misto definitely will not attain Bottura's heights in nearby Modena (go, go, go); but it was a very honest, varied bollito, neither dry not soggy, with a decent accompanying sauce.

 A salad of ovoli (Caesar's mushrooms) truffle and parmesan as was to be expected featured minuscule portions of the delicacies, but otherwise they would have cost a fortune. At least we got a hint of the flavour. Lacking a microscope, no picture.

A final dish of woodland strawberries (once upon a time there were wild strawberries) with homemade ice-cream was pleasant. 


We saw some tortellini passing around and they looked a little sad, far too big to be real thing. Glad we didn't order them.

The wine list is quite deficient (severe understatement), yet we managed to pick an acceptable and well priced Pinot Noir from Alto Adige.

Service was jovial, old fashioned and efficient. Prices are OK, (perhaps just slightly high) for quality quantity and location, look at around the 100 euro mark for two for three courses, without special ingredients.

All in all, not a destination restaurant, but a passable one if you are in the area. Believe it or not, Bologna is NOT a gastronomic spotlight. It's hard for a gourmet to get some satisfaction here. In the end, the lukewarm and a bit rough embrace of Diana may not be the most uncomfortable place to have dinner in this city.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Osteria Francescana (Modena)

(Visited October 2012)

A pity that we could only find a spot at this uber-celebrated temple of Italian cuisine at a time that was only a few hours before the return flight to Scotland. A trip just for them, a maximum of three hours at Osteria Francescana: will they vanquish the natural fear of disappointment that always looms when stratospheric expectations are set? Bottura is not allowed to go wrong...

Let's see. Luggage in hand, the first customers of the day, we ring at the bell of the shut door with some trepidation, a few minutes before the opening time. A rule abiding non-Italian couple (a metaphor there?) standing in the vicinities resolves to follows us.

When, three hours later, we come out of the same door, we definitely have learned a lot about modern Italian cuisine.

We ordered the regulation classics menu at 140 euro that Chef Bottura himself offers to twist and 'integrate', quite substantially as it happens, according to your taste. It may seem common hospitality, but as you may have experienced yourselves there's more than one multistarred venue where instead rigidity reigns supreme. And here in the Osteria they do not care a jot about us taking photos of the food, their food is not too precious (hear, Alajmo?). Or about how you are dressed. It's good to see that the name Osteria is not  a mere gimmick, and that some of that spirit survives even in the unavoidable three star formalism.

Here are the dishes that you must have seen photographed and described one thousand times on the internet. Please bear it the 1001th time.


We learned, for example, how full avant-garde with eyes on the future can be rooted in terroir and tradition as firmly as an oak. We learned how Japanese ideas can brush shoulders with our Italian tradition in a subtle, classy way, with, light, clear, harmonious flavours, as in the first three dishes, Aulla tempura with frozen carpione, the Eel glazed with saba ('cooked must') and onion ashes; and the Homage to Thelonius Monk, justly revered as one of the greatest cod lovers in history. He would have loved this sublimely cooked one.

We didn't quite learn, but we had a glamorous revision lesson on how modern technique can put to the service of tradition, as in the bollito non-bollito (head, cheek, tail, belly, trotter and cotechino), evoking, if you are Italian, many memories and beating them all. And even better, perhaps, in the compressione di pasta, the literally multilayered flavours taking you in new sensorial territory, Royale de de foie gras combined with humble beans.

The 'little finger' tortellini (requested by Man) are more solidly traditional, but even here there's that special touch, the lightest of creams (panna d'affioramento) that suddenly makes many controversies on whether cream should be used in tortellini look silly: this is the solution, stupid! (best tortellini, ever, for the record - and Man has been raised on them in Bologna).

And the foie gras lollipop, one of the earliest Bottura creations, must be in the Hall of Fame of modern cuisine: it's hard to top the aged balsamic and foie combination, and the texture contrast.

Think pink is a pre-dessrt that was meant to please women and indeed it seemed to strike Woman more than Man, so Bottura got it right... 

The dessert, called `Oops I dropped the crostata' is simply beautiful, it really is one of the dishes that most compellingly provoke comparisons with visual arts, and has Man looking transfixed at it. It is very well made, with an airy crust, it is good and pleasant, yet Woman doesn't eat with her eyes alone... terms of flavour, we'd humbly say that it doesn't feel at the pinnacle of the art of patisserie in the same way as the rest of the meal felt at the pinnacle of the art of cooking.

So, while we leave the Osteria in a rush (a mere three hours didn't allow us to eat in a really relaxed way, plan near four hours from entering to exiting if you want to be in total relax), let us mention the service. We've seen complaints that it's stiff and sullen, but for us it was perfect. They graciously accommodated what they probably thought were some idiotic remarks by us on the wine, taking actions they thought unnecessary, and they were efficient, unpompous, relaxed. Some of them even almost smiled sometimes! The great man himself is part of the service as he goes around the tables to discuss and advise on the menu, and he does it smoothly. If he became tired of being a great chef, he might consider a career in the front room :) And we were impressed that he was on duty on a Monday lunch the day after his (50th) birthday.

Prices must the be some of the kindest in the world for a three star restaurant, and with this generosity.

There is something humble and low key in this glorious Osteria that we find deeply charming. It's hard to imagine Italian cuisine coming better than this. There is a unique combination of creativity and clarity of conception, perfection in execution, intelligent use of technique, and rootedness in the terroir, that make Francescana unbeatable in this domain.Returning to try other dishes is not merely a desire, it is essential.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Lunching at Briciole (London)

(Visited September 2012)

In this and the next two posts we go back to the real vocation of our blog: Italian food. We want to show you various embodiments of it that we've sampled in recent travels, from the simplest trattoria to a certain 'Osteria' which in fact offers the best high end Italian dining in the world...

Our Italian gastronomic mini-trip London. Briciole, which opened less than a year ago (reviewed here) is now in full flow and continues to serve simple, authentic fare that if you closed your eyes would make you think you are in Italy. Like these tagliolini with broccoli and ricotta

 or these pappardelle with (a very generous amount of!) a succulent ragu'

Pasta is very well made here - not surprising given that the mothership is Maurizio Morelli's Latium.

The polpette in 'pizzaiola' (featuring great tomatoes) and the  sausages continue to be addictive

It is only with an enormous exertion of willpower that you can stop eating them. 

But just as you do...temptation is behind the corner, this time in the form of more exalted seasonal delicacies: fresh, chunky porcini, playing their earthy magics with a succulent, properly cooked (i.e., little) tagliata of Galloway beef

 Italian cuisine is strongly produce based and we like the idea of getting the good things that can be sourced where you are, rather than being obsessive in sourcing exclusively Italian products. This Galloway was great and this was one of the best tagliate we've had.

Briciole is fantastic value for money for food, but it is a veritable Heaven for the wine lover. We know of no other place in the UK where wines are so kindly priced. So it happens that you can drink stuff which would break the bank in London fine (and not so fine, too) dining restaurants, while here it just requires that extra effort:

 On the alcohol front, there are other interesting temptations. Needless to say, we succumbed. This time it was a Sambuca and a liquorice based concoction where the core aromas leapt at you with marvellous clarity and intensity

Briciole is a place that it's easy to love, when you're in the mood for the sheer joy of uncomplicated Italian cuisine, be it a bite from the gastronomy corner or a full meal. 

And if  you want something fancier in terms of cooking and presentation, remember, Latium is still there...

(Our usual reminder for posts like this that read a bit like ads: we always pay for the meal - although as also always happens everywhere, loyal custom tends to be acknowledged with some extra "attention" ;-) ).


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Simple but gorgeous: seafood platter at Ondine

(Visited June 2012)

Saturday lunchtime is the most convenient time for us to forage in Edinburgh, and this time with a ... ahem.. busy week ahead for our stomachs we fancied something light yet tempting and rewarding - well, we are in Scotland, blessed with fantastic seafood, so that had to be the answer. Ondine was a no-brainer. Our excuse this time was to compare their seafood platter with the one at the Seafood Restaurant.

As we've showed before, the room is light and airy.  

The operating table is ready with all the necessary implements nicely lined up.

First however we needed to get in the mood, so we started with some oysters and tempura squid with Vietnamese sauce. 

In hindsight, we should have gone for oysters "nature" instead of the fried version: at the first bite we realised that the plump, juicy beauties (six of them in a portion) would have been happier if showcased on their own, especially as both the batter and the accompanying sweet and spicy sauce were basically the same as for the excellent calamari. 

Still, pretty good, though unexpectedly the calamari stole the show at this initial stage.

Then, in comes the Roast Shellfish Platter - it is choke full with seafood, from lobster to crab, mussels, langoustines, cockles, razor clams, you name it, it's there. The picture don't do justice to the generosity of the platter, below you have our two views:


We should not compare this with the seafood platter at the Seafood Restaurant, which is served cold, and is equally sumptuous and generous - yet the hot version ticks all the boxes for us.

A perfectly decent treacle tart with clotted cream and a summery fruit salad with "rock" honeycomb closed proceedings. 

A real a pity that this place is closed on Sundays, which would make it easier for us to come more often - you lucky Edinburgh dwellers should not miss the opportunity for a beautiful, and yes, light-ish lunch.


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Lunch(es) at The Ledbury: from excellent to better

(Visited July and August 2012)

The world hardly needs, let alone from us, an additional review of The Ledbury and Brett Graham, a restaurant and a chef that have (justly) received so much attention and accolades already. So here's just a memory, a celebration, of two great meals, ten days apart, that we had there in the Summer.

The first meal was chosen by us a la carte and was entirely fish (well, not the desserts), while the second was put together by the chef and focussed on meat. The dishes here look like the room and feel like the atmosphere, both elegant and unstuffy.

Here they like (for several dishes) the theatre of bringing the just cooked produce at your table before plating, like these roast scallops:

Already these whole chunky beasts on their seaweed bed would have been just fine as they were...But we are not in a barn, what do you think, so you get elegant plating and lovely brassicas as a bonus

Lobster with fennel and elderflower really tickles and surprises as a combination and is poetic to look at:

 The cooking of this salmon was just exemplary, dare we say maybe not supported by the flavour of the salmon, perhaps its quality high but not as stellar as that of the scallops

 By the way, the famous flame grilled mackerel (no picture due to the excess of them on the web) is really as simple as it looks, as good as they say, and a piece of genius as you hope. You cannot not try it.

This fish meal pleased us, made us feel good and happy with the world as an excellent meal should, it made us admire the chef's marvellous skills, but for some reason -probably more to do with us than with the dishes- it did not take our breath away, which is rationally inexplicable by looking back at these dishes.

But the meat meal did it. It almost made us switch to Tripadvisor mode and scream ohmygod this was the best meal of my life...

Seriously, the best or not, and what does the best mean anyway, it had that rare kind of consistently stunning quality and inexorable culinary logic.

Of all the delicacies above, genius is perhaps most apparent in one of the simplest, the fine green beans with powder of foie gras (i.e. frozen and grated), white peach and raw almonds. This is essentially a vegetarian dish with a non-vegetarian garnish. In this 'inversion' lies the greatness of this most suave offering.

Meat lovers will be happy too (excellent the pigeon with cherries) and so those with a sweet tooth: both the chocolate pave' with milk puree' and lovage ice cream, and the brown sugar tart with poached grapes and ginger ice cream looked and were memorable, a triumph of flavour balance.

Service here adds another gear to the already impressive machine that the Ledbury is. Really great and hard working professionals in the front room, with an evident degree of autonomy and capacity for initiative, a well drilled, well oiled, and pleasant team (Sam was in charge on both days, what a nice chap).

Not only were we happy because Graham attains extraordinary combinations of flavours while avoiding any infantile ostentation of techniques and 'molecularity'- the technique is all there, but it is at the service of the dish, it's behind it, it's not the dish: this is what we call mature cooking (in this, we were reminded of L20 in Chicago). We were happy also because this is 2* Michelin eating for the modern era: what a satisfaction to eat in a place whose every aspect, from service to cuisine, is at the pinnacle and yet does not subject you to tedious formalisms, conventions, obligations: hurray!

(Note: the photos are unedited, 'straight from the table', and AS ALWAYS, unlike some fellow bloggers, we paid for these meal)

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