Rocksalt – Saved by the cooking

We are always wary of Restaurants with good views and Mark Sargeant‘s fashionable Rocksalt Restaurant in its purposely designed building overlooking Folkestone Harbour is certainly a Restaurant with a good view.

We had a beautiful sunny day for our first visit to Folkestone and had a lovely time exploring the stunning Lower Leas Coastal Park before we headed round the corner to the regenerated Harbour and made our way past the kitchen viewing area into the Restaurant.  When Rocksalt first opened in 2011 it received several negative reviews that complained about both the food and the service – more recent reviews highlighted improvements in both these areas. Although it did not start of well for us, in that no one was there to greet us on arrival, leaving the barman to find a waitress who could take us to our table. The staff also seemed rather cold and brusk, with a few notable exceptions. Then just after we sat down we heard shouting from the direction of the kitchen, it might just have been noisy guests but it was off putting. Thankfully after this rocky start the pitch perfect food which was Rocksalts saving grace arrived. We settled down to enjoy a nice bottle of wine and some delicious seafood in the well designed surroundings. There are lots of cleverly positioned mirrors and wall height glass windows designed to open and effectively convert the entire restaurant into one big terrace.

When you can see the fishing boats bringing in their catches right out side the Restaurant it seems foolish not to order sea food (there are meat dishes on the menu but we made a point of ignoring them). We started with a scallop dish from the catch of the day menu, it was a tasty dish with 3 medium sized scallops and a lot of black pudding and creamy potatoes. We also ordered the Dressed Crab, the Harissa sauce served with it had been criticized in the early reviews for being underpowering then in later reviews for being overpowering. Now the tweaking of the dish seemed to have worked as it was just right, with the sauce effectively enhancing the tasty and very fresh crab meat. We followed the starters with a stunning Pan-Fried Fillet of John Dory with Smoked Bacon and a lovely Fillet of Cod with Cockles and Sea Aster served with mashed potatoes. We ordered Carrots and Jersey Royals side dishes, they tasted like they were fresh from the garden and were perfectly cooked with an earthy taste that went well with the meal. We also had a couple of good desserts. A Cold Chocolate and Sea Buckthorn Fondant and some Gypsy Tart, a famous Kent sweet I am keen to try again. Apparently it’s a school dinner staple. It was certainly way better than any school dessert I have ever had. We accompanied our desserts with a couple of glasses of nicely chilled dessert wine. Sadly there were only 3 dessert wine options to choose from.

Rocksalt also has a very attractive bar on its upper floor. Our visit was off season and the restaurant and bar were reasonably full.  I am sure Rocksalt gets really busy in the Summer as service gripes aside it is a real asset to the culinary scene here in Kent.

At the weekend when there is no set menu Rocksalt has prices that match its designer surroundings, so it’s very easy to run up a hefty bill, especially when you have to add side orders to complete the meals. Nearby there is a less expensive option “The Smokehouse”, a rather smart looking Fish and Chip shop/casual Restaurant that is also co-owned by Mark Sargeant.  It’s not that cheap for the area though, as we noticed it advertising Skate Balls for £7.50, the same price as the Sunday lunch at the nearby Grand Burstin Hotel, an eye sore that looked like a relic from the eighties, but cost aside I know where I would rather spend my £7.50. So keep up the regeneration Folkestone and show what UK seaside towns can really do in the 21st century.

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Chez Bruce – as good as ever

If there is a secret formula for what makes a good restaurant then Chez Bruce mastered it years ago.  We have eaten lunch here numerious times, it’s surprisingly good value (currently £35 for 3 courses). Definitely one of London’s best Michelin Restaurant deals.

On this visit I started with some stunning fish cakes with just a hint of saffron and my companion had a Spanish chilled Tomato soup called Salmorejo, this was so beautifully spiced he felt that it had spoilt him for other soups. For main course I chose the Confit Rabbit with coco beans, pepper relish, cherry tomatoes and Provençal sauce, a nice rustic dish of comfort food and he went for the Wild Brill with Roast Scallops, both dishes were of the usual high standard.  Then we had an extra cheese course prior to our dessert – The Chez Bruce Cheese boards are not to be missed. The dessert, which we hardly had room for after this feast, was an Apricot and Almond Tart and a Bramley Apple and Blackberry Crumble.  I would also recommend asking the friendly Sommelier to select glasses of wine to match your dishes as they have a good range by the glass (most for less than £10.00). Another nice touch here is the lovely home made shortbread that comes with the surprisingly reasonable bill. We are already looking forward to our next visit 😉

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Sketch – in a world of its own

A visit to Sketch is certainly an interesting and rather OTT experience.  I felt rather like a kid with a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.  As you enter the building you have the Parlour on your right, where you can order an indulgent Breakfast, Afternoon Tea, Comfort food and Cocktails.  The rather low key Parlour is in stark contrast to Pierre Gagnaire’s Michelin stared restaurant in the Lecture Room. The name of the restaurant does not really conjure up what is revealed after you are escorted up the exotically lit staircase. The doors are dramatically thrown open and you find yourself in a jewel box like room, decorated with a red, orange, blue and gold palette.

My companion had brought his camera but had forgotten his SD card, so was annoyed that in such a photogenic environment we were not going to do the place justice, but by using our phones we managed to get a few shots of the experience.

The first hurdle is the Champagne Trolley, something I am not a fan off. If I want a glass I prefer to check the wine list first to make sure I know what I am getting, so we just stuck to tap water while we made our menu selection. Despite the hefty prices you can still go down the less expensive route by ordering from the Gourmet Rapide Menu.  However as we wanted to get the full experience on our first visit we opted for the regular Tasting Menu (it is expensive, but as you will see from this post – you do get a lot for your money) and asked the Sommelier to recommend a bottle of wine that would suit the whole menu. He selected a reasonably priced bottle of Irouleguy, Xuri d’Ansa 2004 that was drinkable both on its own and as an accompaniment to the food.

Next came the bread, served with some rather spectacular tasting seaweed butter. Then the feast began.   We had a wonderful array of beautifully presented dishes served by Sketches very efficient staff.  Ironically though the presentation and service did eclipse the food a bit.  The food was very good, don’t get me wrong.  The Foie Gras Terrine with Mackerel Bouillon and Clams was an excellent start.  The Marinated Stone Bass, Peas, Spring Cabbage, Mint and
Smoked Lardons was quite lovely, nice flavour combinations and textures.  The huge King Scallop served with Nettle Cream, Haddock, Watercress Salad, Seaweed Butter and Rhubarb was fabulous. One of these could have been turned into a dozen servings at Apsleys (who served up scallop slivers rather than the more generous presentation delivered by Sketch) and the other dishes were enjoyable too. They just didn’t quite meet our expectations, which were perhaps a little too high, due to the rather excessive hype that Sketch gets.  We found ourselves inevitably making comparisons with meals we had in other restaurants. It wasn’t in the same class as Le Bristol in Paris (although the menu was very similar to the one we had there a few years back – especially the lobster and sweet bread dishes).  Moments at the Mandarin in Barcelona had the edge on food presentation and taste.  The Ledbury, The Kitchin and Tom Aikens (at his peak) also won on the flavour front.

This was a tasting menu that definitely filled you up though, we were getting full even before we started on the Grand Dessert which consists of no less than five desserts and a selection of petit fours. However sometimes less is more and I think I would have preferred just a couple of spectacular desserts, rather than five OK ones.  That said, it was still discernibly better than a lot of Michelin starred restaurants out there, and as such I would have no qualms about recommending the Sketch experience, and that’s even without having had the full tour of the premises – we didn’t get the chance to visit the Glade, the Gallery or the East Bar as Blackberry had reserved the rest of Sketch for a product launch, so there was a bit of a buzz around that, as Jessie J was providing the music.

UPDATE : September 2012, Sketch has been awarded a second Michelin Star.

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The Ledbury – More or Less?

We started off the new year on a high, with lunch at The Ledbury.   There were two  menu options. The special lunch Menu at £45 or the Tasting Menu at £75, both available with matching wine.  Such a tough choice, but it was The Ledbury and we just had to go down the “More” route.   We had matching wines for each course (including a matching wine for the amuse bouche) making a total of 8 glasses each (I think).  Pretty heavy for lunch time drinking I have to say. In retrospect the “Less” route might have been the more sensible choice.

We found the restaurant to be rather quiet on this visit, only a few tables were in use during our mid week lunch. So if you pick your day carefully it is possible to get a reservation at this temple of gastronomy.

We started with Chantilly of Colchester Oysters with a Tartare of Scallop and Oyster, Horseradish and Dill – a very elegant dish, this was followed by Flame Grilled Mackerel with Smoked Eel, Celtic Mustard and Shiso. Then we had Hampshire Buffalo Milk Curd with Saint-Nectaire and Truffle Toast. The Truffle Toast was the highlight for me, delicious. We were four glasses down at this point when we moved on to the fish course of Roast Native Lobster with Broccoli stem, Natural Yogurt and Indian Spices in Brown Butter. This was followed by Pork Cheek cooked in Pedro Ximénez with Puffed Grains and Spiced Cream and Roast Haunch of Fallow Deer with White Beetroot and Smoked Bone Marrow and several more glasses of well matched wines. We finished with a light pre-dessert and the dessert of Pavé of Chocolate with Milk Purée and Lovage Ice Cream.

The food was universally good, we just felt that we had over done it.  I am always happy to go to The Ledbury but I think next time I will stick to the set lunch.

One tip though, if you do want to go down the Tasting Menu route,  is to do it at lunch time – the Tasting Menu is £30 cheaper then than the one offered in the evening.

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The Ritz – getting past The Glitz

As a birthday gift I was treated to lunch at The Ritz by the other half of No Expert.  We had some concerns as you do, when visiting somewhere so prestigious and potentially wallet busting. High profile venues like The Ritz all too often live off past glories. Fortunately this was not the case here, although there was no getting past the cost factor. The wine was very expensive.  Don’t expect to find bottles at the £30 mark,  the lowest price is around £50, but give it its due, the bottle of Marlborough Pinor Noir we ordered was delightful.  We very sensibly chose on this occasion to go for the set lunch which consisted of three courses for £45, rather than go a la carte, where you could pay the same price for a single course!

I should also say at this stage, that the set lunch was very good indeed, so by going down that  route you really are not slumming it. Indeed we are currently debating the likelihood of naming this the winner of this years best restaurant (the meal was that good).

There was the inevitable Champagne Trolley to avoid before the meal began.  We were quite happy to just go with a jug of tap water (admittedly a silver plated one).

The amuse bouche was served in a Champagne glass and we chose some rather nice bacon flavoured home made bread.  The set lunch menu was certainly enticing, I started with a rather moreish Mackerel dish and my companion had a very tasty salt beef and foie gras terrine.  This was followed by main courses of duck and venison, delivered under cloches and revealed with some theatre.  This was comfort food of the highest order, both were absolutely delicious. Then for dessert we had a classic Ritz dish, the Chestnut Souffle with Rum ice cream, a real treat.  We did not order coffee but were still presented with what I can honestly say were the best selection of petit fours I have had in a restaurant for a long time.  So in summary although the food is not cutting edge by any means, one of the reasons this meal stood out for us, was that nothing jarred, from the bread right through to the petit fours, everything was uniformly excellent and that is a rarity even in the best of restaurants.

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Seven Park Place by William Drabble – A tale of two menus and an offensive statue

I had a lovely lunch at Seven Park Place by William Drabble in the rather quirky St James Club and Hotel, but that was mainly down to the company and the fact that I ordered À la carte rather than going for the Set lunch menu.

We were a fairly large group and ordered a mixture of À la carte dishes and Set Menu dishes.  À la carte dishes are usually larger portions and perhaps more extravagant, but in a Michelin star restaurant you still expect the set menu to be of a pretty high standard as well.  I tried some of my companions dishes and it did seem like the set menu ones had come from a different kitchen.

From the À la carte menu I had the delicious Poached  lobster tail with English asparagus, pea shoots and truffle dressing for starters, that dish was definitely up to scratch. I followed this with a tasty pigeon dish.  This was in stark contrast to the mousse of foie gras and wild mushrooms starter from the set menu that I tasted which was pretty bland and the pork belly that was a bit too fatty and insipid in both taste and color, with tiny slithers of crackling. My companions were not blown away by the other dishes they had either.

The desserts were pretty ordinary all round, although the home made chocolates presented at the end of the meal and the boxes of marshmallows were a nice touch.

There were also several issues with the service. The staff were very nice, but one of our groups main course did not arrive with the rest of the tables so he had to wait a while for it. We were also seated in a booth like area that made it impossible for the staff to serve the people in the back three seats, so plates and cutlery had to be passed around the table. I have never been in a restaurant of this calibre where the waiter has to ask a customer to use his napkin so he can pass him a hot plate! There was also a couple of minor mix ups with the wine too.

On a completely different subject, there was a piece of art on display, which was most definitely a talking point for all the wrong reasons. It seemed to us to be in rather bad taste.  Quite offensive actually, take a close look at the picture of the statue above and you will see what I mean.

So if I was looking for a word to sum up the experience I would have to say “Flawed”.

Marks out of 10

Food (two sets of markings for the food as the menus were so different)
5.6 (À la carte)
4.4 (Set Menu)

Service 4.8

Ambience 4.9

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Rick Stein at Bannisters – How much for the Lobster!

A post from No Experts Australian Correspondent

I have always been a fan of watching Rick Stein on TV, and loved his seafood cookery book with step by step instructions and photographs on how to deal with seafood, filleting, preparing crab, lobster etc. , it is a virtual seafood cookery bible.

Several years ago, we made a trip to the Seafood Restaurant in Padstow in the beautiful county of Cornwall, England, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

Rick Stein’s  NSW restaurant is located in Mollymook some 3.5 hours South of Sydney. A weekend trip down the coast gave us the opportunity to book in for Sunday lunch. Now mid May is pretty much the start of winter, but we were blessed with a beautiful sunny day, and were delighted to be offered a seat on the terrace.  I have to confess that I was surprised at how quiet the restaurant was on a Sunday afternoon.

Food was typical Rick, the freshest seafood, cooked simply with big bold flavors. I teased Mr T, as it appeared to me that he chose identical dishes to when we visited the Seafood Restaurant in Padstow a starter of Mussels with black bean sauce, coriander and garlic, and an Indonesian seafood curry for main course.  In my humble opinion the black bean dominated the delicate flavor of the mussels, however Mr T was quick to disagree!  The Indonesian seafood curry struck a nice balance, and I am sure will be chosen again!

For my starter I chose seared tuna served with guacamole and a lemongrass dressing. This dish was simple, but delicious, and one I will definitely re-create at home.  For main course I selected the Grilled lobster, priced at an eye watering $21 (£13.60) per 100 gms. My 878gm example set me back a whopping $184 (£119.14) and goes on record as the single most expensive main course I have ever consumed!

For dessert, we elected to share a chocolate fondant with ice cream, which was lovely and gooey, and surprisingly light, I could easily have demolished an entire dish on my own. Overall the menu was pretty similar to the Seafood restaurant in Padstow.

Staff were friendly, and helpful, very accommodating to our requests to sit at the other end of the terrace and even offered to move our table, when our table ended up in the shade as the sun moved west. Occasionally,  the staff were not always there when you needed them.

Overall this was a beautiful spot to spend a Sunday afternoon.  Good fresh, tasty food, the produce is not highly worked. At $500 (£323.64) for two, though you might expect a little more technique for your money. If we were in the area, then I would definitely return, however, this is not a destination restaurant in it’s own right.

Marks out of 10

Food  7.5

Service 7.6

Ambience  8.2

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Quay – mana from heaven and 8 textures of chocolate WOW!

A post from No Experts Australian Correspondent

Quay is considered one of the best restaurants in Sydney, certainly at number 26 in the S.Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants list, it is the highest placed Australian restaurant. It is also one of only 3 restaurants in Sydney to be deemed worthy of 3 hats in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide this year. When we arrived, on a wet Sunday night, with a group of friends, our expectations were very high, and we had been saving this visit for a special occasion, my birthday.

Now I have to confess that my experience of the service at Quay may have been extra special, as we had an ace up our sleeves.  One of the guests at our table is a wine distributor for some amazing boutique wineries, and we were fortunate that Quay are one of his clients. As a result,  we were treated to one of the best tables in the house, with views of both the Opera House and Bridge, fabulous service, and a delicious complimentary bottle of Clover Hill Sparkling from Tasmania, courtesy of Daniel the sommelier.  Service all night was exceptional.

The food at Quay was delicious, although we opted for the four course menu, over what the Aussies call the “dego” (short for degustation – how that makes me cringe), primarily because Peter Gilmore’s signature dish, the Guava and Custard apple snow egg, did not feature on the taster menu.

My starter of sea pearls was divine, a selection of beautifully crafted seafood dishes presented beautifully on a platter.  Mud Crab, Yuzu and Tapioca with silver leaf, Smoked eel, Dashi and Abalone and Sashimi of Tuna were all delicious and left us with the dilemma did one pop a pearl whole into one’s mouth, or did one use a knife and fork to examine the insides and savour it slowly. Needless to say each of us took a different line of attack!  In retrospect I believe that we were missing a 5th pearl, the Sea Scallop Sea Pearl. Check out this Peter Gilmore’s video and you’ll see what I mean!

The second fish course of southern squid & rock lobster, lettuce hearts, golden tapioca, lobster velvet, button squash, pea flowers, was a little unmemorable, but the Mr T’s Slow braised pig’s cheek with abalone, palm hearts and an amazing mushroom consommé was mouthwateringly delicious. For my main, I opted for the wagyu beef poached in an oxtail and morel reduction, molé puree, farro & ezekiel crumbs, which was accompanied perfectly by a 2004 Muga Rioja Reserva. Now in case you’re curious, Ezekiel bread is made without flour and is made from sprouted whole grains. It’s the original super food, and what the bible refers to as manna, i.e., mana from heaven. A pretty good description of this dish. Mr T chose the Confit of Suffolk lamb loin, smoked white carrot cream, fennel infused milk curd. This dish featured fennel pollen, although I have to confess I couldn’t really taste the pollen.

Lastly,  the  famous snow egg…..well never has something that’s so difficult to make, 3 hours and 8 different processes, been polished off so quickly. It was delicious with amazing layers of flavour.  I also had a very generous portion of Mr T’s 8 textures of chocolate, which arrived with a hot chocolate sauce in a separate copper handled pot, which when poured on top, melted into the pudding, like a glorious chocolate volcano.  Accompanied by a PX,  it was sublime. I know I’ll be choosing this dish if I return to Quay.

Overall, fabulous service, great views and divine food, although in the food stakes, this didn’t quite knock Tetsuya off it’s number one spot for me.

Marks out of 10

Food  8.9

Service  9

Ambience  9.2

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Dinner by Heston Blumenthal – Simmer down and reduce your expectations

The new restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental may seat 140 guests, but getting one of these seats is not easy.  We reserved our table in January not long after the booking lines had opened and got the earliest table available, which was a 2.30 lunch sitting in March.  This meant we had been looking forward to “Dinner” for what seemed like ages.  Could it possibly live up to the hype or more importantly to my mind could it justify the loss of  The Foliage?

Interestingly there does seem to be a restaurant review pattern, in that the food bloggers are less wowed than the professional critics.  A pattern I am afraid we find ourselves following.  To be fair Heston in interviews has emphasised that Dinner is not trying to be a fine dining restaurant, it is not an outpost of  The Fat Duck.  The staff also made that very clear to us on our visit.  So we tried hard to adjust our expectations accordingly.

The kitchen is headed by Ashley Palmer-Watts who has worked with Heston at The Fat Duck for nine years in the capacity of Group Executive Chef.  “Dinner” (still hate the name) has unquestionably been the hottest opening this year, gathering an incredible amount of publicity and accolades.

During the summer months the terrace overlooking Hyde Park will  be used for al fresco dining and it may well take until the summer to get a reservation. The Restaurant is apparently fully booked  to the end of  June.  Reservations are even being offered as prizes and  being sold on ebay!

It was really nice to be greeted by the last two surviving members of the Foliage staff.  As a welcoming treat we were given a sample of the famous Meat Fruit, enabling us to effectively “tick the box” on that one.  It was a perfectly fine chicken liver parfait cleverly shaped like a Mandarin Orange in homage to the hotel.  I then ordered the Hay Smoked Mackerel starter with lemon salad, Gentlemen’s Relish and olive oil.  I found it to be a tasty and refreshing dish. For main course I chose the Pigeon, which was delicious, but in retrospect did not really justify the price which was actually more than the cost of the entire set menu. The standout dish for me was my dessert choice – no not the famous Tipsy cake with pineapple. I was a bit more adventurous. I went for the Brown Bread Ice-Cream, even though I had been warned and perhaps a little put off by it being described as having savoury elements.  It was unusual, but for me it really worked with the yeasty Ice-Cream contrasting well with the caramel sauce and oats. I found it really quite moreish.

My companion was less successful with his choices. He started with the Rice and Flesh which combined flavours that he did not particularly enjoy.  He also ordered the Powdered duck.  The meat was moist with subtle flavours but he did not like the contrasting hard fennel.   On the whole he felt that the historically inspired flavour combinations were a bit incongruous, sadly reminiscent of the cooking style at Oliver Peytons National Dining Room.

He then had what he described as the “Krispy Kreme” doughnut like Tipsy cake with spit roasted pineapple.  The Tipsy cake was OK but the smoky after taste from the pineapple chunks was less successful.

We finished the meal on a “high” note though with a small cup of Earl Grey ganache and some caraway biscuits.  This was rather playful in that it conjured up the taste of accidentally picking up and drinking a long discarded cup of cold tea – until the sugar rush kicked in!  This sweet treat seemed to be closer in concept to the type of food served at The Fat Duck than to Dinners historically inspired menu.

The restaurant with its £4 million make over looks good,  but not stunning. With that sort of money I expected this flag ship restaurant to have the same level of glamour as achieved by Moments at the Mandarin Oriental in Barcelona for example.

It was also strange to find ourselves seated at the same table location as we had during our memorable last meal at the Foliage.  Maybe it was just a coincidence or perhaps it was  intentional, indicating the level of customer care the Mandarin is famous for.

After our late lunch we met up with some friends in the adjoining Mandarin bar for a quick drink that lasted about 6 hours! The cocktails were on the whole really enjoyable, served by the super efficient staff. One annoyance was that they no longer offer bar food,  just the room service menu  if you are a resident.  I suspect this is a side effect of losing the The Park Restaurant.

So in conclusion I have to say unfortunately Dinner is not somewhere that I would rush to return too. Indeed if in Knightsbridge, I would be more likely to make a return visit to Koffmans or perhaps even Bar Boulud. We have no doubt that these changes will bring financial and critical  success to the Mandarin Oriental and certainly getting Heston to open his first London Restaurant here is quite a coup, but from our perspective sadly we feel that the Mandarin has lost more than it has gained.

UPDATE : October 2011 : The 2012 Michelin Guide has unsurprisingly awarded Dinner a star.

Marks out of 10

Food 6.2

Service 7

Ambience  5.5

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Mortons Club – Private dining

Mortons Club overlooking Berkeley Square, is often described as the best private members’ club in Mayfair.  Dressing appropriately is de rigueur.  Elegant attire and high heels for the ladies being encouraged in the evenings.  The Restaurant  is part of the Marlon Abela Restaurant Corporation and a sibling to The Greenhouse.  The restaurant has an excellent reputation,  some say if it were not a private members club it might merit 2 Michelin stars. Not quite there though in my view, but I have to say the food style and menu did rather remind me of The Waterside Inn (a 3 star Michelin).  So I can sort of see where that idea comes from.  The food is certainly of a very good standard. It is somewhat retro in style, with classic dishes like Steak Tartar and Crêpe Suzette (which we were tempted to order just for the table side service).

I started with braised octopus. The octopus was nicely cooked but rather lost in tomato sauce. Tasty though, it went well with my glass of Gavi di Gavi La Meirana, Piemonte, 2009.

My companion had the Fois Gras, not the best she has had (that’s at Pied à Terre), but certainly a good sized portion.  For my main course I ordered the Steak Tartar and appreciated the chance to have a tasting spoonful first so I could check it was not too spicy for me.   That was accompanied by very good french fries and a glass of M. Chapoutier, Saint-Joseph Les Deschants, Rhone, 2003. My companion had the Jacobs Ribs (short ribs) which were beautifully cooked – very tender beef.

For dessert I had an attractive, subtly flavoured lycee tartlet and coconut crumble with rose water ice cream and my companion had the Carmel parfait with Licorice ice cream – too many interesting combinations on the dessert menu to follow through on the Crêpe Suzette idea. We accompanied our desserts with a glass of Coteaux du Layon, Dom.des Sablonettes, 2004.

We decide not to bother with coffee, so it was a nice touch to be given the petit fours anyway – something that is often done in the better restaurants. However we were rather taken aback at just how spectacular looking the petit fours were, definitely not petit. My rather awful photograph (difficult lighting) really does not do them justice, it was a candy store. Marshmallow lolly-pop, chocolate bread stick, huge meringue, truffles, pastries and jellies, a real sugar rush.

(UPDATE June 2011 – We made a return visit and I managed to replace most of the old  pictures, but alas by the time we reached the dessert and petit fours the light was gone (even with the speedy service) so I have left the old ones in.  On this visit I particularly enjoyed my perfectly cooked lamb chops.  For dessert this time I had a lovely poached apple stuffed with cinnamon ice cream.

We also noticed on this visit that the menu had stronger Italian influences. It included some pasta and risotto dishes, and a cornetto dessert.)

The dining room is a nice size, about 40 covers I would guess, with a view over Berkeley Square. There were also plenty of staff so service was brisk.

The club itself is very pleasant, with some attractive modern art work from some mainstream artists like Julian Opie. It has two bar areas and a good size room ideal for party bookings. The lower membership fee for under 30’s obviously works, as the average age was definitely on the 30’s mark at least on a Saturday night, might be different during the week.

Mortons Club certainly seemed to be doing good business, there was no sign of the recession here!

Marks out of 10

Food 6.4

Service 5.9

Ambience 6.8

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Apsleys at the Lanesborough – Where Taste Fails

ONE day and ONE meal into the New Year and we already have a strong contender for the Worst Meal and Most Disappointing Meal of 2011.

We had done a fair bit of research before booking Apsleys (A Heinz Beck restaurant located in The Lanesborough Hotel).  The reviews were mixed, but on the whole quite positive.  Some food critics and bloggers that we would normally rely on (you know who you are), actually rated this place as a future two star Michelin restaurant.

The room is extremely opulent, very much old world styling, which is in keeping with the hotel, however the canned music is a bit jarring.

We also found that the rather irritating, variable lighting levels created the ideal environment to stop bloggers taking decent photographs and certainly did nothing to enhance the presentation of the food.

We chose the 5 course Tasting menu with matching wines.  Normally we have found that Tasting menus while often presenting dishes as small portions still manage to get the balance right, so that at the end of the meal you are comfortably full.  However after 3 of our 5 courses we were pretty sure this would not be the case here.

The first course was Wild red sea bream carpaccio which bizarrely had a tropical theme, tasting as it did of Pina Colada.  In our view this was hardly a suitable dish for the depths of winter.  The next course was a very ordinary Pumpkin tortellini with castelmagno cheese, which was followed by 5 wafer thin slivers of Scallop.

Basically the dishes fell into the category of just okay or downright bad.  The main course of Lamb with quinoa and sugar snaps in particular was actually unpleasant with a harsh astringent sauce and fatty lamb.

The dessert which was obviously designed to introduce some kind of WOW factor, fell flat.  It consisted of a ice cream and honey comb biscuit filled chocolate orb.  The waiter theatrically poured hot chocolate sauce over it to expose the ice cream.   A nice idea, but the overall effect was to produce what seemed to us like a plate of cheap tasting chocolate sludge.

We had such a good run of restaurants leading up to and over Christmas, that we take no pleasure in reviewing this one. It brought back memories of the late and unlamented La Rotonde Restaurant at the Beau Rivage Palace in Lausanne and the La Dama Tourist Trap in Barcelona.  Something is badly wrong when you have a strong desire to leave half way through a tasting menu.

The consensus was that far from deserving a second Michelin Star this restaurant really does not merit even the one star it already has. It is frustrating to go to these elitist high end restaurants that look the part and deliver service by numbers while failing to deliver on the food. Indeed it almost prompted us to make a new New Year’s Resolution to focus on just the restaurants in the Nigel Platts-Martin’s stable where food quality and flavour rule.

In conclusion one word sums up our experience of Apsleys – AVOID!

Marks out of 10

Food 3.5 (1.5 for the Lamb, as this was a “get me out of here” moment)

Service 5

Ambience 5

UPDATE: June 2012. Chef Change – Heros de Agostinis is now the new chef at Apsleys following Massimiliano Blasone resignation.  Hopefully he will be more generous with the Scallops!

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Koffmanns – Pigs trotters and french fries!

We chose Koffmans as our post Christmas treat.  Pierre Koffmann ran the legendary 3 Michelin star La Tante Claire restaurant at The Berkeley until  2003, when he left to ‘go fishing’.  He is now very much back on the London food scene, and back at The Berkeley.

Our first impression on entering the restaurant proper was a good one, although the stairs that take you down to the basement dining room, past the small bar area, are an accident waiting to happen.

Koffmann’s signature dishes include scallops with squid ink, braised pig’s trotter with morels, and pistachio soufflé with pistachio ice cream. So off course we made sure we ordered them. Indeed the waiter actually made a point of saying ‘and I presume you would like to order the Pigs Trotters’ – maybe the camera on the table gave it away.

We started with a tasty amuse bouche of rabbit paté, followed by a leak terrine with smoked haddock and the aforementioned scallops.  Then for main course as well as the trotter stuffed with sweet breads, we had the beef cheeks. Both dishes were served with lovely mashed potatoes and a winter vegetable selection of broccoli, red cabbage and also what I can only describe as a completely superfluous order of french fries. Perhaps they were included to give us something to criticize? Certainly there was nothing much to complain about with the rest of the meal, and it still seems strange to say it, but the vegetables in particular were a standout, so much flavour. The Beef cheeks portion was large, but so light that finishing it was not a problem.  Never having tried Pigs Trotters before,  Koffmanns was definitely the best place to start.  I’m not entirely sure what we expected, but having almost the full pigs leg complete with hoof on the plate was a  bit disconcerting, but proved to be delicious.  Pork crackling is not a personal favourite, due to earlier experiences where it has been more akin to chewing on a giants toenail. However this was not the case here as it was light, wafer thin and very, very tasty.

For dessert the pistachio soufflé with pistachio ice cream was quite stunning, on a par with the soufflé I tasted at The Ledbury a few weeks ago. The pear and almond tart however was really nothing special, although the pear sorbet that accompanied it was divine (a larger portion would have been nice).

We have always found that asking the Sommelier to match a glass of wine to each course makes the meal more interesting and as the wines by the glass were of a reasonable price (they ranged from £6 to £15) we knew we would not be too horrified by the final bill.

It is also always interesting to see where other chefs choose to eat in their own time. Gary Rhodes for example sat a few tables away from us, tucking into his pistachio soufflé.

Chefs who have worked in Pierre Koffmanns kitchen over the years include Tom Kitchin, Tom Aikens, Eric Chavot, Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing. Having eaten food produced by all of the above, we could certainly see Koffmanns influence.

Marks out of 10

Food 8

Service 7

Ambience 7.9

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