wildeabandon: sushi (sushi)
Rodizio Rico
I went here recently with [personal profile] denny, who like me is a fan of food made mostly of big piles of meat. Rodizo Rico is designed for people like us - a brazilian barbeque restaurant where you are given a token which is red on one side and green on the other, and whilst you have the green side turned upwards they will keep on bringing you various kinds of meat on skewers until you explode (or turn the token over, at which point they stop). There are also salads and sides which you can help yourself to, and I was actually a little bit shocked by the amount of vegetables [personal profile] denny ate completely voluntarily - he's grown as a person, I tell you.

In general the food was really rather good. None of the meats really blew my socks off, but a couple of the steaks and one of the lamb cuts would have left me feeling pretty proud if I'd produced them. The service could have been better - obviously the main part was taken care of by the people bringing the meat, but it took rather more effort than would be ideal to get a glass of wine, which is odd, considering that that's where the margins tend to be. This would be a great place to go in a large group, if you happened to have a large group with no vegetarians in it.

(~£80 for two)

Clos Maggiore
I went here for a late post-theatre dinner, but completely failed to ask for the post theatre menu, which is one of my finer failures in life. The pre-dinner drinks were pretty decent - I had one of their signature cocktails, which was pleasant and aromatic, but perhaps a little sweet for my tastes, and my tastes run sweet. My companion went for the Vesper, which from the sip I tried was very well executed.

For starters I had the fois gras, which was definitely in the top three I've had outside of France; my companion had the rabbit, which is a meat that I'm not usually that keen on, but was done to perfection.

Our main course was the shared Wagyu beef for two. Go home Hawksmoor. You're no longer the best steak in London. Perhaps that isn't fair, it's a completely different kind of steak, and I will definitely still be going to Hawksmoor when I fancy a perfectly cooked Porterhouse. But this, this had the marshmallow texture of the best fillet steak, and the ooomphy fatty richness of the best ribeye, all in one mouthful.

I'm slightly astonished we had room left for pudding, but then they had black truffle ice-cream. And oh my god the ice-cream was good. As is often the way with high end places the whole plate was about four different puddings, and actually all of them were nice, but the ice-cream was by so far the best that I would have preferred just a big bowl of it. As it turned out though, my companion was less keen on the ice-cream and really liked the other bits, so we swapped a bit and it all worked out like magic.

And let's face it, the fact that the gentleman who had wrong taste in puddings has excellent taste in men, gave the whole evening an extra delightful gloss of the kissing hot boys variety. #winningatlife

(~£230 for two)

Season

This is a newish restaurant within walking distance of our flat, and we've been a bit lax about spending quality time together as a household lately, so we thought we'd try it out. We were also a bit lax about booking a table, but when I called in the early evening they had one table left at 9.30 tonight.

It is important to note that the butter was very soft - hard butter is always a terrible sign; and I think in this case at least, the lack of it was indicative. My starter was a slighty ridiculous parody of "Posh fish and chips" - chicken and duck liver nuggets, with a ponzu dip. It was kind of absurd, and I think I have had better pates, but it was still pretty gosh darn good, and the concept was tremendous fun. Jones had the potted rabbit and ham hock terrine, and the mouthful I tasted was lovely. Ramesh had the purple broccoli with soft boiled egg, and although I foolishly forgot to grab a taste, it looked like he was enjoying it.

For mains, Robert and I had steak, which was very good, but there's no way to describe it fairly after the wagyu one. The chips were excellent, and although RJ complained that there weren't enough for people who like lots of carbs, I think that the fact that I like a super-tiny amount of carbs and gave him the rest of mine meant it worked out in the end. Ramesh had an asparagus risotto which seemed pretty good by the standards of restaurant risottos, without being mind-blowing, so not somewhere I'd recommend to a vegetarian looking for a special night out, but defintely an okay place to go.
(~135 for 3)
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
I had an excellent dinner with [livejournal.com profile] obandsoller last night at Fera, Simon Rogan's restaurant at Claridges.

And it was very good, no doubt about it. Lots of interesting flavours and textures, everything cooked extremely well, generally good wine pairings, attentive yet unobtrusive service, innovative cocktails. And yet, and yet...

I came away feeling slightly underawed. Each of us had one course which was merely good rather than very good, but out of seven, plus four amuse bouche, that seems like a pretty good hit rate. But it wasn't that exactly, so much as that I think I might have tasting-menued myself out, at least for the time being. Which is sad, but then I'm sure there are plenty of other kinds of exciting food in the world, and most of them probably don't cost the same as a short holiday, so I think I shall be looking at other styles for a little while.

I'm sure I'll come back to it eventually mind, and by then, it might even be possible for mere humans to get a table at the Chiltern Firehouse...
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
We like this place. They have a no booking policy, which meant we had to go to a mediocre cocktail bar whilst waiting for a table to become free, but whilst the cocktails were fine, the company was superlative, so I recommend you all go there with someone as fabulous as [livejournal.com profile] borusa

Once we got our table they quickly brought us some very nice bread, and there was oil on the table, so that worked quite well. We both had fish starters - Robert had the squid and chorizo, and I had the clams with chilli and vermicelli. Mine was very good, but Robert's was excellent. We paired them with a Riesling which was perhaps a little too spicy for either dish, but was pleasant enough.

For our main course we shared the duck with, oh, all the things. There were potatoes and beatroot and leaves and all the other things. The thing that stood out most was the the banana shallots, which it took a while to figure out what they were, but they were really really good even without knowing what they were. The breast meat was very good - it had taken on lots and lots of herbal flavours, and was cooked juuuust right. I felt that the leg meat on the duck could have been a bit more interesting in both taste and texture., and that a jus on the side would have pushed this course from very good indeed to outstanding.

For pudding Robert had a cheesecake which he didn't give me a taste of, and I had a chocolate beetroot cake which was really very good indeed (and he had one more taste of my cake than he cares to admit. So there.)

Three courses, a bottle and a half of wine, and service came in at about £125 for two. I'm fairly sure we'll be going back.
wildeabandon: sushi (sushi)
We started with a drink at Purl, one of the forerunners in the trend for speakeasy style cocktail bars in London. The atmosphere was great, and I enjoyed the two-seater swing chair that we had instead of a table, but the drinks, whilst imaginative in style, weren't nearly as well balanced as some that I've enjoyed elsewhere. The honey smoke in my Mr Hyde's Fixer Upper (their signature drink) was a delicious and interesting touch, but the Zapaca rum that formed the base was somewhat overpowered, and would be better replaced with something darker, with more molasses.

But on to the meal... Dinings is a Japanese tapas restaurant. Yeah, it sounded a bit odd to me too, but I love Japanese food, and I love trying unusual combinations, so it seemed well worth a try. It was.

Many different dishes, and a greatly contrasting range of flavours and textures. The tar-tar chips are a fun little amuse bouche - that was my first time trying wagyu beef, and oh my word the intensity of the meaty oomph was something else. The seabass carpaccio was explosively good - crunch of salsa against melt-in-the-mouth fish against chewiness of the shaved truffle, sharp sharp tang of ponzu against rich umamish earthiness (truffle again) in the dressing. This was one of those dishes that made me almost whimper with pleasure. Wagyu beef char-sui buns, which unlike most char-sui buns actually had the right ratio of meat to bun, and the latter was far more flavoursome and interestingly textured than the cotton wool you usually encounter. There's this wonderful moment biting into it when the juices from the meat begin to escape onto your tongue; a glorious teaser for the pleasure to follow. There was more, and all of it delicious, but those were the real highlights.

The service was friendly and knowledgeable, but there were a couple of times when we were left waiting for one thing or another for a bit longer than would be ideal (though this was acknowledged and apologised for, so I suspect they were just slightly understaffed).

It wasn't cheap, coming in at a shade under £150/head, and unlike a lot of the meals I write about, a much greater proportion of that was on the food than on the drinks.
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
As anyone who's let me talk about restaurants for more than a few seconds is likely to know, my absolute favourite is Viajante, a tasting menu only extravaganza, run by the amazing genius of food, Nuno Mendes. You enter and get whisked away on an exquisite culinary journey and stumble out several hours later with a slightly dazed grin. It's wonderful, but not exactly something one can do every day.

The Corner Room is his new venture, located in the same Bethnal Green hotel, and [livejournal.com profile] borusa and I went there last night. It's a lot more informal and low key - a short menu, maybe half a dozen each of starters and mains. Robert went for the crab to begin with, and excellent it was - light, fresh, with a delicately garlicky dressing which managed not to overpower. Excellent it may have been, but it was blown completely out of the water by my mackeral and ponzu. The combination of earthy pungency and spicy citrus sharpness was just ... unhh ...

For a main course we both had the Iberico pork with bread pudding. Somehow, he has come up with a way of cooking pork so richly that it could actually pass for steak, except for that slight hint of salt and fat that remind you that it was once a pig. Puddings were apple and hazelnut pannecotta for Robert, and watermelon for me - the latter done in about a million different ways, and definitely doing the "what? how? how can you make this thing have so many different tastes in one dish?"

At just a shade over £50/head for three courses with wine, this has to be one of the best value meals I've eaten, pretty much ever. It would be well worth it at twice the price, and it's even cheaper at lunchtimes, with a £17/£21 for 2/3 courses offer.

There was only one veggie option for each course, and in general, the shortness of the menu might make it less than ideal if you have dietary restrictions (or at least checking what will be on the menu that day), but otherwise, if you eat out once this year, make it here.
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
Tonight was my monthly dinner date with [livejournal.com profile] borusa. We went to Seagrass, a former pie & mash house in Islington, which now does mostly fish and game.

It's fairly unassuming - rows of smallish tables with high-backed benches. The menu is printed on A4 paper, and the choices are limited, but all sound delicious. Amuse bouche were mackeral with creme fraiche and pepper on brown bread - classic, simple, excellent. For starters we both had venison, which was superb, on the rare side of medium-rare and served on a bed of delicious lemony risotto, which makes it rather filling for a starter. For mains, Robert had duck, and the mouthful I had was very good. I went for the whole crab, which may have been a mistake, as although I very much enjoy the white meat, I'm less a fan of the more accessible brown, as well as the 20 minutes or so of feeling like you're fighting a battle of wits with your dinner and losing.

To finish we both had the cheese plate, which was a little disappointing after the excellent starter and very good mains. A nice mild lancashire with rather good chutney, but the brie and the stilton were a bit middle of the road.

All in all though, a very decent meal, at an extremely reasonable £70 for both of us. This didn't include wine, but they have a BYOB licence, and don't charge corkage, so you can set your own price there.
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
I used to write a lot of restaurant reviews in great depth and detail, and then they started to feel like hard work, and I accumulated piles of menus with scribbled notes, which sat there gathering dust as I pretended that I would eventually find time to write them up. Eventually I accepted that this wouldn't happen, but last night I discovered that this meant I could completely forget having been to a restaurant, until I found that I'd booked it for a second birthday in a row. Fortunately it was one I had liked, but it did inspire a decision to start reviewing again, if only in fairly short form.

The restaurant in question was Pied à Terre. I was pleased to find that they would do the omnivorous tasting menu alongside the veggie one - some places won't, and whilst I don't mind eating veggie much of the time, it does feel like very slightly less of a treat. The food was very good throughout, sometimes edging into excellent. One particular highlight was the scallops and sea bream - I really enjoy raw fish, and this was extremely flavoursome, incredibly fresh, and with a subtly sharp dressing which added layers to the taste, whilst still allowing the fish to dominate. Another excellent course was the duck foie gras with strawberries and balsamic. This was the 2nd time I've had fois gras served with a wine almost sweet enough to be served with pudding, and both times it's worked exceedingly well.

The atmosphere is very classic - decor in muted greys, crisp white tablecloths, and the service is very attentive, although at times bordering on the intrusive. Unlike a few favoured places, I don't find myself desperate to return for a third visit, given vast array of new places out there to try, and the rather hefty price tag, but I certainly wouldn't be unhappy to find myself eating there again.

Ten courses, with eight accompanying wines and glass of Champagne to start came in at around £450 for two
wildeabandon: a plate of rare steak (steak)
"That's the most amazing tomato ketchup I've ever tasted"

...

Not really words I've ever expected to hear, particularly not from someone as food-savvy as [personal profile] borusa, but in a way it exemplifies the meal we've just eaten - the way that even the tiny things brought something more.

In fairness, it wasn't absolutely one hundred percent perfect - the parsnips were softer than I like them, and the cocktails, whilst enjoyable, didn't blow us away. Everything else, however, did.

I believe that last time I wrote about our attempts to find the best steak in London we had three contenders out of the places we'd tried, which we were planning to revisit when we'd made a first pass at everywhere on our list. After tonight's trip to the Hawksmoor, we don't need to bother.

Let's start at the beginning. After the Royal Fizz and Autumn Mule, which as aforementioned, were decent enough ways to pass the time waiting for a starter, I had the Scallops with Celeriac Puree and Black Truffles, and Robert went for the Tamworth Belly Ribs.

The plates arrived, and as mirror images we leant down towards our plates, sniffed deeply, and looked up at each other, grinning broadly. I sometimes forget quite how distictive a scent good celeriac has, and mingling with the truffles, it left just a hint of the buttery scallop behind it. We drew the moment out a little longer, passing each others plates before we tasted. Robert's ribs were gorgeously aromatic: cinnamon, pepper, ginger, anise - the platonic ideal to which most chinese style ribs are mere earthly copies. I think the most amazing thing about my starter was the way it took on a completely different character when you varied the ratio of puree to scallop, whilst still carrying all three distinct flavours of vegetable, fish, and truffle, no matter what the proportions. The most amazing thing about the pork was the way it felt quite dry when you put it into your mouth, but then as you bit into it managed to overflow with juices that took the heady spices and turned them into something quite new. I'm afraid that this time the celeriac puree was that good that I didn't manage to save myself the indignity of licking the plate. Maybe no-one noticed.

Once the starters had gone we paid a little more attention to the wine, the Luigi Bosca Gala 1 2006, which they describe as a "Sophisticated Malbec blend with Petit Verdot and Tannat. Strong yet elegant with intense red berry fruit and delicate spice. Caresses the palette and has a long finish." It had an unbelievable nose with lots of tobacco and leather, and they weren't kidding about the long finish - it just went on and on and on. We restrained ourselves from more than a few mouthfuls before the steak arrived though.

Oh yes, the steak was rather the point, wasn't it? Wasn't it? OH GOD YES! At this point it's important to remember that I am a man who has eaten a lot of good steaks, many of which have been very expensive and very, very good. But not this good. I'm never quite sure if the fact that an extraordinary meal can bring me to the edge of tears in the same way as a moving aria or a startlingly beautiful painting is a sign that my aesthetic senses are freakishly distorted or merely tuned slightly unusually, but in any case, I was blinking a fair bit more than usual as I ate that steak. I am normally very keen on a bit of good bearnaise sauce, and the pot that they brought us was very very good, but after one mouthful of steak bearnaise it got relegated to a sauce for dipping chips in, because nothing, nothing, could be allowed to adulterate that meat.

We had the porterhouse steak, nine hundred grammes to share, (which was exactly the right amount, leaving us just enough space for one more course). I'm a recent convert to this cut, but do wish I'd encountered it earlier - the usual dilemma of choice between the punchy, almost aggressive intensity of the tougher and gorgeously fatty sirloin, or the more delicate, sweeter, melt in the mouth fillet steak being replaced by the cry that will surely be my epitaph: "Embrace the power of 'And'." And this was 'And' embraced to perfection. There was a layer of fat around the outside of the sirloin bit, so you would work your way up the slice, with the flavour getting stronger and stronger, until the last mouthful exploded in the caramelised juices. The fillet was so soft, almost like marshmallow, if marshmallow had just slightly more resistance and an ever increasing variety of flavour.

And that's another thing worth mentioning - despite the fact that every mouthful was perfect, every mouthful was also different. I kept being surprised by nuances to the flavour - here, half way through, was a smokiness that I hadn't tasted before. There, in a slice that looked just like the last, was a moment of salt, not too much, just enough to spark interest and then disappear. The contrast between the two kinds of steak was marked and glorious, and the contrast within each slice, changed the meal from a theme and variations to an entire symphony.

Having spent three paragraphs talking about the meat, I should give brief mention to the chips before moving on. Thrice cooked, as all the fashionable restaurants seem to be doing nowadays (thanks Heston!), they were very good, and as the beginning quotation indicates, had an unexpected new dimension in the ketchup. A simple condiment, and not one you expect greatness from, this certainly surprised us. I think that what they did was mix in a bit of five spice, and I'll be having a go at replicating this.

And for the final course, I went, predictably, for the cheese and port, whilst Robert opted for the apple and blackberry trifle, with the "Shipwreck" apple brandy. I had a mouthful of the trifle, and whilst it's not a dish I'm terribly keen on myself, it seemed like a jolly good execution, and Robert certainly seemed happy. The apple brandy was quite superb, and a better match for the first of the cheeses than my port. As for the cheeses, there were three - a goat's cheese, which at first taste was a bit unremarkable, but then developed on the palate, and had the mix of crumbly and creamy just right. The second was a strongly flavoured hard cheese - possibly an exceptionally good cheddar, but I'm not sure, because I "don't like strong hard cheeses". Ahem - possibly a revision of tastes might be in order. Finally there was a soft blue. Despite generally prefering both soft and blue cheeses, I thought this was the weakest of the three, whilst still being something I'd happily serve after dinner. The port was right at the top end of good, without tipping over into great, but then at nine pounds for a fairly large glass, one can hardly complain.

The whole meal for two came in at a shade under £200 including service, for three courses, cocktails, aperitifs, and a bottle of wine which wasn't by any means the cheapest on the list. Frankly, if it had been half as much again I'd consider it great value, since it was up there amongst the best meals I've ever eaten in my life.
wildeabandon: a plate of rare steak (steak)
I should know better than to leave it more than a week to write a restaurant review, because unless I put words around the tastes I can't bring them to mind. Once the description is there the recollection remains firm, which is why in the following you will hear all about the food I talked about excitedly at the time, but embarassingly little about the centre piece of the meal, which kept my mouth far too busy with the eating and the emitting occasional faint moans of pleasure to actually say much.

Last week [personal profile] borusa and I continued in our quest to find the best steak in London, and this time we were seeking it at the Goodman, which opened just off Regent Street at the end of last year.

First impressions were not good. We arrived a couple of minutes early for our 9.30 table, and were asked to wait in the (small, cramped) bar area whilst our table was prepared. The place was packed with loud drunk people, which combined with the accoustics meant we could barely hear ourselves speak as we waited (more than a couple of minutes).

Fortunately, it got better from there on in. We were seated in a corner which was mostly walled off from the main restaurant, and therefore a lot quieter, and settled down to study the menu, until a waiter came along with a big plate of beef and talked us through the different cuts, along with recommendations of how each should be cooked to best show off its particular characteristics. Thus far on the quest I've always gone for the fillet steak, so I can make a fair comparison, but this time the marbling in the raw meat got to me, and I couldn't resist the grass-fed bone in sirloin.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. After a slightly longer wait than we would have liked, given how hungry we were, we both started with fish, although about as different as fish gets. I had a stunning lobster bisque, rich and creamy, with a delicate swirl of tarragon butter, and a gloriously warm, almost caramel undertone. Robert had picked herring which came in a jar and were accompanied by hot mustard; not a dish for those who aren't keen on strong flavours, but sharp and piquant and exciting for those of us who do. And served with slightly more bread than he needed, which is fortunate, because it meant I could mop up the last traces of my bisque, saving myself the loss of dignity that would otherwise have been involved in licking the plate.

I was still pretty hungry, so when a large white plate containing nothing but eighteen ounces of thick, charred, dead cow arrived in front of me, it was pretty much like manna from heaven. I leant over and breathed in the aromas, and tried to restrain my watering mouth from chomping away before the sides and sauce arrived. When they did I had my only disappointment in terms of food, as the bernaise was rather too vinegary for my tastes, but this wasn't really a problem, as the steak was so good that even a perfect sauce might have interfered unnecessarily. The sides were basically flawless - chips that were crisp but delicate on the outside, and melt in the mouth fluffy on the inside, and honey and ginger-glazed carrots cooked just firm enough, and correctly (and unusually) sparing on the honey. We accompanied it with a bottle of Mendel Malbec 2007*, which was good and a decent match for the steak, without being outstanding. Berryish, a bit of chocolate, moderate tannins.

After all that we were a bit too stuffed for puddings, and it was getting late, so we called it a day. This is, along with the Sloane Gaucho and Griegs, a real contender for best steak so far. There are a couple of places we're still keen to try, and then we'll be back to the places we liked best a second time to make sure. After that, who knows - maybe we can look for the best sushi in London?

*[personal profile] kake - it was marked up by about 160%.

Good day

Sep. 9th, 2009 08:59 pm
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (comfort)
Despite my utter failure to get to bed at a sensible time last night, and thus running on only three hours sleep, today has been a really good one. On [personal profile] kake's sterling advice I went to investigate Atari-Ya sushi bar, which is just around the corner from where I work. Let's just say I shall never be patronising the Selfridges Yo! Sushi bar again - who would, when they can get sushi half the price and twice as good a couple of streets away. I had a takeaway bowl of chirashizushi for £6.50, and utterly delicious as it was, I could barely finish it. Nom.

After work, which was unusually productive and enjoyable, I went swimming with [personal profile] sashagoblin. I've been going and doing my 40 lengths a week for perhaps a couple of months now, and although every time I've felt absolutely fine in the water, getting out of the pool has always included a period of feeling as though someone had filled my lower legs with lead. Until today. I think I might actually be getting fitter. Rah, and woot, and all that sort of thing.
wildeabandon: waffle with summer berries (mmmfood)
Tonight was my monthly(ish) dinner date with [personal profile] borusa, and this time we went to Bluebird in Chelsea. This was a very well executed meal, and although there was nothing that quite hit the "Outstanding" mark, every single course did what it was trying to do absolutely faultlessly. To add to that, the wine was also rather good; an Oregonian Pinot Gris that was quite heavily oaked, giving it enough body to stand up to the more strongly flavoured dishes, but with enough sharpness to add complexity and character.

For a starter I had a leek vinegrette, topped with shredded crab and capers. This was less vinegrettey than I was expecting, but the little there was dribbled around the plate was delicious. The leek was cooked just right - still a little bite to the texture, but soft enough to slip and slide in your mouth amidst the topping. The crab was perhaps a little underwhelming in flavour, but it's a very delicate meat at the best of times, and it had a sublime texture. I was particuarly impressed by the capers. For a long time I didn't like these strange flowers, but am in recent years very much a convert. Nonetheless they are often very overpowering, and tend to dominate any dish they are part of, unless paired with similarly strong flavours such as olives or anchovies. In this though, perhaps they found very young flowers or something, but however they did it, they got all that complex musky saltiness and then turned the volume down, so I could enjoy it (and I did) without losing out on the leek and crab and herbs and dressing.

Robert had the old spot pork with piccalilli. The mouthful I tasted was very nice, although the least good match for the wine of the things we ate. The pickle was sharp, and the pork salty and tender, but I didn't spend enough time with it to go into detail.

For my main course I had grilled cornish sardines, with a pine nut, lemon, garlic, and parsley crust,and an olive jam on the side. This was the thing that came closest to getting into my "Outstanding Food" mental file. It was really good. There was, obviously, a lot of salt in this, between the sardines and the olives. Nonetheless, it managed a great deal of complexity, a lot of that back-of-the-palate fishy flavour, and a nice garlicky kick. I don't really think I can do it justice in describing it, but will certainly be trying to recreate it. One unfortunate drawback to this course was that other than half a roast tomato it didn't come with any sides, but the waiter didn't think to ask if I wanted anything with it when I ordered.

Fortunately Robert was kind enough to let me steal about a quarter of his main, which was the fish pie. This was another example of absolutely unimpeachable execution of what it was aiming for. Now there is only so high one can aim with a fish pie, but this really did hit the pinnacle. The fish was salmon - cooked long enough to be very tender, but still retaining a good deal of flavour; but what really stood out was the mashed potato topping, which was almost impossibly airy, and the tarragon sauce, which was buttery and smooth and had just the right amount of spicy herby flavour.

For dessert Robert chose the poached pears with cinnamon ice-cream and I had the strawberry savarin. I didn't like to admit beforehand that I didn't actually know what a savarin was, but it turns out to be a sponge soaked in a sweet, honey'd dessert wine - much like a lighter version of the rum-baba. It wasn't quite what I was expecting, but it was delicious, and I'd love to know how they manage to get the wine to soak through without making the sponge soggy. Robert's pears were also delicious, and from the one bite I had probably the better choice, but I'm not sure that's enough for me to speak of the details.

All in all, I was really quite impressed with this place, and although the drinks are quite expensive, if you go there for lunch and have the set menu it would work out startlingly cheap. The only real criticism I have is of a few small flaws in the service. The failure to mention the lack of sides with my main course I already mentioned. Also they took a long time to come and take our orders (although the food arrived promptly once they had), and the wine was a little over chilled. Still, small quibbles, and overall a very good meal.
wildeabandon: sushi (sushi)
I promised ages ago to write about Prague, but have come to the realisation that if I haven't done so yet I'm never going to, so instead I'll direct you to my beloved's write up instead.

What I am going to do is talk about some of the food we had there. After the flight got in and we'd had a much needed cup of coffee we made our way by bus to Dejvika, which is a mostly residential and studenty area on the outskirts of the city. The guidebook said it had a few good restaurants though, and it was close to the airport, so we decided to give one of them a try. Unfortunately we relied on my map-reading for a while, until it became clear that we were quite lost, and I figured to hell with the data costs, and I should use the magic of googlemaps and gps. Once we found our bearings it took another twenty minutes or so to reach the restaurant, so we were very hungry by the time we got there.

This turned out to be a blessing in disguise however, because it meant we had space for more of what was probably the best sushi I've ever eaten, at a place called Sakura*. It was sufficiently good that despite only being there for three days, we came back for a second time. I had lots of different things, and could no longer do justice to describing them all, so will pick out some highlights from across the two visits.

The gold goes to the dragon rolls. I've never encountered them before, which may have been part of the appeal, but I find it hard to imagine a better execution of the simply wonderful concept of futomaki crossed with nigiri. Inside the roll was red caviar, cucumber, and prawn tempura in the lightest, most well seasoned batter that I've ever tasted in my entire life. And as though that wasn't enough the eel on top was grilled to perfection, very fresh, and coated in a sweet, sticky sauce that was the perfect complement to the salt of the caviar as it went popopopop on my tongue. The rice, as with all the sushi pieces, was amazing - you could feel each grain individually, and yet it held its form easily as you dipped it.

Silver goes to the cherry tea which Ramesh had on our second visit, and which made me wish I hadn't gone for the (nice enough, but not outstanding) sake again. I'm generally not a fan of fruit teas, as they smell so wonderful and then taste far more insipid than their black, green, and herbal cousins. This turned out to be an exception. It was sweet, without being sickly, fruity, without being sour, and spicy, without being overpowering.

Bronze goes to the california rolls, which I'm not (very) ashamed to admit have long been a favourite of mine. That amazing batter made another appearence around the surimi, and whilst I've always been a fan of avocado, I had no idea it could be this smooth, this creamy, and this flavoursome.

And finally honourable mentions to the avocado nigiri, which I stole from the boy, as they made the ideal ending to a meal, and gave the superlative example of the fruit centre stage. Also to the enonoki soup, which did the thing that always impresses me of finding mushrooms so rich that it takes some effort to distinguish them from the meat (in this case chicken) that they're served with.

I wouldn't quite go so far as to say that this place alone was worth travelling to Prague for, but there are a lot of other reasons to go, and if you do then I would certainly pay a visit if you get the chance.

*Aside - I once had a very brief fling with a girl called Bob, short for Sakura.
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
And because I was writing and therefore thinking about food, I had a look back over my food-tagged entries, and remembered this poll post which I made about a year ago. If anyone who didn't fill it in at the time, or has started reading me since then would like to fill it in, I'd be very pleased.

Also, and I know I've said this before, but it bears repeating from time to time, if anyone in or around London would like to invite themselves to dinner in the next while, do shout - I love cooking for new people, and from the responses I get my food is usually quite tasty.
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
I have a few other meal reviews to write, not least the best sushi I've ever had, which we found in Prague, and another restaurant there, as well as some thoughts on the Easter Feast, which I cooked four (of eight!) courses for, and both the splendid meals I had today. But I promised that I would write up the meal I had recently with [livejournal.com profile] entscheidung.

When Heath was in London for Easter we made a trip to Alain Ducasse' restaurant at the Dorchester. They have two Michelin stars, and are pushing towards a third, according to the latest guide. It was a very good meal, but I feel there's a little more room for improvement than that implies.

Due to a slight miscommunication about timing, I arrived early, but went straight to the table to enjoy a dry martini whilst I waited. To accompany this I was brought a plate of cheese puffs - little balls of choux pastry made with emmental and sprinkled with paprika. These were quite splendid - warm on the tongue, sharp and salty, and the pastry so light that they almost evaporated in your mouth. I had foolishly left my book in my pocket as my overcoat was taken to the cloakroom, but I passed the time quite happily enjoying the atmosphere, under the sparkling lights from the outside of the Salon Lumière.

Once Heath arrived we decided fairly quickly to go for the Menu Printemps, and some wines which I hope he's going to remind me of so I can update this review to make it more comprehensive.

The first course was chilled Scottish langoustine in a rich nage caviar from Aquitaine. The langoustine were good and fresh and flavoursome, although the creamy sauce they were served in didn't really seem to add anything except a bit of texture. Neither of these things are particularly important though, because the real star of the dish was the caviar. There's something quite thrilling about the pop-pop-pop-pop sensation as you press the eggs against the roof of your mouth and wait for the pungent fishiness to spread over your tongue that really is incomparable.

The second course was hand-made ravioli of foie gras with fresh herbs & black truffles in duck consommé. This was probably my favourite course of the meal. I began by spilling a small spoonful of the liquid into my mouth, and it was everything a consommé should be - warming and heartening, and yet more, infused as it was with the black truffle which is perhaps my favourite flavour*, and the chives and tarragon which I thought very well chosen. I would have been quite happy had that been all the tastes delivered by this course, but then I took a mouthful of ravioli, and oh. Oh, oh, oh, how sweet and smooth it was. I forced myself to take my time, savouring each bite.

Next we had roasted Scottish lobster "primavera" style. In my youth I was always violently opposed to "mushy peas", thinking that they were a vile corruption of a foodstuff that couldn't possibly be improved from the simple popping of the pod and eating them raw, preferably having taken the pod from the stem oneself in the childhood summer sun. I now admit to having revised this opinion, as they managed to savour all the sweetness I remember, and intensify it into these swirls of bright green. Perhaps it is only next to such exquisiteness, but the lobster itself was almost a disappointment. I remember commenting that of all the traditional luxury foods - champagne, caviar, fois gras, and of course truffles, lobster has generally been the one that I feel least deserving of its place in the list. Perhaps it's just that I've never had it done just right, but this was not the occasion to convince me otherwise.

The final fish course was baked fillet of sea bass, crayfish and asparagus, and a champagne sabayon. This was probably my least favoured course. The sea bass was good, but the crayfish were a little bland, and I know they can be much more than that, and the sabayon was strange and a seemed predominantly sour and bitter, which are flavours that do very well as afternotes, but certainly shouldn't serve alone. It was redeemed rather by the asparagus, which was my first of the season, tiny slivers full of flavour and just the right amount of crunch.

The main course was roasted farm house veal loin from Limousin and braised morel mushrooms in Arbois wine. This was extremely good. It was, I think, the first time I've eaten veal since my splendidly ridiculous trip to Houston, and the meat was almost as good but not quite. This pleases me, since I managed to enjoy it immensely, without feeling that the trip could have been skipped**. As it turned out though, this was another course where the supposed accompaniment stole centre stage. Those mushrooms. Oh, those mushrooms. For a long time I had held a course at Nobu, where they served about six different kinds of mushroom in a light soy based sauce, and every single one was delicious and distinct and glorious, to be the pinnacle of what can be done with that humble but delicious fungus. Now I know different. They were small slices, dark and shrivelled, but each one exploded in your mouth with earthy, salty, almost-sweet joyfulness. I carefully metered them out as I ate the veal, and managed to save three for the end, which I devoured almost hastily and felt ripples of sensual pleasure all through my body.

The cheese course was truffled brie de meaux. I think everyone reading this knows a)how I feel about cheese, and b)how I feel about truffles. If I say that I wasn't disappointed, then that probably conveys all that I need to. I nearly slid off my chair.

For the final course we had a choice of sweets, and I went for lime souffle with white cheese and sichuan pepper sorbet. The souffle was actually a bit of a disappointment, although that may just be because my expectations were so raised by those at The Square and Morgan M. The sorbet though was an absolute joy. I'm a little sceptical of calling something containing cheese a sorbet, as I rather think of it as an ice with no dairy, but regardless of the name it was extremely good. Not terribly sweet, but the smooth sourness of the cheese was the perfect counterpoint to the spice of the pepper.

The petit fours that followed were nice enough, but nothing outstanding enough to stick in my mind. The meal had another very special punctuation mark though, because as we were finishing our brandy, and about the last people in the restaurant, the sommelier asked us if we'd like a look around the wine cellar. Of course we leaped at the chance, and it was really quite something. It's built into the corner of the dining room, and I'm not sure how much was mirrors and how much really was magical expanding of space to fit more wine that seems feasible, with shiny techy bits to adjust the temperatures in different areas of the cellar. Heath was far more composed than me, and had a look at some of the more exciting bottles, which I hope he'll tell you about in the comments when he reminds me what we drank with the meal.

All told, it was one of those evenings that reminded me just how good life could be.

*I was lunching today, with [livejournal.com profile] jamesofengland at 1 Lombard Place, and commented that it's very easy to please me by by splashing something in truffle oil. "Oh yes, a man of simple pleasures, you are," he said, mockingly.
**I say that, but the think I got most of from that trip was the overwhelming experience of the Rothko Chapel, which I think will affect me to my dying day.
wildeabandon: waffle with summer berries (mmmfood)
(temporarily filtered away from [livejournal.com profile] obandsoller)

The shiny new crush I mentioned a couple of posts ago is coming for dinner this weekend, and whilst I'm not entirely convinced by the adage of the title, I don't want to miss a chance to impress, whilst also getting to indulge in two of my favourite pastimes of cooking and eating delicious food. Here I present a menu plan, with recipes, and a couple of requests for advice.

To start I'll be serving a white onion soup. Finely chop one very large or two smaller white onions, about three cloves of garlic, and half a teaspoon of thyme. Heat a spoonful of olive oil, and gently saute until the onions are transluscent. Add about 300ml of vegetable stock and a large splash of vermouth. Simmer gently for about 15 minutes, then blend until smooth. Season to taste and allow to cool. When it's time to serve, chop a slice of bread into squares and fry in a very little oil seasoned with salt and pepper. When the soup is hot stir in about 50ml of double cream, and serve in small teacups with a few croutons and a drop or two of truffle oil.

Next I'll be doing courgette fritters - the recipe is in this comment, although I shall be doing them with coriander, and serving them with tzatziki dip.

For the main course I'll be doing a beetroot and goats cheese risotto, with roasted cherry tomatoes and peppers, and some kind of salad. The first question for you, dear readers, is "what sort of salad should it be?" Given the colours of the rest of the dish, I would like it to be predominantly green, and given the richness of the risotto, I would like it to be fairly light.

The tomatoes and peppers (sliced into thick strips) are simply thrown into a roasting dish, tossed with a little extra virgin and balsamic, and go in the oven at about 200 for around half an hour. By the time they come out they'll be bursting with sweetness. For the risotto, chop an onion and start sauteing gently. Whilst that's happening chop a couple of (precooked) beetroots into cubes of around 8mm, and a tablespoon of tarragon quite finely. Add 100g of carnaroli rice to the pan and continue frying for a couple of minutes. Start adding vegetable stock a little at a time, stirring all the while, until the rice is almost the right consitency. Then add a splash of red wine, the beetroot, tarragon, and about 50g of soft goat's cheese. Stir through, and check for consistency - if need be keep adding liquid until it's perfect.

For a sweet, I'm going to do a white chocolate and passionfruit mousse based on this recipe. The second question then, stems from the recipe calling for raspberries to soak up the liquid which inevitably settles at the bottom of the mousse. It being the dead of winter, it would feel unfitting to do this even if I could find decent ones, so what should I use instead? I thought perhaps a sponge of some kind, but that would be a lot of faff. Another kind of fruit? Crushed amaretto biscuits? Something else?

And finally, to end the meal in utter indulgence, home made Valrhona truffles. Bring 150ml of double cream to the boil, then reduce the heat and add 150g of chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted, then remove from the heat. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes, then add 25g of unsalted butter, cut into small pieces. Stir until smooth, and chill the mixture for at least three hours. Once cooled, dust your hands with cocoa powder, and taking teaspoons of the mixture roll around in your hands until it forms a ball. Drop each one into the cocoa mixture, and then place on a plate, to be returned to the fridge, until time to serve.

Of course, the only trouble with this is that I'm now looking forward to the food just as much as seeing the boy.
wildeabandon: waffle with summer berries (mmmfood)
Tonight [livejournal.com profile] ajva and I went for a rather splendid meal at Morgan M, a fairly traditional French restaurant near Highbury & Islington. One of the things that made me notice its existence in the first place was the presence of a vegetarian tasting menu, but both being unashamedly omnivorous we went for the standard one this time.

We started with a watercress and frog's leg soup. This was slightly strange in two ways - firstly, that the soup was hot, and I always think of watercress soup as a chilled course to serve in the balmy summer days, and secondly because it was the first time I'd had frog's legs where the dominant flavour wasn't garlic. For all that, it worked pretty well. The meat was soft and tender, and it was good to actually enjoy its own flavour. The soup was quite delicate, but soothing and warming in the way that winter soups should be.

Next was a foie gras and game terrine, with great big chunks of meat, and a sharply piquant chutney with strong notes of ginger. It was really rather good, although I must admit to being slightly daunted at the size of what was only the second course of six. Honourable mention must also go to the garnish - sticks of white radish with slivers of a rich meaty mushroom, which I polished off with gusto.

The fish course was john dory, on a carrot risotto, with battered parsnip. This was a great example of a phenomenon I've seen a few times recently - a posh restaurant evoking good old fish'n'chips. The fish was very well cooked, and flavoursome, and a mouthful along with some of the battered parsnip took you away on the nostagia trip it was designed for.

For the main course Anne had pheasant with liver ravioli and I had lamb cooked three ways with spinach, chestnut puree and a rosemary jus. The lamb was pretty good, but either it didn't quite live up to the standards of the previous courses or I was already slightly too full.

The pre-dessert was definitely back on form though - indeed, it may have been the final nail in the coffin of my ever dwindling assertion that I'm much more excited by savoury dishes than sweet. It was a rice pudding with orange tuile and berry sorbet. The pudding was perfectly textured - creamy and rich and luxurious, precisely balanced by the cutting edge of the berry. The pinacle though was the tuile, which sent me off on another nostalgia trip, by tasting somehow of the orange slices that you get as cake decorations, which I used to wickedly pinch out of my mother's ingredients drawer after she'd gone to bed.

For dessert, Anne had a dark chocolate mouelleux, which was very nice, but just a little too heavy after eating so much food already. I made the more fortuitous choice of passion fruit souffle, which I can only describe as mouthfuls of cloud infused with fairy dust. It was magnificent, and I can still almost feel it melting away on my tongue.

The service could perhaps have been a little more attentive, but I suppose having to occasionally pour ones own water isn't the most onerous task in the world. I'll certainly be going back, probably trying out the vegetarian tasting menu to compare and contrast.
wildeabandon: a plate of rare steak (steak)
Tonight was my monthy dinner date with [livejournal.com profile] borusa. Although we occasionally make a change for variety's sake, we tend towards the "plate with a big lump of meat" style of restaurant, and tonight was not one of the exceptions. We went to Notting Grill, and were not disappointed in our big lumps of meat.

This was one of those meals where, but for one exception*, everything was at least good, and there were quite a few moments of "Oh yes, this is why I love food." For a starter I had steak tartare, which was done extremely well. Robert thought they'd used a bit too much pepper which overpowered the beef, but I thought it was perfect, so we'll put that down to a personal taste thing. He had a black pudding salad to start, but I'll come to that later.

For our mains, he had a sirloin steak, which was good, but we've had better**. I made a much better choice, going for the pork taster - this was four small portions of sucking pig, belly of pork, black pudding, and pork sausage. A couple of weeks ago I had a taste of [livejournal.com profile] robert_jones's crocodile steak, and commented that this was what pork would be like, if pork were nice. Actually, I was wrong - the suckling pig I had tonight is what pork would be like if pork were nice. Oodles of flavour, juicy, with just enough salt, and with enough strength of texture to last, but not become a test of endurance. The belly was a tiny piece of meat, wrapped in a thick layer of fat and crackling, and that's just the way it should be. It was the crackling that really brought this dish into it's own. It was course and visceral and delicious.

Rather sadly, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to enjoy black pudding in a greasy spoon ever again. This was superb. Rich, deep, meaty flavour, and a gloriously smooth texture perfectly punctuated by the lumps, in sharp contrast to the slightly wishy-washy crumbliness you often find. The sausage was very good - again, not quite the best I've ever had flavour wise***, but very very good, and absolutely superlative in texture - light, almost fluffy. The best thing about the sausage though, which I foolishly forgot to add until I'd eaten nearly half of it, was the apple and chilli jelly. It had the texture of clear honey that's been left until it starts to form crystals, but hasn't fully set, and was sweet and sharp to start, with the heat of the chilli hiding creeping up on you just as you're about to swallow.

I had the cheese to follow, which was probably better than I had appetite for, and again, good, but not spectacular. Robert had the creme brule, which he didn't comment on, but given the speed with which it vanished after a very large meal, must have been quite something.

All in all, not one of my top ten, but definitely somewhere I'd be happy to recommend, with one caveat - have the pig, the tasty tasty pig!

*the parsnips were too soft and grainy, with no crispy coating
**Griegs, in Mayfair, and the Sloane Gaucho
***wild boar sausages at the Pembury
wildeabandon: waffle with summer berries (mmmfood)
I've just eaten one of the best meals of my life, and you all know how many good meals I've eaten. [livejournal.com profile] borusa and I had the tasting menu at Vanilla. It's late, so I don't think I have time for a full review, but I'll post a few highlights. Edit: Okay, I lied, have a full review. But actually, go and eat there yourselves. Really, do.

The amuse bouche was "clay potato with aioli". Neither of us were quite sure what a clay potato was, despite the efforts with google. What it turned out to be was a new potato coated with a very thin layer of clay. Yes, actual clay, as in hardened mud. Apparently it's good for the digestion, so a good thing to start with. It was surprisingly good. The coating was thin enough not to be really weird, but added a strange and fascinating texture. The aioli was extremely good, and there was a seed and salt dip that turn what could have been just a gimmick into a very flavourful bite. I am going to get hold of a recipe for the coating and use it on medallions of pigeon breast. It has to be done.

The first starter was scallop on pork belly (a traditional combination, for very good reason), with a black pudding, bacon and potato terrine. The scallop was very nice, but completely overshadowed by the terrine, which was amazing. If I were a pig, I'd be queueing up to be turned into this terrine. Oink.

The second starter was an egg cooked very very slowly (45 minutes at 64 degrees) - this meant that the yolk and the white were exactly the same texture - cooked, but not quite solid, and as it was brought to the table it was covered with a large glass that had been filled with oak smoke, which they waved under your nose, which added extra layers of flavour. It was served with a jerusalem artichoke foam, vegetables I'd never tasted before ([livejournal.com profile] borusa help me out - the thing like plantain but black?) and wafer thin layers of lomo sausage, which makes parma ham go home and cry becasue it's just not up to the job.

Then the main course. I had halibut, with mussels, chervil - both whole root and a sauce made with root and leaves, scallop and parsley foam, and hazelnut paste. I know what you're thinking - it sounds like overkill, but whilst each ingredient had a strong flavour alone, a mouthful with all of them Just Worked. Robert had the venison. I had a taste, and it was utterly glorious, but I'll leave him to go into the details.

The pre-dessert was a glass full of berry bubbles. The taste was much like a the fruit bit of a really good summer pudding - very enjoyable, but not outstanding. What made the dish outstanding was the texture. It was like taking the frothiest of frothy mousses and making it frothier still, but with just enough structural integrity to not pop. There was something very pre-adolescent about eating it, and we giggled all the way through. It was served with a pastry with a shell like a very thin doughnut, filled with a liquid vanilla cream, which was exactly what you needed to counter the sharpness of the bubbles.

After that I didn't think it could get any sillier, but the dessert proved me wrong. They brought a plate with fresh and caramelised figs, crushed biscuits and toffee sauce, and a shot glass with what looked like rough sugar cubes inside. Then they poured lavendar milk into the glass of what was actually dry ice. It was AWESOME. It was like miniature volcano on your plate. I may have squealed with excitement a tiny bit. You then dipped the figs and biscuits in the pool of milk that gathered at the bottom of the volcano. It could perhaps have had a bit more flavour to it, but y'know, figs are good no matter what, and also VOLCANO!!!

I think this counts as my third favourite meal ever, but it was third of the price of the Fat Duck, and the only reason it doesn't beat Bacchus* is the lack of matching wines - the food was probably slightly better. One thing that I've noticed about tasting menus is that they either wuss out and do traditional food for one or two courses, or they go slightly too far with the gimmicks and end up making something not very nice (even Heston screwed up with the liquid black pudding, if you ask me), but this place got the balance exactly right. Every course surprised and delighted, and a lot of us made us ask "how can this possible work", but it did work, every single time.

*which sadly has now closed down. I shall find out where the chef is now and when I do I shall tell everyone.
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
I've just got in from a late dinner at Le Gavroche. On balance, the meal was probably the fourth best I've ever had, and a full review will follow. (Edit: note to self - this never happens, write the whole things as soon as you get in)

I want to note one particular course now though. It isn't common, but it's not extremely rare, for food to make me moan, and sigh, and feel sensations not unlike the approach to orgasm. This dish, though, this duck pancake and fois gras in a cinnamon sauce, accompanied with a Banyuls 'Reserva' - a rich, spicy, sweet, dark grenache, is the only time food has brought me to the edge of tears.

I started by sipping the wine and letting it flow over my tongue, slip down my throat. I took a mouthful of fois gras. This is a delicacy that I've never been certain deserved its hallowed place, but as time has gone by I've acquired a taste for it, and this seemed like the culmination of that acquisition. Another sip of wine, and although it wasn't the flavours that meshed, there was an assonance, an almost Christmassy sense to the combination.

A pause, another mouthful, another sip, another pause. Then I tasted the duck. I can still, if I close my eyes, feel the crispness yielding between my teeth, revel in the seeming contradiction of lightness and richness and spice and juice released each time I bite down. I met the eyes of my dining companion and he commented, "I think these are the flavours the wine is supposed to match." Nodding my agreement I confirmed it with another sip, and found new layers as the aromatics of the wine and the duck melded together.

But what now? The fois gras, so delicious a moment ago, couldn't possibly compare. Self indugently I took another bite of duck, another sip of wine, and let the glory of it wash over me again.

Resistant still, I nonetheless returned to the fois gras, and was amazed to discover that the contrast to the duck, the smoothness after the meaty texture, the soft opulence after the sharp spice, the brusqueness of the charred edges, gave it something new and revitalised, a harmony where before only the melody had been audible.

Again and again I repeated the sequence, taking smaller and smaller bites each time, desperate not to reach the point where it would all be gone. And then, when it was all gone, and I almost wept, my darling companion gave me the last of his, allowing me to draw out this heavenly pleasure for a few moments more.

If I can ever create something like that I will die happy.
wildeabandon: waffle with summer berries (mmmfood)
You know, I don't think I've talked about food on here for a while, at least not more than in passing. That can't possibly be right. Talk to me about food, people! Actually, I know, I can have a poll - not only will it allow me to indulge my curiosity, but I can use it for reference when you come to dinner.

[Poll #1161910]

And finally, if you're so inclined, give me your favourite recipes, tell me about wonderful meals or give me anecdotes about hilarious food mishaps.
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