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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Esperante (St Andrews): forgettable

(Visited July 2012)

When bread arrives and it is in full supermarket style, that unmistakable feeling of a looming wasted dinner out pervades you. We are in this upscale golf hotel restaurant and all the cliches about hotel restaurants that we always refuse to be put off by seem about to be unleashed upon us.

 Then you feel a little guilty because  not one but two amuse bouches arrive.

Amouse bouche
And another one 

Mousses, granita, tartare...not bad, not good, you see they are trying, no matter how clumsy the service is, to please you. Pity for the bone in the fish mousse, and for the fact that both amuses feel a little pointless.

Ah, here's the bread offering, by the way:
Rather horrible bread

this, we have to say, was probably one of the worst breads we have had in quite a long while.

Looking around us, the room is pleasant in spite of that hotel restaurant feel, and the table is comfortable. If only that half drunk idiot celebrating something stopped flashing his camera around, especially in our eyes. Cameras are meant to be pointed just at food, doesn't he know? And please no flash!

A dish of Crab, cucumber, watermelon, basil and vodka 
contained many ingredients and some technique, but it would have been nice instead to have focussed on the main ingredient, which was bland, and overwhelmed by the imperious watermelon.

Another starter of Langoustine, cous cous, pimentos and rose pepper gave us the impression that the chef had completely run out of ideas. This is a dish that can work, perhaps, in a rustic version and with larger quantities, not in the disjointed tiny amounts served here where no ingredient could shine and the cous cous seemed like an afterthought.

The mains were decidedly better, both a Lamb loin, ratatouille, herb crust, sweetbreads, potato, Madeira

and the even longer named Rabbit loin, chicken mousse, Serrano ham, liver and rack, potato fondant, cauliflower, baby mushrooms

Come on, do those microbits of cauliflower really need to feature in the long laundry list of ingredients? This was competent, if unexciting, cooking, with very little sparkle of imagination or flavours (compare e.g. with the far more interesting Rocca Grill nearby).

The desserts, a Carrot cake, walnut caramel, toffee icecream and cream cheese icing and a Blue cheese pannacotta, pear and sweet chilli chutney, honey and cashew icecream, and the petit fours

were probably the best part of the meal. Although, this is not to say much, as the ice creams were all rather bland, the carrot cake being really the only element which made itself noticed.

Service is smiling, but really basic mistakes (cutlery all over the place, distraction) make it look unprofessional. The only professional on the night was the Spanish sommelier. 

Three courses will set you back in the forties. We also note that, strangely, the three course market menu costs more than the same dishes a la carte. Are they testing our arithmetic?

When it pulls it off, and it not always does, the cuisine at Esperante is very straight, school-like Modern British. This is a ceiling they do not seem able to surpass. This means that, unless you use exceptional ingredients or have exceptional culinary flair (like e.g. here), your dishes always run the risk of being a little dull. While we didn't eat badly, that's the feeling we come out with, and given the alternatives around, it's hard to see reasons to drive out to the Fairmont.


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