Posts Tagged ‘Apsleys’

Sketch – in a world of its own

Monday, February 25th, 2013

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.

Marks out of 10

Food 7.5

Service 8

Ambiance 8

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

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Zucca – Cucina povera & BYOB : Bellissimo

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Zucca has a very reasonable £10 corkage fee when you bring your own bottle.  Corkage fees can be excessive. Here is a useful list, to give you a rough idea of the typical charges:-

It’s not as good a deal as the one advertized by the Kitchen W8 (free corkage on a Sunday evening), but for a Saturday night a £10 corkage fee is not too bad.  Especially in a restaurant with such a great reputation for food.

So armed with a rather nice bottle of Amerone (Masi Costasera Classico Amerone 2003), we headed off to Zucca (Bermonsey’s answer to The River Cafe), to choose some cucina povera to go with it.

It is almost a year now since my last visit, shortly after the Restaurant opened, and to say Zucca has been successful in that intervening period would be something of an understatement. It’s had rave reviews, is buzzing most nights and is firmly recognised as a “Foodies” destination restaurant.

The highlights for me had to be the pasta dishes.  The beautiful fennel and lemon flavoured tagliatelle was so refreshing and the veal and parmesan ravioli was delicious  – why did I just order a starter size portion!  The pasta was just in a different class from the very ordinary and much more expensive pasta dish I had at Apsleys. The Brunet and Speck (goats cheese wrapped in ham) was also very good.

The only downside to bringing your own wine without knowing the menu in advance,  is that you are a bit restricted in your food choices.  We avoided the more interesting fish dishes which would not have worked with the Amerone and ordered the slow cooked pork in milk and the veal chop instead.  One thing that had not changed since my last visit was the limited selection of side orders.  My veal chop, lovely though it was,  would have really suited me better if accompanied by some potatoes rather that the spinach I barely touched.

We finished with the cheese course and a very nice piece of light and moist orange cake.

The service is not particularly polished. The staff were all very pleasant, but  not quite attentive enough to comfortably handle the two hour turn around on the table. That and our waitress must have missed watching Michel Roux’s Service ;) pouring as she did a full measure of wine, rather that just enough to check that the wine was OK, something that is especially important in BYOB situations.

Zucca is not perfect, but they certainly know how to cook.

After dinner we headed down to Most Cafe bar under Tower bridge, it was busy and getting served at the overcrowded bar looked impossible (why do under staffed bars insist on doing cocktails?), so instead we made our way to the more laid back Draft House Pub. Instant friendly service and a free table. It has a good reputation for its food as well, so definitely worth a return visit to try that, see Cheese and Biscuits review for details.

Marks out of 10 for Zucca

Food 6.3

Service 4.9

Ambience 6.0

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The Waterside – no not the famous one!

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Dinner at The Waterside, the one in Eastbourne on the seafront that is, rather than the way more famous one in Bray on the riverside.

This Waterside is actually a very attractive boutique hotel close to the Pier. There is no formal reception area as the focus on entering is the stylish bar and restaurant.  We had booked our table for 7:00 mainly so we could get back to London at a reasonable time, and were shown to our table in the conservatory area – probably ideal in the summer but rather cold in atmosphere and temperature in the winter, despite the heating.  So with a bit of persuasion we got them to move us into the main restaurant area, which although fully booked could handle the change if we were able to vacate our table by 8:30.

The Waterside - Mustard Bread

I do like it when restaurants make an effort with the bread. The Waterside presented us with two different olive oils, some butter and a single piece of bread.  Does not sound that great does it, but when that single slice is a delicious piece of mustard bread, I have no complaints at all. Give me quality over quantity anytime.

I ordered the scallop dish for starters, and my companion went for the scotch egg with coronation style chicken and pickled onions, which on arrival looked very nice. However it was totally eclipsed by my scallop dish – Apsleys take note here – not 5 wafer thin slivers of scallop but 5 large juicy beautifully cooked scallops, accompanied by a mustard crème brulée and cashew nut baklava – yes there was quantity here, but it delivered on the quality too along with some imagination. For main course we ordered Plaice and Game Pudding.   There was nothing conventional about the Plaice, being served as it was with Dukkah and cauliflower – I really enjoyed this dish.  The delicate use of spices worked well, you could really taste the fish and the cauliflower. The potato cake it was served on was also good, really fluffy and light.  My companion enjoyed her Game Pudding too,  but did feel it was missing something and a little short of gravy. For dessert I had the carrot cake with caramelized banana and nuts and my companion had the more spectacular looking trio of crème brulée ABC (Amaretto – very nice, Bailey’s – subtle, Cognac – too subtle).

The Waterside has one AA Rosette, but in my view actually met the criteria for 2 Rosettes to the letter.

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

The timing on food delivery and service was quick, so there was no problem vacating the table for the next sitting.  It was a shame we had to leave,  as it would have been nice to relax in the bar and try out some of their reasonably priced cocktails (well reasonable by London prices at about £6 each). Eastbourne also looked lovely at night, beautifully lit and very grand.

Marks out of 10 for The Waterside

Food 6.8

Service 5.1

Ambience 5.5

UPDATE : April 2011 – Made a return visit to The Waterside to try more of the menu. There were a couple of dishes from the previous visit still on the menu, but enough had changed to make the return worthwhile. I had a lovely Mackerel dish to start, beautifully flavoured with lime juice. Then a Skate and gnocchi dish for main course (not the best cooked Skate, it was a bit stringy, but the gnocchi was very good), my companion had the Plaice, which was perfectly cooked.

We just had to try the Basil Ice Cream for dessert – a triumph. The Waterside is such a good find. I am sure I will be back to try a few more of the chefs innovations.

UPDATE : May 2011 – Just heard that The Waterside has won a  2nd AA Rosette.  I did see that one coming.  Well done to Lori Parsons and the restaurant team.

The Waterside Restaurant on Urbanspoon

LOCATION INFORMATION – The Waterside

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Morgans

Another Restaurant in Eastbourne worth mentioning is Morgans, we did a walk in here for their set lunch (for the price of a cocktail in The Waterside). The food was well cooked and seriously good value – check out the picture of the pâté starter which came with hot fresh bread drizzled with olive oil, that alone was worth the money.

So it was a very productive day, with two good restaurant finds.

Marks out of 10 for Morgans

Food 5.5

Service 4.5

Ambience 4

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LOCATION INFORMATION – Morgans

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Apsleys at the Lanesborough – Where Taste Fails

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

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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Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

What’s coming next in the lead up to Christmas?

It is always a bit more difficult at this time of year – a bit harder to get bookings if you want to avoid the Christmas rip off menus and holiday shut downs.

So despite the seasonal difficulties we have posts coming up for a couple of really hot top London destination restaurants:-

  • The Ledbury – which just seems to be winning more and more awards and acclaim this year.
  • Koffmann’s – need I say more, the mans a legend.

We are also going to Chez Bruce, a restaurant that has been top of our wish list for a while now.

Then we are starting off the New Year on a high note (hopefully), at Apsleys in the Lanesborough Hotel. It was awarded a Michelin star earlier this year. It is a Heinz Becks Restaurant, the first one outside Italy, where  he has 3 Michelin stars for La Pergola in Rome.

No Expert Annual Awards

The No Expert Best and Worst Restaurant for 2010 will be announced at the end of year.