Chez Bruce – Mmm…mmm…mmm

I made our reservation at Chez Bruce at fairly short notice, so our table was probably one of the worst ones in the room. However I was just glad to have a table as even at Monday lunch time Chez Bruce was close to full.

Yet again they did not put a foot wrong on the service front or with the food.  All through the meal we could hear ourselves continually making “mmm” noises, which says it all.  The food is seriously good, well balanced complex dishes that look beautiful and taste wonderful.

My raw, cooked and pickled vegetable tartlet with aubergine and tapenade, was amazing – it was so light and the mixture of textures and flavours worked so well.  My companion also really enjoyed his Pork Belly with Summer Bean Salad, Chorizo and Salsa Verde.

For main course I had the Plaice with creme fraiche and basil sauce, smoked salmon, pancakes and cucumber – the pancakes especially were really moreish. My companion had the Seabass with  prawn tempura, oriental squid and bok choy salad and was really impressed by the flavour of the fish and its distinctive sweet and sour pork crust.

We then moved on to share a cheese plate – the cheese boards in the Nigel Platts-Martins stable of restaurants are too good to miss. We then finished with the Vanilla, Almond and Raspberry tartlet and the Warm Poached Peach and Financier with Pannacotta and Ameretto, along with a couple of glasses of matching dessert wines. Leaving just enough room for a piece of the home made shortbread provided at the end of the meal.

We had a conversation with one of the waiters about Chez Bruces sibling restaurant The Ledbury, which he thought was on the way to its third Michelin Star and if that’s the case, Chez Bruce is well on its way to a second one, as the gap between them is not huge.

Chez Bruce is not just a destination restaurant, it’s a restaurant that makes you want to move to the area. Although in actual fact it’s not that hard to get to, as it’s just 2 minutes walk from Wandsworth Common train station, and there are frequent trains from Victoria with a journey time of 11 minutes.

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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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Chez Bruce – better late than never!

We finally got around to trying out Chez Bruce in Wandsworth.  So many people had raved about it over the years. In fact it was first recommended to me about 15 years ago when I lived in the area.  Isn’t it annoying when other people are right, I really wish I had listened and started eating there then.  I might have better fitted into the age group of the clientele too, who are typically 30 somethings.

The food which is often described as Modern British,  actually has lots of different influences, French, Italian and Nordic.

To start my companion had the Gravadlax and beetroot club sandwich with herring salade lyonaise and horseradish, which was sublime.  It definitely gets his vote for best starter of the year.  I  had the middle white pork terrine with warm potato salad and sauce gribiche which was also excellent. We accompanied these dishes with a carafe of rather stunning Pouilly Fuisse wine.

For main course my companion had the beautifully moist and tender venison loin with potato rosti and squash puree.  A wonderful dish.

My Shetland salmon and scallops with Jerusalem artichoke puree, gnocchi, prosciutto and chaterelles, worked well combining fish and meat flavours beautifully.

As you can tell from all the superlatives I have used so far we really rated this place.  It became our post Christmas treat, actually eclipsing Koffmanns, which is saying something.

Chez Bruce is very relaxing and not somewhere you would want to rush, so we extended our meal by having a cheese course matched with a lovely glass of chilled Rasteau 2007, Domaine De Trapadis, before “resting” and continuing on to dessert.  For dessert we focused on the lighter dishes.  The  beautiful poached pear with honey and stem ginger ice cream and the prune and armagnac ice cream, accompanied by a refreshing glass of Muscat d’Asti.

We had no room for coffee and truffles, but did manage to squeeze in a small piece of shortbread, offered at the end of meal. Best shortbread I have ever had, with a hint of caramel, it was quite lovely.

We then asked for the bill, expecting it to be excessive as we had rather indulged ourselves. We were pleasantly surprised at how reasonable it was.

Chez Bruce is a part of Nigel Platts-Martins stable of restaurants.  Holding its own against it’s sibling restaurants which include The Square, The Ledbury, La Trompette and The Glasshouse.  Nothing jars here (not even the bread), the food, the service levels and the atmosphere seem just right.  I certainly won’t be waiting another 15 years to return.

 

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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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The Ledbury – embarassing leaks

Lunch at The Ledbury was always going to be an occasion. The food is superb.  I simply could not fault any of the dishes I chose from their Sunday Lunch menu.  Indeed it was one of these occasions where I really wanted to try nearly all the dishes on the menu.  Fortunately I was part of a large enough group to ensure that collectively we were able to order a range of different dishes. There were no dissenting voices at all, every one loved the food.  Only one thing went wrong during the lunch, which impacted on the table next to ours.  Water started coming through the ceiling from the room above,  I guess a burst pipe due to the cold weather. Nothing much the restaurant could do except, put a bowl on the table, call the plumber and move the guests to another table.  However it must have been very embarrassing for the staff, as the guests concerned included Martin Scorsese, Sacha Baron Cohen and Isla Fisher who certainly did not seem to particularly want to draw attention to themselves. Something that is hard to do when you have to stand up to avoid being splashed!

However when the food is this good, you do not let little things like plumbing problems get in the way, so back to the food.

My starter was the Flamed Grilled Mackerel with Smoked Eel, Tokyo Turnips and Celtic Mustard, it was a great choice. The Mackerel had so much flavour, it was really fresh and just melted in my mouth. The portion was quite substantial for a starter, but despite that I could easily have had seconds.

I was also tempted by the Ceviche of Hand Dived Scallops with Seaweed and Herb Dill Kohlrabi and Frozen Horseradish which one of my companions ordered. Visually it did not look as good, but I was told it was delicious, if a little light and summery for a winter menu.

For my main course I choose fish again. The Skate Poached in Brown Butter with Truffle Puree, Cauliflower, Parmesan Gnocchi and Sea Vegetables. This has to be my dish of the year. It was just so moreish. The Skate was perfect and the Parmesan Gnocchi reminded me so much of another favourite, the Gnocchi dish I had at The Foliage.

For dessert I ordered the Brown Sugar Tart with Muscat Grapes and Stem Ginger Ice Cream, which was matched with a surprisingly fruity Pedro Ximenez sherry from Barossa Valley in Australia, it was very different from the Spanish ones I have had in the past.  The tart was very light and the ice cream was very subtle.  The dessert highlight however had to be the Passion Fruit Souffle with Sauterne Ice cream, which was large enough for us all to try  – a perfect Souffle.

 

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Tetsuya’s – It’s a knockout!

A post from No Experts Australian Correspondent

I have to confess Tetsuya’s has been very high on my list of restaurants to visit since our move down under. Despite losing a “hat” recently, it remains the most notoriously difficult restaurant in Sydney to bag a table at. Think Fat Duck, at the height of it’s fame and you’ll be  getting close! Waiting lists currently exceed 3 months.

The restaurant itself is tucked away on Kent St,  behind an extremely industrial looking grey wall and electronic gates. On entry, however one is greeted by a beautiful Japanese Garden and Villa. The steps up to the entrance are pretty intimidating, and one could be forgiven for thinking one was braving the domain of a noble Samurai Lord. Entrance to this exclusive domain is the privilege of few.

Our entry, on this occasion, was to attend The New South Wales Wine Awards Dinner, part of the Sydney International Food Festival, hosted by “Tets” himself (why do the Aussies have to shorten everything?) and  Huon Hooke, the Sydney Morning Herald’s wine critic. We were certainly in for a treat.  Hosted in the Private Dining Room, we were a little disappointed that we would miss the views of the garden that diners downstairs enjoy, however we were not to be disappointed in the food! We were greeted with a Glass of Centennial Sparkling and settled in to meet and chat to our fellow diners.

Our 13 course dinner was absolutely incredible,  and I am at a complete loss as to where to start.  Chilled Cucumber soup with sheep’s curd ice cream was deliciously refreshing, somewhat overwhelming the poor Pokolbin Estate Riesling that really didn’t have a chance. Sashimi of Kingfish with Black Bean and orange, was an exquisite dish, the citrus from the orange beautifully counter balancing the black bean.  Our surprise dish of “Just like Oysters”, turned out to be a shaving of scallop, with seaweed and foie gras, which with the metallic zinc seaweed tasted “just like oysters” but finished with an amazing rich finish from the foie gras! Delicious!

The NSW wine of the year, Tempus  Two’s Copper Zenith Semillon From 2003  turned out to be a revelation. It had a kerosene like nose typical of Semillon, but with layers and layers of complexity. It went surprisingly well with Marinated Scampi, Avocado, and caviar. Having been to this winery on a visit to the Hunter Valley, I was extremely unimpressed with their wines, and the poor knowledge of the staff at the Cellar door. The winery is located in one of the most stunning winery buildings I have ever seen, but all style and no substance does not  impress me! Earlier in the evening I had been fairly vocal about my disbelief that Tempus Two could actually produce a decent wine, only to discover that Scott Comyns the wine maker was at the table next to us! Oops! My embarrassing moment didn’t last long, and Scott proved to be a nice guy, who was delighted to have proved that his winery can produce a decent drop!

Tetsuya’s signature dish of Confit Ocean Trout followed. The accompaniments  to this dish are varied by season, and while the apple complemented the fish superbly, I found the flavours of the celery a little bitter.  Every dish was brilliant, and it is almost impossible to pick fault. The nuttiness of the grilled artichoke with the barramundi matched well with our wooded Chardonnay. Braised oxtail  just melted in the mouth,  the sea cucumber that accompanied this dish was an interesting experience for someone who had never before tasted this delicacy.  I found it rather bland, although the texture contrasted nicely with the softness of the Braised oxtail, making this one of my favourite dishes of the night.

I could wax lyrical for hours on how wonderfully exquisite and beautifully delicate each dish was. However I am conscious that a blow by blow account of 13 courses will  probably have your eye’s glazing over! The food at Tetsuya’s is simply world class. So how indeed did they lose a GFG Hat?  I was absolutely perplexed as to how this amazing restaurant could possibly be deemed unworthy of 3 GFG Hats?  The answer lay  half way through this meal,  when I was elbowed in the temple by a waitress. No apologies at all from this young lady!  In response to my discomfort, she retorted with a sarcastic “would you like an ice pack for that madam?” An hour later, with my head still ringing from the blow I’d received, I was beginning to wish I’d accepted that offer!  Quite shocking in a restaurant where other than this one incident,  the service was superbly courteous and friendly.

In summary then, the food at Tetsuya’s is an absolute knock out, that is providing the staff don’t knock you out first. Despite my bad experience with one waitress, I would not hesitate to return. Simply, despite the blow to the head, this probably is the top dining experience of my life.  If there’s one restaurant that’s worth flying across the world for, then Tetsuya’s is it.

Marks out of 10

Food  9.2

Service  6.9 (Should rate a high 8 really)

Ambience  9.0

 

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