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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