Archive for category Great Britain

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.

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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

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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



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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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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

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