The Hand & Flowers….the Michelin downfall?

I don’t even know where to start, seriously. Hand and flowers is this kind of places – not being their fault – but trapped into the endlessness vicious circle of Michelin establishment and early stage rating and granted 2 stars by the Michelin guide in the 2012 edition. OK this is nice, this friendly, this is overwhelming…but STOP with young staff, waiting for you (as we were 36 min late – our fault, I’ve to say).

This is a fact, after 7 years being living in the UK I’ve always been easy with the rating of restaurants in the country, trying to identify the difference and understand. When we go back to France, I do feel the rating is more serious and professional than in the British country one. However I’ve so say it’s sometime difficult to even understand, within the UK itself. From the lovely Sporstman in Whistable with 1 star, where despite being served the classical tasting menu, at least they had the decency of showing a certain hospitality to Alain Ducasse in London, there is a huge gap (of price as well).

From most starred restaurant in the world, to the best places in France and the UK, I’ve to say, that in this particular occasion we reached the level of the ridicule. Certainly supported by an unexperienced staff, lovely crew of people, but young.

Not for the respect of the chef, certainly not. After a full meal I think I had quite a decent experience for 3 hours. But come on, this is not acceptable to compare some places in the UK to the Hand and Flowers. How can this be marked 2 stars. This is illogical and can’t be reproduced.

This is not acceptable to compare the Green House (two stars) in London to this pub, or the Maison Lassere in Paris, all those teams in the world suffering every day to bring an experience, a moment in the life for you and me. This is not simply acceptable to compare the Gavroche or Joel Robuchon to the H/S. Even the Mid-Summer which I detailed over a full post was to be applauded in this particular day. Something is going wrong in the Michelin rating establishment and we will have to understand what is happening.

Is it a kind of mafia surrounding the French established born guide ….. carrying what they did for the some recently recognized Chef in the world, and almost being creating a subsidiaries of connection with some grown up chef.

I’m seriously fed up with this outrageous way of the Michelin guide to establish new scales, new benchmarking where there is definitely none. This is a real downfall and this is bad from a guide which has established a reputation of regularity and impartiality in their judgment. I will take the example of some Tailevent in Paris. How dare would you rate Taillevent the same level as the Hand and Flowers? How rude is that.

Am I missing the point here? Are we saying the UK Michelin got a different rating as the rest of the world? Then if the anwer to that question is a Yes, then I’m giving up. I though Michelin was establishing a global and standard level of rating all cross the world and this is what we’re paying for? This would be my mistake.

Here Tom Tom Kerridge, with all the best respect I got for his talent since I’ve seen him in Great British Menu, I can’t understand how you could have the respect to be part of the group of established Michel Roux or Joel Robuchon and not being ashamed of been awarded the same level on a simple pub in the middle of Marlow. I would be you, I would write to the Michelin headquarter telling that there must be a misunderstanding.

The first minute of this moment, when we arrived, I think we all been chocked almost.………was close to nothing….I think I almost thought for two seconds that we must have made a mistake and this is not the place we were suppose to open the door….maybe it’s was 200 meters away…no IT WAS THERE.

on top of that, like Matthew Norman for the telegraph said here, “It’s the absolutely generic Home Counties gastropub,” with a referenced Classic Posh Pub Décor No 4 (B).

We arrive, we see a nice pub, a team chatting, an usual hesitation on taking your clothes and then the noisy dining room, then the waitress telling that you’re late (which of course, you aplologies and I suggested we could take the dessert/coffee in another room to aarange, we’re flexible…..but no other option I’m told)….are you sure this is the place you’re coming to have a Sunday roast?? Almost surreal.

Two Stars? This is a joke!!

My god….Michelin Guide UK is driving the people nuts by doing this kind of analogy. This is really bad, and this is not even the fault of mister Kerridge. Seriously.

The Michelin star in the UK is not on the first time proceeding to this kind of operation. They did it recently in 2011 for Arbutus in London. Same scenario, as the good (or bad) surprise was random and unexpected from the staff (I’ve been told by an established 1 star chef – friend of mine).

Come on Michelin team, you can do better and be realistically independent. Stop trying to ruin the level you established in other countries by just rushing and creating stars where there is none. This is a competition, but a real high level one. You’re destroying the credibility of your own establishment by acting as such.

I’ve been recently to the Elephant in Torquay*and this was a far better experience than the Hand and Flowers….how weird.

Worse than that, something happen which never happen to me before, and which was even worse for this poor chef…..a hair….seriously I’m not joking….this is a first time I had a hair in a dish. This was a joke. I’m not even doing any fuss of it ….expect that my friend had to wait 20 minutes to get another dish ready to replace, and that has not even change the attitude regarding the timing.

Also I’ve to say, on top of that, we’ve been commended to leave the table for a certain time….what the hell is that…if you’re a 2 stars…you deal with that, aren’t you? I can’t wait to see serious people coming to your restaurant (pub), some people who are filling up the places like Gavroche or Robuchon un Tokyo….there will be an issue…I’m telling you.

Stop it Michelin……

In essence…..forget about this place, as a 2 stars this is simply NOT ACCEPTABLE…..as a good pub…yes, certainly one of the best …. but in this case I would put 1 star to the Great-house in Lavenham then.

This is stupid, as if the food can be nice….and the fact than such a bad start can ruin the full experience.

But about the food, I’ll not even comment about it as I use to do usually….as I’ve been so much disgusted by the treatment and the rudeness of the management and staff.

Enjoy the photos below and I’ll make short comments….rude as they could have been….but still fair.

Braised Pearl Barley, pan fried foie gras with Orange Oil and Sommerset Hare

Interesting one, with the crackling effect of the pearl. Overall interesting, nice try on the combo of orange and foie gras (maybe a variation of the Heston classic). But I’m afraid the orange flavour is too subtle, the hare totally disappear in the sauce. Over all feeling a richness more than flavour. Nice but not fantastic.

Salt Cod Scotch Egg with Chorizo, red pepper sauce

Quite nice flavour, I’ve to say, but you’ll tell me it’s a big bacalao with a chorizo base. Good point for the red pepper purée….superb to balance the chorizo.

Parsley soup with smoked Eel, Bacon and Parmesan Tortelini.

The winner without any doubt. Amazing parley potage (not velouté in this case). the eel was supberly balancing the herb effect.

Breast of Suffolk chicken with Pistachio crumble, lovage poached turnips, Soft Polenta and Winter Truffle

I was my first attempt, what a shame. I’ll not reveal the location of the intruder. However the flavour of the truffle was sublimed by the richness of the creamy polenta. I’m afraid the turnips didn’t turn up (ahahaha) as being the most flavoury vegetable to go with this dish. However the chicken was super moist and the creamy polenta was adding so much value to the overall combo. The pistachio crust was just sumptuous. Well done. Shame I didn’t finish it.

Red Wine Braised Shin of Beef, with Hand and Flowers carrot and Shin sauce. (Replacement)

My second main course, I have to say has totally rebalanced the overall drama. The carrot slow cooked in somewhat an essence of flower I guess, was just the best carrot I had ever. The sous vide technique is bringing here a sweet carrot, glazed at the last minute. Stunning.

And the beef shin, covered with a layer of simple potatoe purée, all wrapped in caul fat. The beef was superb, maybe a little bit rich again. But this is a very good traditional dish. Almost a boeuf Bourguignon, revisited.

Cornish Day boat Skate, with bacon roast parsnips, trompette, cockles and lardo.

I’ve tried also this one. I’m afraid we all agree the skate was dry. On this kind of variation around a Classical Grenobloise Skate dish, I would have expected a kind of noisette butter on the side.

Essex Lamb “bun” with sweetbreads and salsa verde.(closed)

Essex Lamb “bun” with sweetbreads and salsa verde (open)

This one was of course the most impressive. Just by the look. However, seem like the expectation was again too high. When you open it you’ll find a nicely wrapped in caul fat lamb minced meat. Surprisingly no sweetbreads as they’ve been mixed up in the meat.

I would cook this same dish, I would separate the 2 elements, do one big for the lamb, one for the sweetbreads, as the client can enjoy the combo like a game. This would have been more ludic and the  client would have enjoyed the flavour separately.

Amazing good point here for the Salsa Verde, the best one I’ve ever tried. Purée of Parsley, Garlic and Olive oil…..simple but done to PERFECTION.

Tonka Bean Panacotta, poached Rhubarb, ginger wine jelly and rhubarb sorbet.

I’ve to say this one, despite a really non glamorous presetnation was from far the best dish on that day. Light but creamy. Full of flavor and I’ve to confess I’m not the biggest fan of rubarhb as well. The sorbet was stunning, the jelly tasteless…unfortunately. But overall a WINNER

Warm Pistachio Sponge cake, melon sorbet and marzipan

This one was defo my favourite, as I LOVE melon. Very surprising to have melon in the middle of Jan, but who cares. I was essentially tempted by the pistachio sponge cake. I have to say my pistachio financier are stronger in flavour than this one. I like the chequers of melon. Nice one also.

Hand and Flowers Chocolate Cake, salted caramel and Muscovado Ice Cream

Maybe the boring one. Chocolate…….again!! and certainly not the the WOW you’ll expect. Nice ganache made of good quality chocolate, but the texture was somewhat too creamy. The Salted caramel and muscovado Ice cream was low in flavor and I’ve to say, this version of this dessert a the Elephant in Torquay was far more better….no futher comments.

**********

To put an end to this bad story, I even had to claim to cancel the price of counted replacement dish???? …….in a history of good food and Michelin star, this is a pure disappointment, leaving me with hanger against my favourite guide and the fact that some people are currently committing into the selling of the quite old and established guide. We’re losing in quality and independence. This is a shame.

I hope this is not the start or even continuity of a downfall. I’m working to make people understand the real rating established a long time ago by people with passion. Recently the Michelin guide has committed a self-suicide by promoting too many places ….and not really looking to their own rating benchmark or policy guide. I would recommend to those people currently working at Michelin to travel more. To experience more places in the world. To come back to the root of the rating and system they implemented. Also to the Management to introduce some level of double checking (I can’t possibly conceve that the H/F has been double checked in this case).

You should go to Tokyo messieurs. You should go to Paris or Spain messieurs.

How can you rate Noma, Robuchon, Gavroche, Carré de Feuillants, …..or even Mid-Summer with a 2 stars when you are rating 2 star at Hand and Flower.

Let’s enjoy also this picture of the toilets taken by my friend. Notice the lovely plastic flowers. The apparent plumbing is adding to the global experience as well. Hopefully the towels were ready and some moisturiser for hands…. at least.

lovely plastic flowers.....a must to have in a 2 Michelin Star rated place.

This is OUTREAGOUS.

I would recommend you to extend your bib gourmand to different level…..this would be wiser.

As a lover of food and quality…….I’m sorry Hand and Flowers is a nice pub…maybe the best….but this is a PUB. Don’t get me wrong, this must be the best food I’ve had in a PUB, indeed…..but if you establish a rating with Hibiscus in London, or Taillevent in Paris as challenger….the Hand and Flowers can’t compete….and this is the issue with the rating here.

Please do try to enjoy the food…….unfortunately on shade by the silliness of an international rating established by the Michelin currently falling regulators.

It seems that we’ve got here some similarities with the big financial rating agencies…..it seems that some food rating agencies are currently diverting from the core established policy to please a maximum of people and maybe to create virtually some stars where there is none…..this could be their downfall soon….the scale you established mister Michelin is not a race, it’s a recognition, and this need to be given fairly. Some people, clearly strong in this industrie will soon dislike your judgment. And I’m starting to be one of the people, and I’m not the only one…..watch that space.

The Hand and Flowers, 126 West Street, Marlow SL7 2BP
Contact 01628 482277; www.thehandandflowers.co.uk

MY RATINGS :
 
FOOD = 6/10
DECORATION/AMBIANCE = 5/10
SERVICE = 5/10
NOISE = 5/10

Hand & Flowers on Urbanspoon

, , , , , , ,

9 Comments

Religious diner……Galvins LaChapelle* // London

Freshly awarded 1 star in 2011, the brother Galvins (Jeff & Chris) are not unknown on the market as they’ve been running Windows at the Park Lane Hilton since 5 years already. But far from the lux and chic of the Hilton outdated hotel chain – to be fair I’m not a fan to be fair of Hilton’s hotels, mostly 70’s old designed and tasteless – Galvins’ bros started this very clever new address in a far more “bobo” location, off the thrilling East End, not far from vibrant Brick Lane, close to the city and their financial clientele.

The main dining room

When you arrive, I would describe it as a revelation, almost a pray! Are you getting into a cathedral, a church, maybe just a barn? Very confusing as it was formerly a Victorian School Chapel now re-designed and listed grade II.

Massive, grandiose, superb…those are the words I would use here to describe the feeling. Please have a stand in front of the huge front wall, and then enter where you’ll feel almost like entering to a royal procession. The long bar on the left hand side welcome you and then you start to have an eye to the high and superb wood roof and the chandelier. 30 meters high, it’s an impressive volume, and above the open plan kitchen you can see the massive mezzanine.

Wonderful architecture and very bizarrely, you would expect the place to be very noisy, it’s totally the opposite. I appreciate my first minute in this religious dining room, almost a royal ceremony.

At this point in time, you can feel that the atmosphere is dedicated to food. A glance at one or two plates on other tables can straight give you the feeling that you just landed in a respectable place and that you’ll certainly enjoy the rest of the evening.

The Menu Gourmand

I’ve evocated recently the lack of service on most of the place I’ve tested so far in Europe. What a pleasure to arrive at Galvins and get a nice smile, to have someone opening the table for you i.e. take the chair away from the table for you to seat easily. But above all the cheer up from the staff, smiling and talking to you nicely. I think it’s been a while since I had this kind of really nice and professional feeling. From the maitre d’ to the sommelier, all the staff has been really professional. Always the right suggestion at the right time, no need to ask for bread here, it’ll flow naturally, and icing on the cake : clean up of the table between every course as well.

To notice as well, the sommelier was explaining the wines with such conviction and talent, this was a pure moment of pleasure just to listen.

But let’s start with the courses and appreciate the talent of the “chefs” in action.

Lasagne of Dorset crab & “beurre nantais”

Undoubtedly one of the best performance of the evening. Simple and in the meantime so clever. Made almost like a French style quenelle, but flat, then lightly dropped into a Lasagne style cocoon. Dress up with simple cress and cover of a light “beurre nantais”. Strangely the simplest dish of the evening, but at same time the execution was so perfect.

Risotto of Fresh peas and goat’s curd

Another hit there, I’ve to say, somehow I would be able to eat this risotto every morning. The delicacy of the curd mixed with amazingly perfectly cooked peas. Another simple dish but just a perfect cooking. The peas where cooked to perfection and “popping” in your mouth while eating. The curd was giving some extra texture to the whole risotto. A must to taste.

********

Roast pavé of Salmon, white peach, mussels, cobnut & verjus beurre


Nice mix here and some creativity. Peach and Salmon, sweet and sour. Maybe adventurous but I’ve to say it works. The salmon was very fishy hence was perfectly balancing the sweetness of the peach flavor in the sauce and the slices under the salmon “pavé”. As the juice was a verjus reduction, the sauce texture was almost like a syrup. Very nice combination and well balanced. Otherwise, don’t ask me why, but we didn’t find the mussels!! Instead there was a scallop. Certainly a change of last minute. Not bad!! Another gem was this cucumber pickled and marinated in some almond juice or liquor?! Can’t really tell but it was fantastic.

********

Tagine of Bresse pigeon, couscous, aubergine purée harissa sauce


Finally the chef signature dish, which I would call a “deconstructed” Morocan Tagine. I have to say, I never had that for a long time. The service as usual was fantastic, as the two waiters waited the last second, that all the tagine been dropped on the table to open all the four lids at the same time (very professional).

And then the perfection…..instantly the flavor of the best tagine I’ve ever had started to fill the air with a wonderful smell. All North Africa’s cuisine was instantly “embalming” the room. Harrisa, the couscous, the pigeon, …..unbelievable.

Then all the components were just divine, from the couscous “galette” under the pigeon, to the pigeon pastilla, and aubergine unbelievably creamy.

Then this pigeon breast itself which am assuming has been cooked slowly on “sous vide” and just slightly roasted at the last minute (assumption). The simple cooked garlic and this amazing lemon pickled with some almond flavor again.

Superb….. I just want to go back again …..

JUST FOR THIS MAIN COURSE…

********

Apple tarte Tatin, crème fraîche (not represented here)

Ok, let’s be honest here, I’m French, so as such « tarte tatin » is part of your language and our french culture as the “baguette” would be. Hence no restaurant of such a high standard should fail on this and a unique dessert, I felt a little bit disappointed. When you chose to take a “tasting menu” it is usually to have the chance of being blown away by the talent and creation. I’m afraid here we’re facing another issue on this menu. You can’t leave this amazing place on a bad impression. And I’m afraid, as well you’ll be sad if you leave the concert of your favorite singer without having your favorite song being performed, I felt the same…….

Don’t get me wrong, the dessert was superbly cooked. But not “twinkle” enough for my taste and for the price. Can do seriously better here.

********

So overall, what to think about Galvins?

I would stay on a kind of confusion feeling, share between excellence and disappointment. Some dishes were just superbly creative and full of taste. The creation is the key and root to the excellence. Over 8 courses, maybe only half of them are really striking my attention. The other half, I’m afraid is such pointless that it’s unfortunately leaving this feeling of inconsistency.

I think sometime chefs want to impress by the number of dishes on the menu list, and forget to balance with quality. Here maybe 6 courses would have been enough. Skip the terrine, skip the cheese. Replace by something exciting, unknown, or forgotten. And please, the dessert (even if this is not my favorite part in a full dinner) can’t be bad, neither average nor common. This is the grand finale, like in a firework. This needs to be fabulous.

Hopefully, I’ve to say I really enjoyed the raspberry macaroons and the pure chocolate seeds in the silver pot with the coffee. I think it was my real dessert; people were amused to eat for the first time chocolate seeds, uncommon and funny.

To sum up, I would say that Galvins at Lachapelle is still in getting on his strides. Some adjustments needs to be made on the overall food architecture. From a service perspective, for whoever is working for the staff and reading those lines I’ll give a 10. This was just one of those rare moments of professionalism.

FOOD = 7/10
DECORATION/AMBIANCE = 8/10
SERVICE = 9/10
NOISE = 8/10
 
www.galvinrestaurants.com
35 Spital Square
City of London E1 6DX
020 7299 0400

 

Galvin La Chapelle on Urbanspoon

, , , , , , ,

5 Comments

Midranked…………MidSummer House** // Cambridge

If you have the opportunity to go to Cambridge for a weekend, or even for the day, you should maybe have a stop by the MidSummer driven by Daniel Clifford.

It seems that Midsummer is the only 2 Michelin starred restaurant in the East Anglia, hence by flying by Cambridge on the way to New Market, we had to stop try the lovely MidSummer House.

What to expect here? the level of a two stars? not really….I would be honest. I’ve been slightly disappointed. But I need to elaborate here to be frank with you. I’m maybe as usual very picky and demanding, but isn’t it the level of the two star we’re looking for here? let’s be taking the comparison with the Ledburry maybe in London, or le Gavroche, or maybe perhaps the Bristol or Senderens in Paris, I would say we’re not really on the same level.

Why, would you ask me?

Unfortunately I’ve to say, if the rating of service is for some people not contributing much for the whole appreciation, I’m putting the treatment on a higher level of importance. For a two stars michelin you have almost to expect perfection, and here I’ve to say, I’ve landed into the nice but unexpected succession of errors. From forgetting to move pull the chair for you on the table when you seat, to the usual “can we have some more bread” and not being ask if I need more?! how rude. This very small attentions may seem not worthless for some people, but it’s usually the reason why you have two or three stars. You would not imagine the level or precision that you have to reach for a three star michelin. No question, No noise, No default, everything is flowing and works like a “swiss watch”.

We decided to go for the Market Menu, a kind of lighter tasting menu composed of seven courses. I’ll take the chance to develop all the courses here, as I’ve to say I think it worth the explanation.

The menu started by a very clever and light “mise en bouche” made of a foam of Champagne and Grapefruit, serve in a superb bowl looking almost like a colorful bulb. This foam was a kind of interesting approach compare to the usual savoury little canapé or mini “verines” filled with cold soup which are so common. Here, the surprise comes from the dressing itself as the foam is poured directly in front of you in the bowl out of a syphon and dropped onto the table. Very simple, but chic. Maybe too simple!! …but it was light and sweet.. interesting start for a meal.

Light Colourful Bulb with Grapefruit and Champagne foam

And then the big things starts with a try on a classical, with a Pea velouté, with prawn and seaweed jelly. I’ve to say it has been the best pea velouté I had since I enjoy British food. I don’t know if the syphon as been abused again, but the velouté was light as a foam, full and intense of air. As you drop your spoon in it, it starts to fall like a soufflé. Wicked. The prawn was perfectly cooked i.e. almost raw, cracking and soft. Disappointing on the seaweed jelly, maybe not the most interesting thing. Tasteless and just funny to find those cubes hidden in the bottom of the beautiful cup. One remark here….I’m not a fan of dishes serves without dressing plates. The bowl dress up like this was too plain, too simple, not chic…almost a soup in a candle glass? very odd. Let’s be more creative at this stage.

Pea Velouté with Seaweed Jelly

The second one was the Salmon rillette as said on the menu, vegetable pickles and wasabi. Very interesting concept of rillettes should I say. I would have understood a carpaccio, but here, either I don’t know what are rillettes , or maybe I missed the point. I must admit I’ll pass on this one and consider a late change on the menu (not announced thought) from a Rillette to a carpaccio. As Rillette of salmon would have been more creamy and thick and spreadable on a nice toast.

The global balance of flavour didn’t work for me as well. Why adding vinegary pickles radish and courgette all very strong with the nuance of a very nice salmon? Hence, the fishy element disappear to leave the flavor fully exposed to the pickled veggies. Overall, refreshing, but I would admit is was a washout. Didn’t worked for me, not that it was not good, but just not balanced.

Salmon Rillette, Pickeled Vegetable, Lime and Wasabi

Two courses passed, interesting, full of ideas but not really worked for me.

But now here we are, reaching the level of the two stars. The following three courses were absolutely spot one, full of creativity and talent.

First the simple chicken wings, reblochon and endives. I’ve to say, from the title on the menu you can’t really guess what will land on your plate. Here it was spectacular, beautiful and tasteful. What a weird association. The chicken simply comfit style, falling off the bones (maybe too small). then the red endives, some round spot of endive purée with apple (i think). Then the jus reduction, nicely done (maybe too thick). And then the glassing on the cake was this decent size spot of purée based of reblochon in a sort of “aligot” style, covered of a simple slice of reblochon, soft and matching perfectly the “farmed” chicken. Wicked. And then the finale, an amazing chicken dry skin slice, all over simplicity but perfectly executed. I would love to have that again again…crispy and full of salty flavour.

Confit Chicken Wings, Endive, Reblochon

The following course was simply the winner of the day. The Mullet “en croute” of parmesan, artichokes slightly roasted on the side, almost caramelized, just superb. Then those slice of “poivrade” cut very thin, some other kind of jelly made of lemon and other slices of lemon pickled and some thin “julienne” of parma ham. On top of that, those superb spots of tiny olives purée. The combination was just spot on. The acidity of the olive and the lemon was amazingly matching the fishy flavor of the mullet, cooked to perfection. This has been the best piece of fish I had for a long time I would say.

Red Mullet, Parmesan, Green Olives and Lemon

The last savoury dish was finally a superb “deconstructed” Canard a L’orange (Duck a L’orange) if I may say. Indeed, let’s take the basis of the canard a l’orange and diverge from it a little bit. The creativity here was just superb, those nice light orange scoop of sweet potatoes and orange purée, cooked to perfection duck “magret” and then this very surprising iceberg salad, quickly cooked. I’ve to say i’ve not been a fan of the cherry, but it’s ok, it’s not like if you can’t put it on the side.

Duck, Sweet Potato, Orange Purée, Cherry and Iceberg

So far I’ve been fully pleased by the last three courses. And I was expecting the same level for the desserts. Unexpectedly I’ve to say, the desserts were not been at same level. I would say it was nice, but compare to other two stars, I’m sorry to say that the level was not there.

Landed on the table in front of me another verine (no plate) of a Lemon posset, raspberry jelly and lime. What to say, first of all the emulsion or foam on top was really inconsistent, we had to literally ask what it was. I thought it was a foam of wheat or hop, but the waiter confirmed is was Lime?? at which extend I thought it was maybe lemongrass. However, it didn’t work for everyone apparently, and we had to send it back to make a new one without the foam (bad). The posset itself was nice and rich looking more like a fully rich custard full of vanilla seeds. Very good idea of the crushed frozen raspberry. Somehow, nice….but very risky in a way.

Lemon Posset, Raspberry Jelly, Lime

And the final dessert, I was seriously not expecting that. Seriously too simple for a two stars michelin. Strawberry, Elderflower and Lemon Sorbet?? Even if it’s nicely rendered, I don’t understand the strawberries with an elderflower syrup and some meringue fragments and some kind of sponge cake cubes?? very disappointing on this one. Not the level of two stars. Sorry

Strawberry, Elderflower and Lemon Sorbet

We finished our journey at MidSummer House by having the coffee on the terrace outside. Lovely attention from the waiter. The service at this stage was perfect. Mignardises and coffee, and delicate attention from the chef to prepare some “bugne from Lyon”. Nice

One last remarks, I know sometime starred restaurant are “showing off” but some little details can make a huge difference. Hence this maybe sound silly, but can we have a better selection of bread?! Only two choice of bread? very surprising, even a Business Class on US Airways will do better.

So overall MidSummer was a nice experience, but I’ve to say an up and down flight. Some real “smashes” and some real downfall. I’m becoming more and more picky with the age, and the service seems to be more and more critical and important for me. On the food side, I can’t say I was fully transported as well. Some dishes were really creative, but I will remember the bad ones. I think I’ve not felt the “sparkle” of the unknown product like at GreenHouse recently, or the service quality of a Gavroche.

I’ve to say, compare to other two stars I’ve done, you can’t put the MidSummer at the level of Gavroche, neither Taillevent for instance.

Maybe was it a bad day! I’m doubtful….I just think that the midsummer house had a great potential, but need a push on the management side.

I would recommend the Mid Summer house, but for the same price (forgot to tell my Negroni was cheaper at Alain Ducasse @ Dorchester***) ….the competition is wide open…

By the way, one good tip…if you’re coming by car, even is usually two stars restaurant got a valet, here you gonna have to park your car.

MY RATINGS :
 
FOOD = 7/10
DECORATION/AMBIANCE = 6/10
SERVICE = 6/10
NOISE = 6/10

Midsummer House
Midsummer Common
Cambridge CB4 1HA

Tel: +44 (0) 01223 369299
Fax: +44 (0) 01223 302672
Email: reservations@midsummerhouse.co.uk



Midsummer House on Urbanspoon

, , , ,

1 Comment

On the English Riviera…… I can see an Elephant* / Torquay / Devon

I had the chance to go recently for a nice week end for a bday with a big group in Torquay (Devon). What a nice opportunity, alongside wandering on the “marina” and catching the sun, to go and try the “Elephant” of Chef Simon Hulstone, no-one could have resisted.

Chef Simon Hulstone

The room on the 1st floor (akak THE ROOM) is really welcoming and large. Maybe the high ceiling would have deserved some noise reverb material (curtains, carpet) as to contain the echoes in the room. I would say that I’m glad we were on the big table as I can’t imagine the nightmare suffered by the couple on the alongside table. Somewhat it can be very embarrassing if you would enjoy a really romantic diner for two. But it was fortunaly not the case for us….we were the “stars”.
When we arrived on our big table I’ve to say, the view was really stunning, high ceiling windows with the view on the harbour. Superb, and especially as the sunset was slowly transforming the cute port of Torqay into almost a nice Turner painting frame. Sitting down in front of such a wonderful stage was a real treat I have to confess.
After taking seats around the huge table for 18 people, I started to feel the Michelin starred appeal. Nice table dressed up in a perfect style with nice candles. The series of glasses, the cutlery…all was nicely dressed up and I would say normal for this kind of level.

Beets and Curds Candy, golden and Cheltenham beets, elderflower, Vulscombe goats cheese, tansy

But let’s concentrate on the dishes and the overall quality of this restaurant. Among the long tasting menu consisting in five courses I would only develop seriously three of them, and mention briefly the two other ones for I think legitimate reason clarified below.
Let’s start by the first starter (or more to consider as a “mise en bouche”) which was impressive by the design and the colours. Mainly composed of beetroots cylinders dropped randomly on the plate, aside two mini square ravioli (or samosa) filled with nice goat foam. One of the ravioli was light and had the really strong flavour of goat cheese, certainly strong but not strong enough to get a real “wake up” call. On the other side, the yellow ravioli was unexpected and simply gorgeous. What a nice balance of softness from the goat cheese and the really strong flavour of truffle. On top of that, the curd was lightly perfume with elderflower adding some sweetness to balance the truffle. I have to say this dishes was somewhat perfectly balanced, however I would have expected more from the first samosa. But overall a nice success.

*******

The second starter was the one I was waiting the most. Indeed I’ve to say Ham Hock is one of my “besting sin”, so I was already imagining something really ”high class” for this one. From the description as well, I would have imagine a nice ravioli “almost soft as a “dumpling” maybe and so soft at the same time that it would have melted in the mouth.

Ham Hock Tortellini, toffee pea, salted pecans, shoots

I’m afraid to say that, beside the fact that the flavour were quite enjoyable, I didn’t had any chance to found real “artistic” elegance in this dish. I would have imagined a kind of dumpling ravioli, stuffed with a “deconstructed” ham hock. Maybe some cream as well inside, or maybe pushing further by using some bone marrow. I would have enjoyed seeing the green cream from the pea velouté flooding into the ravioli forming a kind of painting in front of your eyes, the green and the white and the pink all mixed together in a kind of Opera. Maybe I was expecting too much. Reality is that the ham hock was dry when I’ve cut the ravioli (use your knife), hence the feeling on the palate, gravelly and dry. I think Simon would have more space to polish this dish in the future.

*******

Halibut Parsnip, lardo, verjus, spring onions, golden sultanas, flowers

The two following dishes were overall well executed and I’ve to say, bizarrely, were for me part of the same kind of flavour group. This was mainly due to the fact that both purées were executed with parsnip and celeriac. Part of same family, with very subtle flavour,  it can be easily be confusing, and even more when the purée is very rich in cream and butter. But the fish (halibut) and the duck were very well executed.

Duck Roasted breast, celeriac puree, pak choi, spiced honey, pain d'epices

The Fish maybe was bit dry, but the verjuice (very young grape white vine vinegar) was helping in this particular case to moist the whole dish. I loved the lardo idea to balance the fishy taste. Great idea.

On the meat dish, the duck was perfectly cooked “rosé” and the sweet and sour combination worked perfectly with the “pain d’epice” (ginger bread). This was complex and subtle and really leveraged by the “duck reduction” (i.e. gravy) perfectly seasoned and rich. Garlic on the background and strong duck caramelised fat. Really nice.

*******

To end up these food carnival, our host decided to swap (in advance) the regular tasting menu dessert (i.e. Passion fruit Cheesecake, vanilla, honeycomb, citrus) for a Chocolate experience, should I call that a kind of diversion on the theme of the “banana and chocolate” tart. Very risky temptation I would say here as if almost every one is usually a chocolate lover (except maybe me!!), not everyone like banana (it’s a fact). On the top of that, the dish was served with a nice scoop of Salted Butter ice cream, this is even more risky.

Chocolate, Chilled fondant, feuilletine, salted caramel, banana

For me, not being even a cocoa lover, the chocolate was mounted literally as ganache (soft and solid at the same time, sitting on a layer of nice biscuit). The banana was double represented here, once with a very clever “lace” of banana, and at same time a banana purée (not really thin and beautiful I have to say) amazingly flavoury (almost like a dark rotten banana – but very tasty), and on top of that the “pacojet” ice cream, salty and creamy. Stunning mix, but some people where really “torn” by this sweet and sour union.
After a long and nice diner at the Elephant I would say that if I’m impressed by some really good idea, I’m somehow struggling to confirm if “yes or no” this place falls into the very special and private list of Michelin starred restaurant. Shall I compare the service, which we didn’t talked as yet? Here I would say is the downfall. The staff was young and inattentive. Some simple request took really long time (ask for butter!!??). and if I compare to numerous other restaurant of this level, this is just unacceptable.

From the pure appreciation from a foodie lover, I can’t say that it was a bad experience at all, just sometime the impression of having an “unachieved” powerful creator in the kitchen but somewhat not going to the maximum of his creativity.

I would recommend the Elephant overall as despite the negative point, I would say that it may remain the only good address within the “English Riviera”. So if you want to enjoy good food for reasonable price, I would recommend it.

But don’t go there with the expectation of reaching the level of one star of our big cities, this will not be the same.

The Room in the Elephant

www.elephantrestaurant.co.uk

3-4 Beacon Terrace
Torbay TQ1 2BH
01803 200 044

MY RATINGS :
FOOD = 7/10
DECORATION/AMBIANCE = 6/10
SERVICE = 6/10
NOISE = 6/10

 

, , ,

Leave a comment

The Channel Coast….The Sportsman*/Seasalter, Whitstable

The Sportsman Seasalter Whitstable

Few months ago I had the pleasure to go on a week end trip to visit the superb cathedral of Canterbury in Kent an hour from London. It was obviously impossible for me not to find a really nice table to enjoy some really great food by the coast. I’d been trapped in the middle of long period of snowy days of December 2010. However, I think this has been one of the best moments of service and food I’be experienced over five hours at the Sportsman*.

From Canterbury, just 20 minutes away by cab, Seasalter is a seaside settlement near the lovely Kentish village of Whitstable.  A really nice bay stretches along the channel coast from Whitstable to Seasatler and I have to say, I have never seen so many oyster shells in my life.  We decided to walk from Whistable along the shingle beach to the restaurant, being lead by this new system, we had our smart-phones on.  We thought it would be a 35 minutes journey and it has turned into the longest and most exciting adventure I have had for a long time. To make the story short, as this blog is about food, after walking for 30 minutes, it happened that we ended up walking down the beach on one of the most snowy days in the UK in December 2010.  Not just nice and lovely snow, but literally we were trapped in a massive blizzard. At this time it was impossible to walk any more, we were literally covered by snow and it was impossible to see more than one meter.  We luckily saw a local pub on the horizon because of its blue painted walls, called the blue Blue Anchor! And it was there that  we experience the most excellence of the starred restaurant starts. With no hope of being able to carry on our walk under the tempest, I decided to call the restaurant – being already 30 minutes late. Explaining the situation, I’m not sure any restaurant would have done that for customers, but in 10 minutes the owner of the restaurant (one of the 2 brothers running the “gastro-pub”) come to pick us up directly at the location. “What a start for a really nice food moment”.

I have to say, I think I think that I had the staff of the restaurant  at least 10 times. They must have been expecting us for a long time “the London tourists”. I wanted to book the tasting menu, but unfortunately and paradoxically, this one is not available over the weekend. I mean, a Michelin Pub must be more busy over the week with business lunches. But that where you can expect a lot from those outside London restaurant. Service, help, quality and “gourmet”.

Being along the Channel coast, what could I we expect? Certainly simplicity and the most fishy experience ever. When you arrive – beside the amount of snow falling for the last 30 minutes and coating the land of amazing white – you can already feel this lovely seaside atmosphere. From the seaside you can overlook to the stunning facade of the pub, white and glossy, that you can’t even miss, coated with this huge amount of snow. When you get inside, you just simply feel at home in few minutes. The “chaos” created by the weather has certainly helped well to create an overwhelming welcoming from the waitress waiting for us at the bar.

Then here we start our experience of food. As I said before we didn’t have the chance to order the tasting menu as the pub was not serving it over the weekend. Anyhow, from a starred restaurant you can expect a really high level of service, hence weren’t really surprise when the front of house told us that the chef was informed that we wanted to try some of the tasty dishes, he had prepared some extras courses to add to our menu to make us feel happy.
Here, all is about the flavour, the ingredients and the quality; no glitter or diamonds.  Just the pleasure of having really good food with really good service. Since 2008, chef patron Stephen Harris has held one Michelin star and shared his love of simple food cool to perfection.

Let’s start by the “amuse bouche” platter


The composition was extremely simple but fairly well balanced. This was a simple duet of Pickled Herring cubes build in layers of really soft buttermilk soda bread, nice cream with sea-salt butter, apple purée and the Herring layer. Unexpected combination I would tell you but I have to say it works perfectly. The butter and the soda bread bring together the softness needed to reduce the very fishy flavor of the fish and smoky Herring . In essence this is simple, but the choice of the four ingredients matches to perfection. Easy to prepare at home for cocktail parties – I would recommend it. Then on the side some anchovy flavored bread crouton slices to taste with a very vinegary whole mustard vinaigrette. This one on the opposite is exploding in your mouth, like a sea wave. If you don’t like sea food, then pass your way ;o)

Oysters Extravaganza

Poached rock Oysters, pickled cucumber & Avruga caviar


I chose something quite extravagant on the menu to start with, simple again, but very appealing by the sound of it. I’m a fan of oysters (as any French people I guess), but naturally and usual just eating them raw with just lemon juice or really nice shallots vinegar, even sometime Tabasco. I’ve tested the exquisite oyster “a la nage” from a previous sublime eponymous restaurant by Guy Savoy. What to expect, some really nicely presented poached oysters (3), covered with a very creamy and thick butteries hollandaise covering a “julienne” of cucumber and topped with some avruga caviar. Another simple creation, example of beauty and dressing. The oysters been poached in the oyster “water” i.e. the water inside the shell. Very quickly not to overcook them and keep the texture right. The set up is very cute and minimal. From the taste, I would say you can’t really taste the cucumber, as the hollandaise is rich and strong, however you’ll notice the fishiness of the avruga caviar (not to be mixed up with real caviar).

One of my favorite fish……


When I saw that fish on the menu, I couldn’t resist. Not many fish can compete for me, certainly Turbot, but i’ve to say Ray (or skate fish) is one of my favorite, and even more when it’s cooked with a “beurre noisette”.  Perfection would be the perfect description of this slight diversion around the classical “Raie beurre noisette” which usually is prepared with capers. But here the chef prepared it covered with cockles and used a sherry vinegar to “deglazed” the fried pan. Overall this is us for me the first ever experience of Ray “another style” and I would say it “rocks”. The balance is perfect, the sherry vinegar is not too sweet (as sweetness doesn’t works with skate fish I’m afraid), and the cockles bring this sparkle of deep sea taste to counter balance the rich buttery dark sauce. After all this is how you recognize the talent of a real chef, by being able to go off safe tracks of classicism but at the same time being able to re-invent a classic. Well done.

Relaxation by the fireplace!!

The Space dust explosion......

To finished our wonderful food experience we’ve been suggested to enjoy our dessert by the fireplace (near the xmas tree as well – dangerous isn’t it?). Then when dropping the “petit fours” plate on the table, the waitress had a big sneaky smile asking us to tell her how we found the “surprise” in the nice sorbet. At this time I do remember having a really big smile as well…almost like a kid waiting for a Xmas gift. And talking about childhood, I was not so far indeed. What an amazing remembering by eating the first spoon….what a delight moment…totally fully exciting once I felt over my tongue the fizzy effect of Space Dust candy popping effect. This was just superb and very surprising. In two seconds we remember the candy we used to get afterschool when we were young. Space Dust here we are…..I wanted more and more….pop pop pop.

Compare to that, the really nice short bread cake and the little crème brulée pot were very fade, but I’ve to say nice.

Conclusion

Then, after more than four hours at Sportsman Pub, we totally forgot that outside the blizzard never stopped, and therefore we had to find how to come back to Canterbury. Hopefully, again, the waiters been all dedicated, certainly even more because of the weather condition. Like “happy VIPs” the crew offer us to drive us back to the rail station in Whistable. Nice way to end up our foodie journey.

Overall a superb experience. I will certainly go back to the Sportsman, but of course during summertime, to avoid any blizzard experience, and better enjoy the beach view on the front sea side.

I would recommend without any doubt

 

The Sportsman
Chef : Stephen Harris
Faversham Road
Seasalter, Whitstable CT5 4BP, UK
++441227273370
The Sportsman Seasalter Whitstable
MY RATINGS :
FOOD = 7/10
DECORATION/AMBIANCE = 6/10
SERVICE = 8/10
NOISE = 10/10

Sportsman on Urbanspoon

, , , ,

7 Comments

I’m a frenchman in London….by A. Ducasse*** at Dorchester

Alain Ducasse – Dorchester – Park Lane – London

 

Jocelyn Herland

After a long time, I am finally putting pen to paper to write about the world’s current second best chef, having the most three starred restaurants, including establishments in London, Paris and Monte-Carlo; Alain Ducasse seems to be a “3 star machine”. Simply because of this, I respect the man. You’ve certainly never seen him on TV, he is very discreet and even still, he is one of the most talented chefs in the world and is perhaps one of the best restaurant managers in history. He currently holds 24 stars on his own, second only to Joel Robuchon.

His foray into the restaurant scene in London was not, as many think at the Dorchester, but at ‘Spoon’ in the Sanderson Hotel in Fitzrovia. After five years of hard word, the restaurant won its first star. Then in 2009, the chef took a step-up into the world of fine dining and took over the direction of the main restaurant of Le Dorchester on Park Lane.

I’ve tested his restaurant in Paris at the Plaza Athenée (part of Dorchester group) and I’ve always loved it, so I wanted to find out if the Dorchester’s reputation was all it was cracked up to be. Ducasse, helped by his protegé Jocelyn Herland, won the Dorchester two stars in 2009 and within one short year they attained le Guide Rouge’ s pinacle – three stars.

So how do you get from two stars to three? I got a bunch a serious foodie friends together to investigate further; we weren’t sure what to expect.

Obviously in this freshly redecorated dinning room, we expected to find a sumptuous space, created by one of the world’s best interior designers. Patrick Jouin, who had  already decorated the Ducasse in Vegas had taken-up the challenge. As we walked in, an oval shaped waterfall of swarosky crystal welcomed us into a light bright, and generous space,  which was pure and calm against the frenetic, noisy chaos of Park Lane in the outside. I liked the chocolate and green spotted walls in the alcoves and the contemporary furniture, which added to the serenity of the room.

The main dinning room with the private crystal room

But what I really like in the London Ducasse is that this French master chef has somehow managed to create a unique environment by mixing British flair, with typically French elements and themes. He has more importantly, found a way to cleverly adapt his cooking style to the local palette with his usual genius. Not finding this cross over of French classic cooking to British needs has perhaps been Joel Robuchon’s downfall.

Delicate royale of FOIE GRAS & PUMPKIN, lapsang souchong emulsion

The “mise en bouche” was one of those example marking simplicity and softness. This is crazy how mister Herland can just be simple and realise at the same time the most exquisite creation in cooking art creation. This one was superb. A pumpkin velouté so soft and mixed that you could see your face in it by reflexion. In technical terms we could call that a “glacis”, glossy as a mirror can be.

Presented in a small old fashion soup bowl, the velouté was honestly like a chinese lacq, in an orange tone. In the middle a round spot of foam from the lapsang souchong emulsion, slightly darker, almost burgundy coloured.

Then you start to eat. The dream starts at this stage, when you realise that on the bottom of the bowl has been dressed with some foie gras dices. I presume the velouté has been served directly very hot on a quite good portion of foie gras cubes. Therefore you don’t have them mixed, which would have been too strong and boring. Nooooooooooooooo here the chef has just created a 3 layers sneaky unprediactable flavour and shapes…the cubes, the velouté and the foam. All mixed together was just a superb combination. Well done I have to say, and certainly a good start for diner.

ARTICHOKE RAVIOLI, in herbs consommé

This starter was just an unbelievable moment in time. This kind of moment you’ll never forget, mainly from the faces of my friends, and from the full emotion we had when we started to eat the large ravioli.

Here we reach the sumptuous of being in a 3*** restaurant. Except if you are a serious professional cooker – or maybe mad – you’ll never try to do this recipe at home. “Why not??” will you ask…just because it’ll take you ages and patience?

 

Alain Ducasse

Now to help you to understand, let’s come back to your imagination and when you were little.

Usually, we all love artichokes (Right??)…and what we love usually in artichokes is to scratch the leafs one by one with the teeth…after the artichokes being cooked….with either a vinaigrette or a mayonnaise.

Here J Herland create and invent, bring to us simplicity and brio. When you read the name of the course, you assume it’ll be again one of those artichokes heart (the inside)….and I wouldn’t say it’ll not be good….but I would say it’ll common or even boring.

But the master chef is sending you back in time and brings you the flavour of the artichokes. The bitterness of all those black-green part of the leaf that we love to suck, even just steamed. The raviolis are simply full of this crunchy and dark artichokes purée, which accommodate sumptuously with the herbs consommé. I can perfectly picture the “comis” in the kitchen meticulously scratching each leaf of the artichokes in the morning and preparing those large balls of artichokes purée, then coated with light simple ravioli pasta.

May seems simple, but most often simple ideas turn into a festival. Here, no “singing” oysters, no crystallized eggs, just the simplicity of the products and the brightness of the preparation. The Dorchester brings us into the past, using the simple sensation of our best moment. It’s something mainly used in those kind of restaurant, as it’s somehow giving the client a kick, a slap in the face, the thing they were not expecting. But this is the goal in achievement for such a quality place. Always pushing the boundaries.

Carpaccio of Scallops, beetroot and Truffle dressing

Artist? Yes mister Ducasse is an artist and his “protégé” seems to show it as well.  From the minute we saw the waiter dropping the large plates on the table we all of a sudden recognized the beauty of the picture frame we had in front of us.

Carpaccio of Scallops

The round flower made of really thin scallop slices, alternating with beetroot slices and spinach in a wonderful “rose-window” style art creation. But what we didn’t realize at all – as I didn’t read properly the menu as usual – is that there was some truffle in this recipe. And it was a real fascination when I looked at the nice cabalistic shape of black and thick foam on the side of the plate. By just smelling it you can recognize the strong and famous truffle odour. At this stage this was a sumptuous delicacy and very odd combination! Black truffles are mostly preferred to be associated with meat. Here we were somehow intrigued by this white and black association. But I’ve to say….it works…and very well.

The truffle must have been crushed and reduce with a sea food stock coming I must guess from maybe squids. Thie latter was combined with a light lemon and lime background flavour, making the black sauce just very light. We can’t be too strong in flavour with Scallops, they are delicate and soft…..by covering with too much strong ingredients, you’ll destroy their supreme perfume. Truffle on one piece of Scallops, add some beetroot (sweet and tender) and a little spinach. Yummmmmy

What a perfect spot……I loved it.

AN APPLE COMPOSITION… « Comme trois pommes »

This is as usually really rare from me to talk about the dessert selection, simply because I’m not a sweet person (!! Ah ah ah). I just prefer salty dishes. It’s a fact.

But I’ve to say, this one was just the apogee of the full diner. I’m usually skipping this part, or not really enjoying it. But this time, the waiter treated us with respect (maybe because we’re French – lol). On the top of the regular dessert planned on the tasting menu, the waiter dropped on the table a 3 way apples style tart. One tart with three various way cook apple. Tatin (obviously!!), Apple Crumble style, and a Apple Curd Jelly with a crunchy of Apple juice on top. What can we say at this stage? Nothing just that we can commend all at the same time and have a huge respect for the idea; and certainly more for the quality of the tart. Paradoxically the Tatin tart was somehow the less interesting of the 3 flavours. The Crumble style was just superb, with the slightly cooked slices of apple. The last one was a very surprising shortbread layered apple tart with a layer of tender apple jelly and an apple juice crunchy….just totally fantastic. It was ace. Seriously

To sum up, Alain Ducasse surrounded by his head chef Jocelyn Herland succeed his magisterial entry in the small – very small – world of 3*** restaurant in the UK. The architect of the “haute gastronomy” has now proven that there is a great adaptation of French cuisine with british food and I’m somehow looking forward to go back again and try some of the new creation.

MY RATINGS :
FOOD = 9/10
DECORATION/AMBIANCE = 9/10
SERVICE = 8/10
NOISE = 9/10

Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester on Urbanspoon

, , , ,

Leave a comment

The noise of the food…the chic Hakkasan* // London

Pure, fascinating, appealing ….those would be the words I would use to qualify the Hakkasan in London. Above all mysterious. The end of an alley lost in Firotzvia and always those big cars and those security guys… “do what to sneak a peak?

Then the smilling bouncer with her guest list. Here forget it…….not in the list or table booked hence this is hard door. And then this suspicious black front door, like the hole leading to a cavern……very intriguing and chic. Here we are at the Hakkasan.

Also this long dark staircase. Black colour seems to be a “leitmotiv” in Asia. Some alcoves garnished of huge and stunning strong lilac-purple orchids. Then this reception desk which could remind some trendy Hollywood stars clinic directly coming from Troy & McNamara…..also this double glassing door…some movement on the background….you cross some glamorous people once you open the door….what’s happening behind??

Interior Main Room Deco

Hakkasan, a Japanese nirvana dedicated to the Asian “gastronomy” of the Rising Sun country, in the heart of London. One of the most famous table in the world granted of one star on the Guide Rouge*. You’ll be “lost in translation” in this place!! Noisy…swarming with people…but overall exciting. The walls, daintily decorated of flower shapes could give the impression of being transported to an Asian food market (hawkers) like the Newton Market in Singapore, or maybe a simple bed room in a nice house in Kyoto…..

I’ve to say, among anything else, the Hakkasan is one of the most famous bar in London, and got one of the most uncommon cocktail list in the world. All the cocktails are just divine. I would advise the Pink Mao Mao, refreshing and light, but above-all this stunning mix of Vodka, Watermelon and Sake (genius!).

At this stage you enter into a universe of feelings and flavors. Don’t expect here the standard french level of one star…”duh!!”. All is about forgetting where you are for a moment in your life. People are shouting all around you, the waiters parade like a procession in a street of Tokyo….this is like any market (trendy) in Japan.

One of the Hakkasan Dish

To make the long story short, the owner of the Hakkasan is more than well known from Londoners, as he is is not only running this restaurant, but he is managing the vast empire of Wagamama (noddle bar) and Bussaba Eathai and more recently Cha-Cha moon. Mister Alan Yau plays himself as well in the high quality food restaurant as such as the  Hakkasan and the Yauatcha, both awarded of one star on the Michelin Guide. Without any doubt there is a reason for that. The restaurant is currently conducted by the chef Tong Chee Hwee*.

On the “a la carte” menu, you can enjoy various nice things. To my attention we tried the Stir fry venison with water chestnuts, Thai celery and black fungus. I was mostly attracted by the “water chestnuts”, I never heard about it before. It’s called water chestnut mainly because of his shape, which I have to confess, once cooked, could look like a proper roast chestnuts. Those ones would remind somehow the flavour of some turnip, i.e. between something particular and very plain at the same time, but the texture of it is totally different, almost crunchy. The association with the venison is a perfect match. The overall is cooked on “sautée” style and added some oyster sauce and reduced with some kind of “lack” style, certainly strong dark honey. The result is somewhat nice and would surprisingly taste like one of our “European stew”. I would not compare it to one of our French wild board “daube”…but I must admit this is not far away. The water chestnut brings some character to the dish, maybe was I appealed by the round vegetable though.

Japanese Abalone

If you’re adventurous and “gourmet” you’ll certainly want to try the Japanese abalone. Those seafood are very prized in Japan and very exclusive. It could be compare to the french delicacy e.g. sweetbread. This very beautiful shells, when they’re alive are commonly serve to really hype clientele in japan. It is along road to prepare the superb animal. You first have to excavate the inside of the shell, i.e. the mollusk. But this ones are very hard, so you have to beat them to tender their muscles. Once all done, you can cook them.Here it was simply stir fried with chili and soy sauce, and some thin morning glory. the texture of the abalone would remind, after a nice cooking time the texture of our european sweetbread indeed, surprising.

Another one was the Jasmine tea-smoked pork ribs. I maybe never said to you how much I’ve got some favourite meat I love on earth, and among any other meat, I’ve to confess, I couldn’t leave without eating pork. Pork is one of my favourite meat for the flavour and the texture of it. And among any cooking of pork (which I like to prepare with beer and, cloves and cauliflower, cooked for ages to juice absorption – I’ll write a recipe section one day – I have to) I really like the BBQ spare ribs. At Hakkasan you can enjoy the pork ribs steamed in a Jasmine vapour and then lightly roasted with soy sauce. This is just superb. You can really appreciate the smell of the jasmine flower surrounding the meat. The meat itself is cooked perfectly to just literally fall into parts into your fork. Over all it’s a divine creation.

To sum up, what can we say about the Hakkasan? Certainly we can confirm that this is a sensational moment in time. We can also justify the score below to be average for the noise. In Fact if you’re looking for something quiet and romantic, pass your way. This Hakkasan is among all a travel in Asia, more than a quiet and romantic dinning room.

But if you fancy some experience in the best Asian food market in the world in the heart of Europe, there is certainly no other place. Some can argue the one star Michelin. I would, but I can understand why we could put one star on an other hand.

One think to mention as well, the Hakkasan was 19 on 2008 World Best Restaurant list, but I don’t even now how to interpret this such this list is random.

For the service, don’t be surprised if you’ve been told that you have the table for 2 hours only, it’s what we had. It’s actually not too bad as your diner will certainly not last more than that time slot…..it’s very good, quick and loud.

In fact, you should just book a table and go, and have your own opinion.

HAKKASAN

8 Hanway Place, London W1T 1HD

view map

Reservations +44 (0)20 7927 7000

My ratings :
Food = 7/10
Decoration/Ambiance = 8/10
Service = 6/10
Noise = 5/10

Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

The versatile master..from Classical to Modern….Guy Savoy***//Paris

Guy Savoy

Big warning for this post…….the famous sacred chef Guy Savoy will transport you into one of the best table on earth. Here is just PERFECTION. Full stop.

This is not a national choice at all or blue-white-red french preference, but I honestly believe this master chef his the most current talented chef on earth and I’ve ever had to experience the food.

When you arrive at Guy Savoy, you feel first of all like if you enter the Guggenheim or the Tate modern combine with the Louvre, this is a sumptuous combination of Modern art and classical atmosphere. Just sumptuous and relaxing. I can bizarrely remember the weird presence of “burgundy red” all around me during diner. Sometime your memory can be attracted by something you don’t really notice at first instance, however it stays in your mind for life. I’ve to say, this moment are in you memory forever and at Guy Savoy, i’ve to confess, this is definitely something I’ll remember.

Guy Savoy is for me a modern “designer” of cooking Art. He is able to surprise you at any courses. We talked about the Chiberta in another post, and I’ve been so surprised by the combination of food, than if you go the main Guy Savoy restaurant you’ll just be pleased and fulfilled.

We – as usual!! – took the tasting menu which includes many of the main chef specialities. I’ll there develop The Oysters “à la nage” and the Truffle soup.

This is really bizarre, but even if I do remember that this diner was overall just perfect, surprisingly I do remember only those two courses and one “mise en bouche”. I think this is coming more from the situation and the reaction of the people, on top of the quality of the courses.

I’ll not be too long on the “mise en bouche” but I had to mention it to you as it was just surprising. It’s almost difficult to describe it. As far as my memory goes, I do remember a floating small ball made of foie-gras in a conic glass the size of a shot glass. The ball was swimming in a juice made of truffle, foie-gras and veal stock. Simple, but just totally “superb”. The foie-gras was suddenly revealed to his entire nature by the veal reduction (cold of course) and the light flavor of truffle. Genius, light and Art. Well done for an introduction.

Then we move to the first course…speciality of Mister G Savoy. The Oysters “à la nage”.

Oysters "a la nage"

I’ve to explain exactly what means oysters “a la nage”. This is basically a transition between a raw oyster and a nice reduction of veal and the natural jelly out of it. I think at this stage I almost need to explain the course by using the recipe. Cook slowly one veal trotter – i know some people at this stage will just stop reading – with some nice carrots and leak. After cooking leave the juice to stabilise and turn into a jelly in the fridge.

Now let’s imagine the water from the oyster – full of iodine – being mixed with this nice natural jelly and some cream fresh mixed beforehand with some oysters crushed!!! The full oysters are just totally recomposed in the shell itself, but they just lie down on a nice bed of cream, lemon and spinach purée. The serving is usually 4 per person (“a la carte”, but only one for the tasting menu!!! otherwise you’ll not survive). On top of each oysters the chef spreads some of this iodine and veal jelly crushed and covered with some chives meticulously chopped to the thinnest ever possible level. The course is served literally very cold and you just have to eat the oysters as normal, without any need of a fork (even if you can notice one on the picture aside!!). Now I can tell you about the sensation all about sweetness and lightness and above all freshness. All at the same time reveal to you….veal, iodine, lemon, cream…..just sumptuous….

At this stage, I think the entire table was just recognizing some uplifting level in Guy Savoy and we were all just waiting for the second surprise.

One of the biggest force of mister Savoy is probably to have no real classification between the classical cooking and the modern european or any new funky “fusion” style. He is just feeling at ease in any cooking fashion. And this is exactly where you can recognize a “grand chef”. Savoy can jump from preparing the best “velouté Dubarry” you’ll ever have in your life to the most fusion exquisite “Truffle Vietnamese Nem” you’ll ever eat. The second Savoy’s speciality we had is the perfect demonstration of what I just suggested. As per the menu (still actual) the dish is simply an Artichoke Soup with Black Truffles, Brioche with Mushrooms and Truffles (fr : Soupe d’Artichaut a la Truffe Noire, Brioche Feuilletee aux Champignons et Truffes)

This is one of the numerous specials from the sacred chef.

I do remember, just after having this incredible “farandole” of oyster, presented in a very modern style plates and decoration, jumping into a very middle-age style. Unbelievable, here comes the copper sauce pan and the classical soup vintage bowl. Very disturbing, as some people could find it very tacky, however we were all very suspicious at this stage, we were just waiting for what will happen next.

Then the waiters arrive with some simple dressed plates with some brioche made with mushroom and truffle, hidden in some nice proper cotton napkins. The flavor of fresh brioche started to spread in the dinning room like a fresh bakery perfume of Paris street early in the morning. Yummy. I’ve to say, usually you never remember the full list of the menu when you go for the tasting menu, the list is too long and you just don’t care as you can’t choose anything….you just eat (lol).

Burgundy wood atmosphere

So at this stage the surprise is total and intact. One of the sous-chef (unfortunately not mister Savoy himself – he will arrive later) arrives with this massive casserole, in copper again, and started to fill each of our soup bowls. Amazing theatrical scenario, totally unexpected. Smiles on the faces, questioning sometime, we were all trembling on our chairs to taste the light green elixir.

Here we come, the sous-chef disappear, and then in a very relaxed manner the head waiter just said…..”enjoy it like you want, crush the brioche if you want, spread it, eat separately, ……oh well…..do like you prefer…feel at home”….friendly and so true. How would you be complicated for a soup? never, just enjoy. I remember some very thin slices of aged parmesan on the side as well, some raw crystal salt,…..mix and enjoy. This is your soup and you appreciate the way you want.

But first of all, just taste it…..UNBELIEVABLE.

A stunning flavor of Artichokes, but not just the heart of it, same as at another place I’ve went to recently, the soup was made of the bottom of the artichokes leafs. This part when you eat the leafs (either with vinegar or mayonnaise) which is more bitter than the heart. This is it, the soup is a revelation of work, the chef must have been grating the leafs of all the artichokes to gain this amazing and so particular flavor. And then the second essence comes, the truffles, not too strong….not to fade. Just perfect. A note of cream of course. A stock of veal or chicken on the background to link the texture and the ingredients. An ACE, just spot on and so simple in a way.

And then you do what you want….spread the brioche, …..eat it separatly….it’s almost like a game. The brioche, made with mushroom, was adding a buttery taste in the soup…I try with and without….totally different, but in each cases, just wicked. A second serving of the soup is offered in the tasting menu, just like for the a la carte option. I did take advantage of the second serving this time, as any of the people on the table.

Another restaurant, another memories……

This is really weird, when people ask me which restaurant is you best experience, I’m always coming back to Guy Savoy. I would honesty would like to work one day with him and experience the way he is creating. Every dish sounds like a pure piece of Art. He would remind me some singers, comfortable with singing Jazz, Pop or Rap. Guy Savoy is part of this exclusive and restricted group of chef in the world to be able to switch from a style to another. And I’ve to say, by choosing the tasting menu, you just can confirm this. In somewhat 8 courses, you jump from classical to modern in a very nice way. We had the chance to see mister G Savoy coming to the table at the end, maybe to congratulate us for having finished the full list of courses, but certainly to get some “bravo” from the table. No default, no issues, no false note…..just PERFECTION.

Front door Guy Savoy - Paris

I will love to go back again there…..

Just one big issue nowadays. G Savoy has become incredibly over priced and the current tasting menu is nearly 300 € per person without wine!!! maybe an extravaganza at this price. I’m not sure I’m supporting this kind of prices, even if the result is awesome. One good thing to notice, maybe the crisis effect impact, G Savoy is suggesting for Lunchtime or after 10 pm from the 15th of July to the 15th of September a 5 Courses with 5 vines for 130 €….great value. I’ll go next time I’m in Paris. For sure.

My ratings :

Food = 9/10
Decoration/Ambiance = 8/10
Service = 9/10
Noise = 9/10

Guy Savoy Restaurant

Rue Troyon

75017 Paris, France

01 43 80 40 61

, , , , , ,

1 Comment

The Ledbury** chic…..a products “revival” – London

Chef Brett Graham

If London has definitely catch up Paris in the last ten years in bringing one of the best french food establishments, it is still difficult to admit that the pure english food has been really brought up to tha same level. Some arrogant french people will just tell you that is simply because there is not english food, and will stay on the conception that “mint lamb” is not good. How pity is that. I’ve understood the english food since I arrive in the UK and I think that I can now confirm that UK concept of food in focusing on the quality of product and the usage of many unknown or forgotten vegetables.

When I first arrive in the UK I was amazingly impressed by the variety of vegetables you can find in a department store. Some old marrow, small ones in different shapes, and colors. Squash, Jerusalem artichokes, turnips, and other else varieties of vegetables that we don’t see very frequently in France. He sounds like in the UK you can find more variety of products?? paradoxical? nope …..recent studies¹ are proving that UK citizen are better than french at cooking…..no surprise on my side, and especially after 5 years in the country. I think is also come essentially from the mixed culture in this country. If we take only London, it’s amazing how you can jump from the best Indians restaurant, to the temple of Iranian delicacy, towards the proper Chinese dumpling, and obviously without missing some of the best french empires. Hence the UK has now reach his high quality level of cooking and here the Ledbury is an example of how British food can be just sumptuous. In 2010 Brett Graham won his second star on Michelin and after a full diner there I can confirm it worth it.

From that nite I can remember some really good stuff, but I had to select only few as I can’t give you to read the Bible.

beetroot macaron with foie gras mousse

When we arrived, while we were enjoying our aperitif we had the pleasure of testing the beetroot macaron with foie gras mousse. What can we say here, I’ve tested loads of macaroons from the most exquisite places in Paris e.g. Laduree and Pierre Herme, but this ones are just totally delirious. You can’t imagine how light they are. When you eat them, they just literally melt down into your mouth like a cloud. The beetroot flavor first, lightly sweet and then the foie gras mousse….how can it be richer than that. This was like eating a bubble full of air, and the sweetness of the beetroot was the perfect alliance. “Mise en bouche” or dessert…..I could eat more of those….anytime. Just “Yum”.

At this point in time, I’ve identified some perfection and extravaganza in this first start and I was expecting more to come. I’ve seriously not been disappointed by the second course which seriously confirmed the two stars here.

Squid Risotto!! what could you expect? another hit of course. When the plate been served, the first impression is that we were looking for the squid!! Usually you know how squids are presented, as those long and elastic white tubes (common, boring, tasty, but nothing really exciting, like a piece of plastic). Here nothing like this at all. When I started to eat the risotto, I was already impressed how creamy and delicate the rice was. But at some point I was wondering where was the squids!! and then we all look to each other around the table.

Stunning, and as simple as that, the squid was cut so thin that we didn’t even realized that the risotto was in fact made not with rice, but with really thin and cubic pieces of squid. I can’t even tell if there was, or not, any rice in the recipe. Unbelievable. Stunning, surprising and clever. How can you expect to have a risotto without rice? Just come and try at the Ledbury.

The next one was I’ve to say somewhat “theatrical”. After few minutes left to relax from the “risotto without rice”, then mister waiter came back to the table with a ball of pastry on a wood plate. Surprise!!! I was not expecting that. Then he started to explain what was on the plate. This rounded piece of pastry, just golden by the yoke, just came straight from the oven. Then we’ve been told this has been cooked for 40 minutes slowly at 160 C°. At this stage we were wondering what it could be!!?? hopefully the waiter broke the silence and explain as well that the chef decided to drop a nice size celeriac in some wood ashes and to cook it into a simple pastry. From there the celeriac will not be the usual one you usually dislike or put on the side of your dish. No no no ….this time you’ll love celeriac.

Celeriac Baked In Ash with hazelnuts

The dressing was exceptional. Once sliced in 5 or 6 leaves for each plate, the celeriac was dressed in a kind of flower frame, then the chef did prepare a nice mayonnaise with horseradish and truffle and some vinegar. The idea was obviously not to cover the nature of the amazing creation. The principle was to obviously get the flavor of the ashes on the celeriac. Once in the mouth it was just a perfect “equilibrium”. The celeriac, being cooked very slowly and long just stayed perfectly firm and reveal his original flavor. Then you feel this “cheminée” flavor, like if the celeriac would have been dropped directly on some coal and cooked on flame. Almost a kind of burning wood essence on the background. And then on top, the truffle with horseradish. The meeting of sweetness and hot, superb with the celeriac.

After this one, I’ve to say, I really confirmed the two stars been reached. This kind of piece of art, even if you think (and you’re right) is not mega expensive, this is just what you can expect from such a high level chef. Just to be surprise by the creation and the efficiency and the combination of the ingredients, as such as the technicality of the cooking.

We followed after with another wonderful Tea-infused venison with roast potatoes, pickled red cabbage and rich port sauce. Same a the previous one, it sounds like the chef like his fire-place and use to cook with ashes. But in this case, of course he will not roll the venison in ashes, but just marinated it into some black tea most commonly known as lapsang souchong. This is giving the incredible flavor of burning to the meat, which I confess is not the easiest choice in a restaurant like this. How dare would you serve some game in such a restaurant, and especially on a testing menu. Just because you know that the lapsang souchong will create a perfect equation to sweeten the strength of the venison, and enhance the dreariness of the cabbage. Just enlighten by some port reduction. Deliciousssssssssss

The Ledbury

The Ledbury, a new stunning address in London and I’ve to say the pleasure of enjoying some real english food, prepared in the respect and the standard level of french chefs. I would emphasis that here, by creating and inventing, the English cooking has become an ace and the Ledbury just proved to the rest of the world that english “cuisine” is simply a question of “rediscovery” and that at some point more Ledburys will open. The usage of unused products or forgotten, just as well shows that english food is somehow maybe more diversified and can be therefore maybe be more creative!! Will see how it goes in the next few year though, but I’ll follow closely mister Graham. ;o)

¹http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/mar/22/british-cook-better-than-french

__________________________________________________________

www.theledbury.com

127 Ledbury Road

London W11 2AQ, United Kingdom

020 7792 9090

The Ledbury on Urbanspoon

, , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments

Lost in Translation…..Fabrice Giraud // La Grande Cascade* // Paris

La Grande Cascade front side by night

Back to Paris here for this post with one of the most beautiful “back in the 18th century” experience. There are rare places on earth where you can feel yourself transported radically to a different point in time and La Grande Cascade is one of them. This amazing “pavilion” built under the governance of Napoleon III by his well-known genius architect Georges Eugène Haussmann…has been transformed into a Restaurant for the Paris Universal exhibition in 1900. The restaurant been directed by many chefs (inc. Alain Ducasse 1995-1997) and was conducted by Fabrice Giraud back in the days I went.

First of all, when you arrive at the Grande Cascade (and especially in the evening) you feel the impression of serenity and chic. When the car drops you by the left side of the pavilion, after passing alongside the long terrace, you feel like arriving in a chic villa in on the French Riviera. No places in Paris can be similar, and this is certainly the force of the Grande Cascade. But the most impressive is when you open the door of the taxi and you see this massive marquee in a typical Gustave Eiffel style, made of shield screen and steel (fr = auvent) above you, then the really Empire style interior of the main lobby. When you get into the main entrance, you feel like entering into a palace or any other sumptuous castle.

Inside all is “luxe, calme et volupté¹”, …marble walls from Florence, high amazing and highly Napoleon III style decorated ceiling, the golden pelmet on the top of the windows, and the oversized hanging chandeliers made of millions of crystal prisms are reinforcing the feeling of luxury to a paroxysm.

The hosts are welcoming you and showing you to the table.Then you get into the famous and incredible main dining room.

At this moment you have this impression of turning back the clock to the 18th century, and you feel even a little bit disappointed of not having changed your clothes for a more appropriate outfit. You would feel like those “dandy” wearing a frill shirt and a pocket watch, and at some point you’re wondering how you can fit in this place. However, we’re not here for the atmosphere, even if it counts as well, and certainly more at La Grande Cascade than anywhere else.

For the little history, when Fabrice took the head chef position, the Grande Cascade was in a transition period. Nevertheless, the Grande Cascasde – like any other restaurant of this level – usually manage to provide the best creation at any time and even more, to serve always the specialties of the house. I perfectly remember that night. We were only three on the table and we had one of the best relaxing time ever. I’ve to say, this “lost in translation” feeling helped a lot to contribute to the full experience, as you can just watch the view by the window and appreciate the silence and the decoration around.

Coming back to the speciality I perfectly remember recipes here. They were technically very simple I’ve to confess, but the choice of the product hence their quality was just unbelievable. (They’re still served even nowadays “a la carte”)

The first speciality is the “cannelloni farci de truffes noires, foie gras et céleri, réduction de vieux porto” (eng : truffle stuffed cannelloni, foie gras and celery, old port reduction).

Cannelloni Truffle

OH MY GOSH….I think I honestly in my all life never had that much truffle on a plate at the same time. I perfectly remember very thin but long cannelloni coated with a simple emulsion of porto reduced. Sometime you think that the portion serve is not enough, too small. Here I can tell you it was simply the opposite. Each time I was cutting a small portion of pasta, then a flow of black mushroom crush was falling into my plate, surrounded by the foie gras which obviously was melting as well. The celery was just a “note” of bitter added to the overall main perfume of the port reduction. I’ve to say, this is not a very difficult recipe. But on this one you’re just please by the whole combination first and obviously by the amount of truffle. Worth it.

My second choise was very simple. My friend and I we love fish and especially good fish (of course!!). The second speciality of La Grande Cascade is among any other the whole Turbot for two.

At this point you must be wondering if I’m joking or not. You know the Turbot is a very big and we usually cook in restaurants what we call a Turbotin (i.e. a small Turbot). When the waiter arrived with a massive serving plate, it was almost like a bombshell. In the middle of a massive mist glass plate was dressed a huge light white green dome of salt with some dark green spots. From just turning around the table with the plate we could all feel the perfume of the ocean. The Grande Cascade special his actually to cook the whole Turbot for two within a coat of salt and seaweed. You would not believe it how the perfume of the seaweed was strong and still preserved even after cooking. As simple as it is, the waiter simply started to prepare to cut the “filet”, which basically turn into being not filet but literally two half of the fish. When the waiter started to open the salt coat it was like a treasure. I do remember all of us, suddenly attentive to the cutting. The fish was very simply served to fully preserve the flavor and to fully appreciate the product quality. This course is simply accompanied with fresh green asparagus and a ricotta “mille feuille”. And the dressing is a perfect Beurre Nantais made with some Riesling. And at this stage what can I say? nothing, I just stayed speechless and I was savouring the quality of the product and the perfect match of this very high quality Turbot. But above all, the most impressive is certainly the perfume of the seaweed. This is adding an outstanding flavor of iodine on the whole fish. You’re suddenly transported to the sea, I do remember just by smelling the steam from the plate when the waiter serve it in front of me, I just smell the vapor of the seaweed, but very strong, like one of those bath soap product. A freshness of ocean. Stunning and very clever. This course is the speciality of the Grande Cascade for decades now. I would recommend is seriously if you go there.

Interior Dining Room

La Grande Cascade is overall a very good address. I would say that it’s maybe a little bit overpriced compare to some other restaurant in Paris, nevertheless, this restaurant is more than food in a way. This is as well the atmosphere and charm of being transported to another moment in time. To some extend, you feel at the Grande Cascade like at the “Belle Epoque” time and you just don’t want to leave this place at all. The restaurant is the reflect of this period, when the modern french cuisine didn’t existed yet, hence the usage of really simple and quality product. No artifact, no high technical approach and technicism in cooking, but just the high standard selection of products, unlighted by some really good and wise flavor combination.

I’ll try to back there one day. I really enjoyed this moment. This is somehow one of the most romantic restaurant I did so far. ANd I would recommend it to any couple for Valentine’s day. ….. ;o)

My ratings :

Food = 8/10
Decoration/Ambiance = 9/10
Service = 8/10
Noise = 8/10

____________________________________________________

La Grande Cascade

Allée de Longchamp

75016 Paris

01 45 27 33 51

____________________________________________

¹L’invitation au voyage Charles BAUDELAIRE (1821-1867) Poem here in french

, , , , ,

Leave a comment

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: