Archive for the ‘5 AA Rosettes’ Category

Tom Aikens – Where has the magic gone?

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

Could not resist the toptable deal of £49 for a 5 course lunch with champagne and petit fours at Tom Aikens.

They are also doing a free corkage deal this month too, but as they only allow one promotion at a time,  it did not apply to our lunch option. The normal corkage fee of £30 a bottle would be charged. So we decided to leave our bottles at home on this occasion.  Ironically the corkage deal would have been the better one, as the normal lunch tasting menu is £49. So the deal was really just a free glass of champagne.

The sparkle does now seem to be missing from Tom Aikens, there were no stand out dishes at all.  The salmon and grapefruit dish worked but the fois gras was just lost in an overdose of blackcurrent.  The main course of lamb was too simple and a tiny portion (when I compare this to the lamb cuts I had on my first visit to Tom Aikens a few years ago, then there is no comparison).  There was a good cheese course and the chocolate dessert although complex was not very exciting. We finished with some basic petit fours -  the spectacular ones are saved for the evenings these days.

On the plus side the bread basket is still one of the best around – offering at least 6 different bread selections.

On the wine front, we ordered a rather disappointing bottle of Mt Beautiful Pinor Noir 2007 at £29.

In conclusion, I am sorry to say that in my view Tom Aikens has lost its magic, as reflected in the marks below.

Marks out of 10

Food 5.9

Service 6.5

Ambience 6

Tom Aikens on Urbanspoon

UPDATE : March 2012 – The Restaurant has had a major revamp – see Matthew Forts post for details

LOCATION INFORMATION
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Foliage – The Last Post

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

Last Post for the Foliage, not last post for No Expert - we are still going strong.  The Foliage at the Mandarin Oriental however had a farewell lunch service today. It was lovely to be there but tinged with sadness, as it marked the end of an era for us.

The team pulled out all the stops.  We started with a complimentary glass of superb champagne and some very tasty canapes. This was followed by the amuse bouche.  We then had the opportunity to go off menu to choose some of the dishes. One of the standouts being the Sea Diver Scallops with chicken and mushrooms.  It was also impossible not to order our last gnocchi, one of the Foliages sublime dishes.  For main course we choose the lamb and an off menu beef dish, the wine selection chosen to go with this was absolutely stunning. Indeed all the wines selections were off a very high standard.  I especially enjoyed the Trocken Beerenauslese, Nittaus, 2004 dessert wine.


The ever attentive staff were on hand to bring us up to date on the progess being made to complete the Daniel Boulud Restaurant (Bar Boulud)  in the basement, due to open in May, and the Heston Blumental Restaurant which would be the Foliage replacement, due to open towards the end of this year.  It is just a shame that a such a fine restaurant is closing prematurely to make way for these changes. It was good to see the Head Chef Alex Marks come out of the kitchen to talk to some of the regular dinners, where he received some direct praise for his teams work over the years.  It was also a nice touch to be presented with a copy of the menu signed by members of staff as a memento. 

So it’s a fond fairwell to the Foliage. We and the other regulars will miss you.

See also Post – Fairwell to Chris Staines

Marks out of 10

Food 8.5

Service 9

Ambience 8.5

UPDATE : January 2011 – Alex Marks in now the head chef at Maze.

LOCATION INFORMATION

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Michelin Stars v AA Rosettes – Ding Ding!

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

No Expert has just hit the 100th post mark, so for that milestone rather than single out a restaurant, this post focuses on an issue that impacted on a number of our restaurant choices and that is can we trust Michelin Star and AA Rosette ratings alone.

I know there is a lot of debate over how accurate the Michelin star rating system is. I believe we have been to enough Michelin starred restaurants to give an opinion on the subject. Basically the  problems seem to be inconsistency and big name restaurants hanging on to stars they no longer merit. The Michelin star rating seems to be about as reliable as the S.Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants list, i.e., not reliable at all.

The rating system definition for Michelin stars is:-

  • 1 star – A very good restaurant in its category
  • 2 stars – Excellent cooking, worth a detour
  • 3 stars – Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey

For more information see Michelin Guide

We have been to some 3 star and 2 star Michelin restaurants that are not in the same class as 1 star restaurants.  Compare Tom Aikens to The Waterside Inn for example.

The 5 AA Rosettes award however does seem to match our tastes. The ones on the list in England for example are among our all time favorite restaurants.

The rating system definition for 5 AA Rosettes :-

  • The supreme accolade awarded only when the cooking is at the pinnacle of achievement. Flavours, combinations and textures show a faultless sense of balance, giving each dish an extra dimension.

The rating system definition for 4 AA Rosettes :-

  • At this level, not only should all technical skills be exemplary, but there should also be daring ideas, and they must work. There is no room for disappointment. Flavours should be accurate and vibrant.

Then just when I thought I could maybe rely on the AA Rosettes I find out that one of our worst of the worst restaurants Harveys of Ramsgate has just been awarded one AA Rosette, and that another of our least favorite places Abode in Canterbury has 2.

The rating system definition for 1 AA Rosette :-

  • Chefs should display a mastery of basic techniques and be able to produce dishes of sound quality and clarity of flavours, using good, fresh ingredients.

The rating system definition for 2 AA Rosettes :-

  • Innovation, greater technical skill and more consistency and judgement in combining and balancing ingredients are all needed at this level

Our experience of Harveys of Ramsgate and Abode indicated that they were sadly lacking in several of the areas associated with the definitions.

For more information see:-

The conclusion is that research is essential before you  commit to the really expensive dining experiences in the high end restaurants.

  • Check out the food blogs.
  • Check out Hardens and Zagat.
  • Look for real customer reviews via Google Maps.
  • Be really wary of the hype.
  • Be wary of Celebrity Chef endorsements.

Click here to access our prefered Food Blog/Site list.

  • It is also worth trying one of the restaurants deals first, e.g., a pre-theatre or set lunch deal.  It is surprising just how many of the top restaurants do offer less expensive options. The toptable web site is a good place to start to find these deals.

Tom Aikens – Downsizing

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

Readers of our earlier post  (Tom Aikens – Flavour, Flavour, Flavour) will have noticed that our only criticism, applied to portion control. It does rather seem that Tom Aikens has had this feedback from a number of customers and has made some changes. Ironically we went here, without having had breakfast, ready for a feast, instead we had a well balanced lunch.

The petit fours also used to be a highlight, and now at lunch time are limited to some Madeline’s and rather tiny chocolates, which might have been ok, if we had not been aware of how spectacular this part of the meal used to be.

We had  the Tasting Menu with some stunning matching wines. The lamb course with artichokes was the weakest course, but on the whole the food was superb.

It is also great to be given the details of the wine parings.

One day we will visit and stick to our original intention of trying the much cheaper lunch menu. The temptation was just too much for us yet again.

Update: Tom Aikins is now doing BYO – see

http://www.hardens.com/restaurant-news/uk-london/17-09-09/byo-tom-aikens-bob-ricard/

Marks out of 10

Food 8

Service 8

Ambience 8

LOCATION INFORMATION
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The Foliage without Chris Staines

Friday, September 18th, 2009

Felt a bit odd returning to the Foliage our favorite restaurant following the regime change.  Alex Marks is now the Head Chef, he was Chris Staines Sous chef for a couple of years and had formally worked at The Square. The menu still retains a number of Chris’s dishes, and a few new ones from Alex. One of Alexs’ dishes the gnocchi was a particular success, which although it contained  no meat, seemed to deliver the essence of Sunday lunch.

The new Heston Blumental restaurant is yet to be named and is due to open in October 2010 with perhaps as many as 200 covers. Time will tell if all these changes are for the best. One thing is for sure is that we will miss Chris Staines and the Foliage once it goes for good. I just hope the staff are kept on under the new regime as Heston would be unwise to lose the talent in the kitchen and front of house.

Marks out of 10

Food 7.8

Service 8

Ambience 7

LOCATION INFORMATION

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Foliage replacement – the gossip!

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

Mandarin

As you will see from the earlier post – Fairwell to Chris Staines, the Foliage is not going to be with us for that much longer in its current form.  I do not know the exact date of its demise.  According to our sources, the plan is to combine the space currently occupied by the Foliage and The Park Restaurant to provide a new 140 cover restaurant (Heston Blumenthals London flagship). Most of the area currently used by the Foliage will become the kitchen. A new (temporary) restaurant will be housed in the basement while this work is going on.

Update : November 2009 – Looks like the basement restaurant is not going to be temporary after all, as New York restauranteur Daniel Boulud is opening Europes first Bar Boulud restaurant in a previously unused space beneath the hotel.

Update : January 2010 – The latest information seems to be that the Foliage will be closing sometime in March.

Update : March 2010 – We attended a fairwell lunch at the Foliage, for details  see post:

LOCATION INFORMATION

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Marcus Wareing…a bit thin?

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

This was my first visit to The Berkeley to experience the 2 star Michelin cooking of Marcus Wareing. A chef that many critics believe to be eclipsing the cooking of his former boss Gordon Ramsay. I must say the room was very impressive. Unfortunately the cooking didn’t live up to expectations. I did get the chance to try the famous custard tart. It was certainly an amazing texture. It was so light that it seemed to defy the laws of physics. You’d  think it would collapse under its own weight.  I didn’t think the taste was that great however so overall was not that impressed.

This restaurant is currently number 52 on the S.Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants list and has 5 AA Rosettes.

Marks out of 10

Food 6

Service 6

Ambience 8

LOCATION INFORMATION
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Tom Aikens – flavour, flavour, flavour

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

When it comes to squeezing flavour into food there seems to be no one better than Tom Aikens. I have been to his restaurant in Chelsea twice now and can not wait to go back again next month.

ta2

ta1

The only advice I would give is not to over order, less is more here.  Which sounds odd, but we went for the larger tasting menu on our second visit and found that it was just too rich for us!.

Marks out of 10

Food 9

Service 7

Ambience 7

LOCATION INFORMATION
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Farewell to Chris Staines @ the Foliage

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

Had my last meal at my favourite London restaurant the Foliage with Chris Staines as Head Chef. Chris was in the last week of his 3 months notice before he moves onto pastures new. Heston Blumenthal will open up his first London restaurant in its place in the Mandarin Oriental in a  years time.

What amazed me was that even in his last week Chris was producing simply breathtakingly stunning dishes…Respect.

Over the years I’ve  had some fantastic meals at the Foliage. In fact I use it as a benchmark to judge every other restaurant I visit. The service there is exceptional and the way Chris uses flavour and texture is the mark of a true artist. I suspect that the much larger replacement restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental will not live up to the high standard set by Chris or indeed Heston at the Fat Duck.

So many celebrity chefs are going down the “franchise” route, with disastrous results. The Abode chain (Micheal Caines) being a prime example and don’t get me started on how awful Harveys is (John Burton Race).

I’d like to thank Chris and his team at the Foliage for giving us many memorable meals (It was my experience of eating at the Foliage that got me interested in food) and to wish him the very best for the future. I just wish he was staying in London as his talent will be sorely missed.

Marks out of 10

Food 8

Service 9

Ambience 7

LOCATION INFORMATION

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UPDATE : Chris Staines is now Head Chef at the Allium Brasserie in Bath.

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Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saison – any occasion!

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

Looking for an occasion to make a return trip to this oasis in Oxfordshire.

Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saison is just stunning, situated in the village of  Great Milton  just outside Oxford.  You can get a train to Haddenham and Thame station (10 minutes away) or Oxford station (25 minutes away) or if you have money to burn  you can always park your helicopter on the private helipad.

The Helicopters were arriving and departing quite frequently when we were there, it was the only thing disturbing the tranquility of the place.

We went for the tasting menu followed by coffee and Petits fours in the garden. One course was a standout (much too everyone’s surprise). It was “stuffed courgettes” – I hate courgettes!  I have no idea what they did to them,  but the dish was a talking point for a long time afterwards. The rest of the meal was splendid too.

After lunch, weather permitting it’s nice to be able to wander round the grounds, and explore the large vegetable patch and  Japanese Garden.

My visit was a while ago, before I started photographing my food and surroundings, which is a real shame. All I have now are my memories, one of the strongest of which is how relaxed I felt on the visit. A visit that encompassed one long sunny Sunday afternoon but somehow felt like I had actually been on holiday for a week.

Marks out of 10

Food 8.9

Service 8.9

Ambience 9

Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons on Urbanspoon

LOCATION INFORMATION
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The Fat Duck – OTT

Friday, April 10th, 2009

The Fat Duck in Bray is the complete opposite of its near neighbour the Waterside Inn, The Waterside goes for old fashioned comfort (old money clientele), the Fat Duck does “flash” (new money clientele).

IMGP1081

The room is minimalist in style and the food is excellent with very over the top presentation.

We visited before the recent alleged food poisoning problems, and experienced all the trade mark gimmicks – Dry Ice, Dragons Breath, IPods and the obligatory Snails Porridge. We also went for a matching flight of wines. There are two price options here, expensive and extortionate.  We restrained ourselves and kept the wine bill under £100 per person.

It was an experience, but I have to admit I missed the warmth of the Waterside Inn as once the meal is finished, there is no way you would want to hang around or indeed be encouraged to hang around in the rather cold room.  Then again I guess that is why Heston Blumenthal’s Hinds Head is only a few yards away.

The Fat Duck is currently number 2 on the S.Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants list.

Marks out of 10

Food 9

Service 8

Ambience 6 (we were the noisiest people there and we were not that loud).

The Fat Duck on Urbanspoon

LOCATION INFORMATION
Browse Google Map© :- NoExpert Food Blog – Berkshire, UK

Restaurant Gordon Ramsay – Royal Hospital Road

Friday, January 9th, 2009

Must do a return visit to Restaurant Gordon Ramsay – Royal Hospital Road, maybe once the credit crunch is over.  On my first visit I was pleasantly surprised how low key and unpretentious this place was, as all really good restaurants tend to be. The staff were highly professional and friendly.

The food here was off a high standard – do not confuse this place with other Gordon Ramsay outposts like :-

  • Boxwood Cafe – which on my visit served up fairly boring food on chipped china!
  • Claridges -  which has 1 Michelin star that I do not think it merits. This is based on my own experience and reports from friends, the conclusion being that the food in Claridges is quite ordinary and the service leaves a lot to be desired.
  • Maze – which does provide good food and wines, but is let down by the casual style of service and the room, which is far too big and somewhat  lacking in ambience.

Royal Hospital Road however is the real deal – haute cuisine at its finest. When we were there the man himself was actually in the kitchen (this must be a rarity now with all his TV work). The wines are also top quality, I had a stunning Gewurztraminer to accompany my Fois Gras. We over ordered on the dessert front though, as after a lovely light pre-dessert, we elected to share a rather large tarte tatin (we had spotted one at the next table and it looked so good), and some how managed to find room for the lovely petit fours too. We left the restaurant fully satisfied and off the opinion that this place seriously rivaled our then favorite restaurant Pied a terre.

Marks out of 10

Food – 8.8

Service 9

Ambience 7

Gordon Ramsay on Urbanspoon

UPDATE  April  2010 : The Boxwood Cafe is now closed and Claridges has lost its star.

UPDATE November 2010 : A friends recent visit to Royal Hospital Road, confirmed that the restaurant is still delivering outstanding traditional french haute cuisine and first class service.

LOCATION INFORMATION
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