The Glasshouse in Kew – Sparkles

Timing will always impact on dining experiences. Our trip out to Kew was on a lovely spring day, the sun was shining. It was also the day after our rather disappointing meal at Dinner by Heston, so we were desperate to have a very special lunch. The Glasshouse is the only restaurant in the Nigel Platts-Martins stable of restaurants we had not been to and it most certainly delivered that special touch.  There is nothing over-hyped about this place, it’s not somewhere to be seen, it’s just everything a good  neighbourhood restaurant should be.

The food and service were spot on. The enthusiastic and knowledgeable Sommelier was delightful. Letting us try out some additional wines to compliment our food.

I started with the perfectly made salmon and skate ravioli and my companion went for the smoked eel, a stunning starter full of flavour. For main course I had something I am sure Heston would have called “Rock Pool” or “Seaside on a plate” and delivered with an iPod playing the sounds of the sea. It was an amazing looking fish dish with a crispy baby squid  sitting on top of a bed of silver mullet, surrounded by more crispy squid rings and olives. The flavour combinations and texture were perfect, it tasted as beautiful as it looked.  My companions main course was more conventional, he went for the delicious daube of beef.

The Glasshouse has a fairly comprehensive cheese board – lots of British cheeses, as well as some French and Spanish ones, so we decided to share a cheese plate.  It was matched with multiple glasses of wine.  Then for dessert I had some light moist ginger cake with rhubarb ice cream and a sauce that had the lovely intense flavour of ginger beer. My companion had the Rum Baba. The one dessert the sommelier did not match a wine with, being soaked as it was in boozy rum.  However as the dessert wine list was extensive (it even included two different PX‘s),  we just had to try more wine.  I had a glass of the Ice Cider (my dessert was not an ideal match for this, but I just wanted more of the wine I had tried with the cheese), the sommelier also let me try some of the wine she would have matched with the ginger cake, it was  a smooth and subtle wine that complimented the ginger flavours in my dessert beautifully. My companion went for the raisin flavoured PX.

We drank a bit more than planned, but left the restaurant happy and in no doubt that we would return again. Indeed we are thinking, maybe it’s time to repeat the whole Nigel Platts Martin circuit again, starting with La Trompette.

Marks out of 10

Food 7.8

Service 8

Ambience 7

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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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What’s coming next ?

Having lunch at Dinner – Heston Blumenthals historically themed and much talked about venture at The Mandarin Oriental.

Planning trips to :-

and maybe, as we head into Spring, visit some Seaside Restaurants  around the Kent and Suffolk coasts.

Foliage – The Last Post

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

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


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

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

See also Post – Fairwell to Chris Staines

Marks out of 10

Food 8.5

Service 9

Ambience 8.5

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

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The Berkeley – Pret a Portea

A friend reserved a table for the Pret a Portea at The Berkeley – the famous fashionista’s afternoon tea. Not that I qualify in any way for the description of fashionista, but there were plenty of them in the room to make up the shortfall.

The table was beautifully set, with individual stylised menus and a personalised name card.  Our only criticism was the size of the font on the menu (see vent number 21). We also had some concerns when only one cake stand was set on the table for four people – there was only two handbags!.  However the waiter quickly reassured us that the plates would be swapped out as and when we finished them. He was true to his word as we discovered following multiple plate changes.

The sandwiches (we had 3 rounds each and were offered more!), savoury spoonfuls and cakes were all of a very high standard. In fact I actually enjoyed the afternoon tea more than the lunch we had a few months back in Marcus Wareings restaurant!

We also had a few glasses of champagne – they offer standard or couture. The waiter serving the champagne was particularly proficient as he single handedly poured the champagne, smoothly swapping from one hand to the other. He also used a small laser pointer to individually identify and describe the sandwiches and cakes! I jokingly commented that he put on a better show than the Fat Duck.  So you can imagine my shock when Heston Blumental walked by a few minutes later. The Berkeley will be a rival to his planned new Restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental just around the corner (see Foliage replacement – the gossip!), so I guess he was just being neighbourly!

Marks out of 10

Food 8

Service 7.5

Ambience 7

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The Foliage without Chris Staines

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

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

Marks out of 10

Food 7.8

Service 8

Ambience 7

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