You should be redirected in 6 seconds - if not please click the link below:
You should be automatically redirected in 6 seconds. If not, visit and update your bookmarks.
see you over there :-) Man Woman


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Petrus (London): high class cooking

 (Visited 30/12/2011)

We squeezed into the 2.30 lunch slot, which became 2.40, waiting and munching pop-corns (paprika, lemon, original yet not sure it's such a cool idea) on the comfortable sofa at the entrance, entranced by the monumental cylindrical temperature controlled wine storage unit, around which the restaurant seems to revolve. It is an impressive room, with widely and rationally spaced tables, ideal for hosting an impressive meal. Did the lunch live up to it?

Well, the amuse immediately sets the tone and raises expectations of a not ordinary afternoon.

The Jerusalem artichoke mousse ever so velvety, in harmony with the exuberant truffle, and in harmonious contrast with some acidic capers below, all this lovingly engulfing a soft beef carpaccio. Not an ordinary amuse; Mark Askew (exec chef) and Sean Burbidge (head chef) are clearly dead serious about excellence.

We order, as one of the starters, a pheasant cooked three ways. But instead of that, this is what shows up:

Pan-fried sea scallops with celeriac, Granny Smith apple and truffle

This was a fabulous combination of sharp, earthy, sweet and umami flavours that  only a clumsy execution could spoil. But the execution was as good as one can hope for, the first of a series of dishes where the cooking, as well as the seasoning, was chillingly precise.

There remains the small matter that we haven't ordered this dish. The person who took our order without writing it down had buckled under the pressure (room packed, last table orders). Well, ok, this is the way they do it, surely it feels more classy without a notepad, but Woman is on the verge of tears, oh the promising pheasant three ways... but the staff comes graciously in support of distressed Woman: of course we could have this, too, with their compliments and apologies three ways:

 Windsor Estate pheasant three ways with shaved chestnuts and cider consommé

The three ways of the pheasant are a raviolo, a ballotine and a fatty piece of leg. You can probably see how good, multidimensional, succulent the meat was (do you remember those dry horrors of some home-, or even restaurant-, cooked pheasant?), to say nothing of the delicious chestnut shavings. But what propelled this dish skywards was the humble consomme', with its beguiling sweet-sour undertone.

The other starter we had ordered is

Pan-fried fillet of red mullet with clams, coriander gnocchi and a lemongrass sauce

Sorry to be repetitive guys, but the cooking of this fish was spot on, light crispness on soft moist meat. All components here truly work harmoniously together to raise the whole higher, congratulations, chef(s), as this is truly a great little dish. Can we just say, though, that the claims were rather pointless, in number, size, taste and function? Remove, remove! (and perhaps have more of the wonderful gnocchi).

The main of

Loin of Highland venison with braised shin, carrot purée and juniper sauce

is sumptuous, the succulent loin in the slightly crispy outside, the classical juniper accompaniment made into a ravishing sauce, the braised and wrapped shin telling yet a different story of texture and taste. Look at it: such a neat looking dish enclosing such a world of gustatory experience.

And then the bird:

Highland Red-leg partridge with pancetta, ceps and chestnuts, roasting jus  

Presented cleanly in slices, the wrapping of the pancetta here really gives wings to the taste of the meat. What is striking is the soft and moist texture, obtained by sous-videing followed by quick panfrying, another exemplary display of meticulous cooking. The velvety jus builds the layering of flavours, the vegetables do not merely play second fiddle, and the final pretty textural touch is what felt like barley inserted in the slices of meat.

Lovely sides of Dauphinoise potatoes and multicoloured carrots were also brought to the table.

By now we are almost alone in the room, there is a general air of demobilisation. The service becomes noticeably less sharp, even if always kind. Some restaurants have live jazz, here they have live ironing

But we still want our desserts.

The Chocolate sphere with milk ice cream and honeycomb

is chocolate to the n-th power - the photograph has been taken after the perfectly formed and light chocolate sphere had buckled under the hot melting chocolate poured on it. A little piece of pleasant theatre for a dessert that aims, and succeeds, to knock you down. This was high class comfort food, interesting in flavours and textures: technically speaking, pure gooey pleasure!


Frozen yoghurt with wild heather honey, roasted fig, walnuts and red wine syrup

which was refined and intriguing in conception, the various components playing intricate games with each other, but perhaps did not work so spectacularly in terms of taste, especially because the roast fig (end of December?) simply could not (and did not) deliver. More for the intellect than for the glutton.

Another little piece of theatre with the unusual petit fours, small vanilla and Armgnac icecreams in a white chocolate coating, served in "steaming ice".

And more: chocolate coated almonds and two varieties of mint chocolates.

They really take chocolate seriously around here...

Oh, if only they took coffee as seriously as chocolate! Here we are, at the end of a remarkable meal, sipping poor filter coffee. Why, why, why? We 'remonstrate' with a surviving waiter (few humans are by now in the room, among them however we think we spotted Mark Askew running around, a good sign EDIT: or maybe not: we understand that Mark Askew has now left Petrus!), appealing to his Italianness. He insists on making us an espresso, and we don't dare tell him that the results are not enthralling either. Please, somebody do something about this.

The service varied in quality during the meal (due to the late time some personnel disappeared). Particularly comical was our attempt to enquire with a newly arrived young sommelier about the cooking of the partridge. 'Is it cooked sous-vide? '. 'Yes it's very sweet, nice isn't it'. 'No, we mean, is it cooked in a water bath?'. 'Water bath?'. 'No matter, yes it was very good'. The other waitress also had no idea, but she kindly asked in the kitchen. So it's not a 'total' service, in the sense that not everybody is au fait with the dishes. And let's face it, watching the ironing service performed in front of you is not top class stuff as the food (and no, it was not our first choice to get a table at 2:30 pm). But the attitude and procedures they have, the kindness of the individual waiters even when obviously tired and no doubt desperately wanting, but not showing to want, that we would just leave them alone, the generosity and smoothness with which they dealt with the wrong order, were admirable.

 This was our last meal out for 2011 and, apart from the sour coffee note, it ranks with the very best. The dishes here are intricate and at the same time clean and coolly logical, flavours orderly working as a team and not against each other. This is impressive modern fine cuisine, executed spotlessly and with perfect judgement. There is a certain clinical air about the dishes, a certain lack of aggression that some perhaps might not find exciting; but as far as we are concerned, on the palate judgement we were blown away by the harmony of it all. The dishes here please you rather than challenge you. We'll settle for that. We anticipate this will soon be a 2* restaurant. Three courses (using top class produce) are £65, which is very fair for Mayfair.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Medlar (London): total charm

(Visited 29/12/2011)

The menu arrives and one immediately has good feelings: we would like to try everything. That is a good feeling.

The bread arrives (well made soft focaccia and a sourdough) and the good feelings swell. We start to understand in what sort of place we are: no showing off, stay within comfort zone, don't do too many things but do them well. Wise.

We go for two signature starters of the well-pedigreed Chef Joe Mercer Nairn: the Crab raviolo with samphire, brown shrimp, fondue of leeks and bisque sauce 

of which we had read, and salivated about, a lot, was very good, but surprisingly also the weakest, in our opinion, of the whole lunch. True, the raviolo was thin and feather light and bursting with crab, the samphire and brown shrimps a delicious garnish, but we also found that the crab was a little overwhelmed and could not truly shine, and that the bisque was too creamy and lacked some alcohol (or other form of) kick, lacked depth - perhaps it would have been enough not to call it "bisque" to avoid high expectations. All in all, the dish tasted more than pleasant, but a little more monodimensional than we'd expected. 

Mind you: to say that this crab was the weakest dish is to say that the standards are high.

In fact, the other starter, Duck egg tart with red wine sauce, turnip purée, lardons and sautéed duck heart

was a symphony of textures and flavours. The tart, light and crispy (puff-pastry); the mushrooms, strong; the egg, runny and luscious; the heart, soft and cooked just so: all played together to great effect. Thanks also to the delicious wine sauce and the powerful lardons (we could not fail to compare the effective use made of them here to the ineffective use made of pancetta by Locatelli the day before), this was at one stroke rustic and accomplished, assertive and mellow.  Jon Tseng on egullet puts it better than we could ever do:

'It is a great example of taking a homestyle dish (I guess we start with oeuf meurette), putting it on steroids and turning it into real haute cuisine. The kind of thing I would expect to be done at Le Gavroche or at a Ducasse joint.'

Similar feelings we had for our main of Daube of beef with Bourguignone sauce and parsnip puree

which also played on several keys. No prizes for prissiness here, mainly one bold flavour after the other but staying together, the generous sauce really lifting the splendid piece of beef, the puree a sweet and apt match, the lardons once again doing heavy duty with a contrasting saltiness. Only the mushrooms were not impressive, a little watery and bland, they could have been removed at no loss.

The other main, Roast partridge with confit leg, pearl barley, foie gras and kale

showcased precision in cooking, the soft breast and the crispy leg in nice contrast. The foie gras was a delightful accompaniment for the drier meat of the bird, but unfortunately it had not been properly de-veined. The barley and the pleasantly acidic sauce added yet another layer to this accomplished dish.

And the desserts, too, what a joy. A Pear and frangipane tart with clotted cream 

was quite rustic in style but had a meaningfully intense pear taste, as well as the almonds asserting themselves beautifully.

But the winner was  the Prune and armagnac ice cream with financiers

big prune chunks in the icecream, suavely punchy with Armagnac, the financiers verging, for us, on the too buttery but with a lovely almond flavour. To finish all off, some high quality chocolate truffles as petit fours.

As you can see, we liked everything. To this, add the charming personnel and the charming, generous practices they have: the bread is freely re-supplied; they don't push the mineral water and after your bottle is finished near the end of the meal they ask you if you want to continue with a carafe; the teas (great little selection!) are constantly and promptly refilled. Moreover, any wine is also offered by the carafe: they'll open any bottle for you and get you a 500ml carafe at 75% of the price of the bottle, which seems a very fair bargain given that glasses of wine from pre-opened bottle are always disappointing.

Medlar is a cute little restaurant where very serious, gutsy and apparently simple yet refined, cooking is going on. The value for money is excellent, the lunch menu coming at £30 for three courses (we paid a £3 supplement on the bird) during the Christmas period, but it is normally £25. The dinner (same dishes as for the lunch) comes to around £40 for three courses. 

Medlar may not break new culinary grounds, but surely, with its unfussy looking yet very intelligently thought out dishes, does make many people, including the most demanding gourmets in search of faux-rustic cuisine, very happy indeed. Absolutely worthy of a Michelin star in our view.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012


(London, Mayfair).
One must always make an effort not to be a prisoner of preconceived ideas, and be ready to accept that things may change.
But sometimes it's really, really hard.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Locanda Locatelli (London): 'Nice' but not 'Wow!'

 (Visited: 28/12/2011)

 Many say that Locanda Locatelli is expensive for what it offers. But consider this: what's the price for time travel?

Because through the Locanda cuisine you step back a couple dozen years, and find yourself engaged by dishes whose conception would not have surprised our parents in their youth. And we could have exchanged today's lunch with the one we reported on five year ago without being able to tell from the dishes which one was had when. Preservation rather evolution is the philosophy here.

This is not meant as a negative! We are certainly not going to object to preserving intact our great culinary tradition. But then, everything is about execution. How did they fare in today's lunch?

The bread and parmesan grissini (unpictured) arrive and they are majestic: impressively well-made. In particular a 'rosetta' was airily empty inside exactly as it should be. One of the best, perhaps THE best bread basket in town, rivalled only by Koffmann's.

We skipped the truffle dishes:

as it looked a bit sad in comparison with the one we had recently had here (incidentally, at a fraction of the price: 4 euros per gram there, 9 pounds here - this is London for you).

One of the primi was essentially the same we had five years ago, Pheasant ravioli with rosemary jus

and once again was near perfect: quite well filled with intensely flavoured pheasant, the jus powerful but not overwhelming the pheasant, with a luscious dense texture.

But less convincing was the other primo, Chestnut tagliatelle with wild mushrooms

Of course making a dough with chestnut will always create a texture problem for the pasta, making it brittle, and that's expected, but the reward for this should be a superior flavour, which we did not detect. The sauce, boozy and creamy in a really retro style, was also too liquid in our judgment, but it was pleasant (no more). However, because the pasta was too smooth on the surface, there was a slight feeling of sliminess. Not pleasant.

The two mains are chromatically appealing thanks to the beautifully coloured sauces.

The Veal with lardo di Colonnata and fine herbs, parsnip puree, pumpkin, hazelnuts.

had an enticing assortment of ingredients, of which surprisingly the least impressive was what we expected to be the star, namely the lardo. However, the parsnip puree' was a joy, one for the glutton with its sticky consistency absorbing the jus, of reasonable (no more) depth. The hazelnuts were of high quality and they shone. The veal itself, ever so delicate, just managed not to be overpowered.

On the other side of the table, a Roast English partridge, grapes, chestnuts, black cabbage with pancetta.

Nice touch, the grapes, but the pancetta had no punch (so it was not a punchetta), and neither had the chestnuts, leaving the cavolo nero, and us, a bit underwhelmed. What happened? We don't know, but certainly larger quantities of these ingredients were needed in the dish to make a mark. The partridge was cooked with great precision, and had good flavour. Once again, while very far from being a poor dish, and while holding well as a whole, it failed to really enthuse.

What was spectacular was one of the desserts. This 'torte of the day', a 'Frangipane' with pears and stracciatella icecream 

was good, the three textures (crumbly top, soft middle, and compact base) well balanced and the almonds commanding beautifully, with plenty of moistness and interest added by the pears and the icecream.

But even this paled near the  Cassata 'Locanda' style,

a 'deconstructed' cassata made with superb ricotta, superb canditi, superb everything, all spread out for your pleasure. This was  a masterclass in Italian flavours.

The petit fours were nice, too, though we have had better espressos (again, good, but just).

The service today was a little uneven, a little distracted, with a large number of waiters wandering around to not too much effect and without showing any genuine interest - and although this is for the cuisine, let us mention that the  pacing of the dishes was also very unsatisfactory, with firsts and mains brought in record time, and then taking an eternity to clear the empty dishes and get our dessert orders. It took fifteen minutes from firsts to mains and fifty minutes from mains to desserts.

There is also a chance of a bullshitting attitude by a senior waiter or maitre d' who, when asked where the wild mushrooms came from in this season, told us they came from France. Very unlikely. We also noticed that after we asked a couple of questions like this, this maitre d' started steering well away from our table.... Maybe he didn't want to be bothered any longer. Or maybe we stink.

So, all in all, Locatelli continues to deliver good, on occasion very good (especially when it comes to pasta and desserts), but always very conservative, Italian cuisine. It is in a sense the Italian analog of Koffmann's, although we have to say that unlike at Koffmann's at the Locanda only few dishes managed to stir really deep emotion on this occasion, and there are also fewer sparkles of wit and original twists. Several times one says 'Nice' instead of 'Wow!' It is pricey, true, but as we remarked after our first visit there is also a sense of generosity in the portions, the non- rapacious prices for water and coffee, the rare absence (in London) of the gratuity automatically included in the price. With two glasses of wine at an (outrageous as usual in London) total of £27, and good coffees at a correct £2.50, each, we paid about £150 plus a tip.

We'll keep taking a peek at this institution every five years or so, at this quiet sort of date when it's incredibly easy to book, the room is only half full, and celebrities are scarce around to support the restaurant. Even if not always thrilling, Italian institutions need support nowadays.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Plumed Horse (Edinburgh): uneven with some highs

(Visited 23/12/2011)

Proceedings started alarmingly in this venue in the Leith “Michelin strip” of Edinburgh (regrettably, the Plumed Horse has just been star-stripped by Michelin, but as you can see we are not deterred by this tragedy). 

We asked what grape varieties were in a Sicilian white wine that had caught our attention. The guy in charge said he had no idea... but he could check on the internet. Um.

Things became even more worrying when he came back and said that the Sicilian white was made out of Sangiovese. Unlikely. To his credit he did come back a little later to say that it was actually a Chardonnay. 

And also to his credit, the guy is really sweet and kind. And we appreciated sooo much the fact that he didn’t put any pressure on us for drinks – we find it hideous when the first thing they ask you is whether you want a glass of champagne (if we do - unlikely - we'll ask without prompting, thank you very much), which happens far too often.

Two amuse bouches restore our faith. A trio of beetroot terrine with creme fraiche, ballottine of salmon with herbs and smoked caviar, and black pudding fritter 

is only marred by the crazy saltiness of the salmon, while the fritter is delectable and the elegantly sliced beetroot adds that nice earthy vegetable dimension. The second amuse 

is a bold butternut squash soup with chilli oil, very assertive and offering nice contrasts. The palate is now for sure well awake.

Coming to serious eating, two “set piece” starters are visually very attractive and well conceived. Tian of White Crab Meat, Cucumber, Pineapple Salsa, Passion Fruit Dressing  is as zingy, light, fresh as it is vertically ambitious in appearance (only one snotty comment: if you put dots, they've got to be all the same size).

And a delicate Terrine of Pheasant, Pistachios, Alsace Bacon, Pickled Pear, Cumberland Sauce, Thyme Brioche offers great balance of flavours and titillates the palate with sweetness from the pears and acidity from the sauce. 

The pistachios do not make any impression – with them it’s either top quality and adequate quantity or nothing. Man finds the terrine a bit dry but is silenced by Woman who says it's OK. Woman doesn’t care too much for the brioche but is silenced by Man who says it's great.

One of the mains is the only real letdown of the evening, a Roast Breast of Guinea Fowl; Truffled Ravioli, “Cock-a-Leekie” Garnish.  

Strange first of all that in a broth based dish like this no spoon is supplied. Maybe better this way, because what we can taste is rather bland. The anonymous guinea fowl is dry (overcooked) and this time the couple’s harmony is preserved as there is no disagreement. While the raviolo is fine, something truly unspeakable must have happened to a cardboard truffle with a horrendous chemical flavour. (We don't know and we don't want to know)

In the other main, a Roast Fillet of Brill, Saffron Parmentier Potatoes, Creamed Leeks, Scallop Sauce, the not too tasty fish plays second fiddle to the splendid protagonist: the potatoes, soft and creamy on one side of the dish, small roasted cubes on the other (the Parmentier), vibrant with saffron, not to mention the leeks that deserved to appear more prominently. 

This could easily have been a perfect vegetarian dish, without loss had the brill not been there. And the champion of potatoes Parmentier  would have been happy!

For dessert, a Dark Chcolate Fondant, Hazelnut Ice Cream, Cocoa Nib Crunch 

is really fondant, that is luxuriously melting, the whole ensemble exemplary, and could only be improved by a superior quality of chocolate.

But the stunner of the evening is the second dessert, a Clementine Mousse, Marzipan Ice Cream, Chilli Tuile of superb airiness, like a souffle’ really, intense in the tangy favour, on a classy, also very light, sponge base. And the kick from the tuile, mellowed by the ice cream, creates other layers in this refined, assured dessert (note also the this time precise hand that put the dots on the plate, one of those telling details). 

The service worked well, with some unusual formality for this type of restaurant (white gloves to change cutlery, where are we, at the Ritz?), the only negative being the manager, who shone for the total lack of presence in the room, spending most of the time either in front of the computer, or chatting with the waiters (with four staff for ten customers there was plenty of time), and did not even bother to say goodbye when we left. Indeed we wondered what the point was of having a manager.

There’s evidently sound classical technique behind the dishes at the Plumed Horse, with chef Tony Borthwick, despite some inconsistency, able to pull several strings in the harmony of flavours, from delicate to decisive. If it is true that there was a flop it is also true that there was a memorable dessert. What is missing, we think, is excellence in the main produce, which makes this restaurant a lesser brother of its starred neighbours in Leith. Whether this is compensated by the ten pounds less that three dishes cost here (£55 pounds) is subjective. We feel that the price is too high compared to what, overall, is in the plate. Both in central London and in Fife (here) you can eat luxury ingredients (turbot not brill, pork loin not cheek, etc., all top quality) for that amount or even less. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

La Pech Abusé 2004

There is more than one reason to like this wine. First, its name is a witty pun, abusé/Buzet: they were refused the Buzet denomination. We like humour. 

Second, the reason why they were refused is that they did not comply with all the detailed requirements of the appellation (e.g. aging length). We always support creative individuals against rigid bureaucracy. 

Third, their label is pretty (done by the daughters of the producer). We like prettiness. 

Fourth, the wine is biodynamic. Ok, we don't like all the mystical babble, but it is nice to know that it contains no sulphur and the farming is organic.

Last and fundamental, it tastes good! Merlot and Cabernets (Franc and Sauv) in full Bordeaux style, so beautifully ruby that one would even feel justified in spouting nonsense on the virtues of biodynamics: we taste black fruits and earthiness and smokiness.

Discovered thanks to Massimiliano Baló, a clever young sommelier at Koffmann's. It costs £44 there, retail about a third of that (which, by the way, isn't bad by London restaurant standards).


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Yauatcha (London): impressive

(Visited 27/12/2011)

When expectations of surly, pushy staff (as we’d read on some sites and experienced ourselves in the past) are so spectacularly broken, with the trademark slick, dark, night-sky effect room adorned by a long fish tank along the bar, full (the room, not the fish tank) of efficient, UNpushy young waiters always swift to remove finished dishes, things can only look up. 

And they did.

The dim sums were as beautiful and good as they come (we have been to China). We had the regulation scallop shui mai, a steamed vegetable dumpling, a steamed prawn zucchini and cattlefish dumpling and a baked chicken Shanghai  dumpling.

In all, the pastry was light, tight, pleasant; in the steamed ones the gentle cooking method only adding to the sense of lightness, while the grilled ones offered crunchiness. In the scallop shuimai, the key is the balance between the scallop and the prawn (paste) flavours, with the gracious visual addition of the tobiko (flying fish roe).  Perfect. A similar balance shone in the colourful zucchini specimen. 

The sauces accompanying the Shanghai dumpling were a delight, one nutty, the other sharp.

A chicken hot and sour soup

impacted first with the heat assault, then gave way to uncover the delicate sweet, sour and umami feast. 

We love vegetables, so we felt compelled to try a Spicy aubergine, sato bean, okra and french bean with peanuts

which was rich, unctuous, varied, vibrant of intensely satisfying colours and flavours. Only but not negligible defect, a piece of inedible fibrous material left in one of the vegetables.

Instead of the regulation crispy duck, we had the crispy duck salad variation

executed with skill, crispiness and moisture both there, and many textures in the vegetables (unfortunately once again including some inedible fibre, tsk tsk).

Yauatcha is at heart a tea house (-cha...), offering a unique selection of fine teas. Instead of wine, drinking which somehow feels silly to us with this type of food, we had an ever so delicate white Silver Needle and a stronger blue High Mountain Fo Shou. We are mentioning the names just to impress, as we're no tea experts and we have no idea of where these teas stand in the pecking order - but they tasted very good to us. The two pots, at £8 and £7.40, were more than enough for the whole meal.

Yauatcha has the rare virtue of being able to cater for large numbers at a very high level of quality. Except for a couple of slips in the preparations of the vegetables, our lunch today was excellent. True, the conditions were ideal, the room only half full projecting a sense of calm as well as slickness and the large number of staff being able to attend solicitously to every table without effort – no doubt things might get a little messier and less smooth at peak times, yet what we’ve seen witnesses to a very sharp organisation in the kitchen and in the room.

 At less than £90 for two including service, this was both one of the best value for money meals in recent times, and an excellent meal by absolute standards.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...