Friday, December 24, 2010

Sleigh Ride - The Ronettes

Merry Xmas to all and here is the best Xmas Song of all time !

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

10 Best UK Restaurants 2010

Toptable asked me to list my ten best restaurants for 2010. My selection in no particular order, was based on restaurants I have eaten in at least 3 times and at least once during 2010.

You can see the full list here

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

10 Best Pasta Dishes in London

I have selected 10 truly outstanding pasta dishes that have been eaten in London over the last 18 months. They are rated outstanding or great because in my opinion they are not only beautifully executed by very talented and skilled chefs but they have been prepared with world class ingredients. To this end they are in most cases as good or more often better than the equivalent dish sampled anywhere else in the world.

What is really encouraging is that many restaurants are now using top quality dry pasta like Pastificio dei Campi (in the case of Tinello and Locanda Locatelli where I have had outstanding pasta dishes many times but not in the last 18 months). It's a pity that so many other Italian and non Italian restaurants can't be bothered to source quality durum wheat , bronze dye (sauce gripping) pasta from Gragnano or Abruzzo and continue to use industrial commodity variants that are often inferior to the supermarket own brand dried pasta. Will the addition of a few pence to their cost per portion be punitive ?

Also the quality of the homemade pasta at Alloro , L'Anima (Pappardelle) and Zafferano (Pappardelle) Galvin Bistro De Luxe (Lasagne) was really exceptional.

I have also been privileged to watch some of these chefs cook the dishes and the memory of Francesco Mazzei creating "emulsione con emozione" whilst preparing Linguine alle Vongole will forever remain in my mind.

Those of you who are particularly observant will have noticed that Paul Merrony's Penne Putanesca would, to most Italians be a total anathema . Firstly the ideal shape for this type of sauce is Spaghetti and the addition of Parmigiano-Reggiano or any cheese should be avoided. Paul is his own man and I have to admit that this actually dish works and despite the imperfect pasta shape and addition of Parmigiano-Reggiano perhaps because it's combination with anchovy creates nothing short of an umami weapon of mass destruction.

If you live in London or are passing through I strongly recommend all the restaurants mentioned not only for the specific dishes but for a fabulous dinning experience.

Spaghetti with Meatballs by Paul Merrony at Giaconda Dinning Room

Pappardelle al sugo di lepre by Francesco Mazzei at L'Anima

Penne Putanesca by Paul Merrony at Giaconda Dinning Room

Spaghetti a la Carbonara made by my Roman Great Aunt

Lasagne of Dorset crab, beurre Nantais by Chris Galvin at Galvin Bistro de Luxe

Linguini alle Vongole by Francesco Mazzei at L'Anima

Pappardelle allo zafferano con guanciale di maiale by Andy Needham at Zafferano

Spaghetti alla Bottarga at Sardo

Pacheri di Gragnano “Nduja” e burrata by Frederico Sali at Tinello

Tagliolini ai funghi porcini by Daniele Camera at Alloro

Thursday, October 14, 2010

20 Truly Great Dishes Eaten in London

I have selected twenty truly outstanding dishes that have been eaten in London over the last 18 months. They are rated outstanding or great because in my opinion they are not only beautifully executed by very talented and skilled chefs but they have been prepared with world class ingredients. To this end they are in most cases as good or more often better than the equivalent dish sampled anywhere else in the world.

Many of these dishes are on the surface simple like Zucchini Fritti, Zabalgione or various steaks. Sadly based on my experience in London most of the time ,these dishes are a massive disappointment due to poor sourcing and cooking, or, sometimes both.

If you live in London or are passing through I strongly recommend all the restaurants mentioned not only for the specific dishes but for a fabulous dinning experience.

O'Shea's of Knightsbridge Perthshire Black Angus Rib Eye on the bone at Goodman

Fish and Chips at 101 Pimlico Road

Rissoto with Black Truffles , Rousillion

Linguini alle Vongole l'Anima

Pizza with Chanterelle and Gloucester Old Spot Ham at Franco Manca , Brixton
Vitello Tonato , Giaconda Dinning Room

Zucchini Fritti at L'Anima

Zabalgione at Alloro

O'Shea's of Knightsbridge Perthshire Black Angus Onglet at Bob Bob Ricard

Frank Hederman Organic Smoked Salmon at Goodman , City

Crab with Crispy Noodles at Hunan

Sicilian Rabbit at L'Anima

Prawn , Vegetable and Fig Tempura at Sake No Hana

Spaghetti a la Bottarga at Sardo

Ris de veau aux morilles at Racine

O’Shea’s of Knightsbridge Munster Black Angus beef Côte de boeuf, Béarnaise sauce at Racine

Parmesan Custard at Le Café Anglais

Mini Doughnuts at The Harwood Arms

Steak and Mushroom Pie at The Anchor and Hope

O'Shea's of Knigtsbridge Pertshire Black Angus Bistecca Firoentina at Alloro

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Kitchin , Leith ,Edinburgh

Amuse-Bouche 1. Cheese Straws and Balls

Amuse-Bouche 2. Summer Courgette Soup

Saying hello to the Newhaven Live Lobster

Tartare of wild Salmon from Usan, served with diced apple and a lemon creme fraiche

Whole grilled lobster from Newhaven cooked Thermidor style, served with buttered samphire, sea spinach and sauteed squid

Rich Valrohna Manjari tart with Perthshire Rasberries and mint cream

Wine Consumed : HERMITAGE 'CHANTE-ALOUETTE' 2006 M.Chapoutier.

I have now eaten at The Kitchin four times , once in late 2007 , twice in 2008 and most recently on Thursday 19th of August 2010 , with my family (the pictures on this post are of what I ate on this day).

Every time with out exception I experienced world class cooking based on superbly sourced produce (most from Scotland's ample larder) coupled with first class service. All this in a relaxed , simple tastefully decorated restaurant.

Tom Kitchin is a great talent but he has also garnered a an impressive culinary education not only his many years with Pierre Koffman at Tante Claire , Royal Hospital Road ( he also returned to Tante Claire when it moved to the Berkeley ) but also Guy Savoy in Paris and Alain Ducasse's Louis XV in Monte Carlo.

I must have eaten Tom's cooking many times at Tante Claire and maybe even at Guy Savoy whilst he was there but at The Kitchin he is the man, and what a man , for me there is no better restaurant in the UK . I have not been as impressed with food in a restaurant in the British Isles since some of my early meals at Chez Nico , Tante Claire and the late Gunn Eriksen's, Altnaharrie Inn .

On this occasion it was a real pleasure to meet Tom for the first time and find a humble, charming individual who along with his brigade, produces perfectly executed and seasoned dishes.

My Tartare of wild Salmon from Usan, served with diced apple and a lemon creme fraiche was perfectly balanced and refreshing.

The whole grilled lobster from Newhaven cooked Thermidor style, served with buttered samphire, sea spinach and sauteed squid was really inspired with each ingredient perfectly seasoned and well - proportioned to create a superlative synthesis .

I finished a wonderful Rich Valrohna Manjari tart with Perthshire Rasberries which showed again that the brigade is strong in executing every course be it savoury or sweet.

The HERMITAGE 'CHANTE-ALOUETTE' 2006 from Chapoutier was sublime and served at the correct tempreture also worked well with my wife's Scallop starter and Turbot main.

The Kitchin’s sister restaurant Castle Terrace openeded on 14th July on Castle Terrace in central Edinburgh, with Chef and co patron Dominic Jack behind the stove. Edinburgh-born Dominic Jack who worked as a trainee with Tom at Gleneagles has followed a similar career path that has included L’Arpège and Taillevent in Paris. It seems that Tom Kitchin is expanding in a controlled and intelligent way , whilst spending most of his time in the Kitchen !

I'm already planning a long week end in Edinburgh.

The Kitchin on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

28-50 , London

28-50 Wine Workshop & Kitchen is the newest venture from Xavier Rousset and Agnar Sverrisson, the restaurateurs behind the award-winning Michelin-starred restaurant Texture. It opened last month a stones throw from El Vino, it aims to deliver an exceptional variety of wines at fair prices alongside simple French inspired food.

Sverrisson and Rousset met while working as head chef and head sommelier respectively at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons . They have also hired the charming and very professional Ed Newman who I remembered from High Road House and Shoreditch House.

Named after the latitudes in which most wine regions are located, 28-50 Wine Workshop & Kitchen has on the surface some similarities to Terroirs however one you study the wine lists and menu the differences are immediately apparent.

Rousset is an award winning master sommelier and this shows in both the collectors list” including wines such as 1978 Château Léoville Las Cases , 1984 Ridge Montebello or 1995 Ornellaia alongside an extensive list of 30 wines at very reasonable prices – all of which are available by the bottle, carafe or glass. The list will be continually evolving with the aim of allowing guests to experiment in their wine choices, and a winemaker is featured every month.

The Head Chef Paul Walsh was last at Gordon Ramsey Hospital Road and this shows through in terms of presentation and sophistication.The food at Terroirs is on the whole more rustic and the portions more generous.

My only gripe about 28-50 is in fact the size of the portions , on the first of my three visits I wondered for a brief moment if I was in Lilliput being served food one-twelfth the size of an acceptable portion. Unfortunately this is more and more common in London where crude empiricists develop price points for dishes and then build the food and margin into them, either by size or (often inferior) quality of ingredients. At 28-50 the 10 dishes I ate in three visits were all either good or very good and very well executed.

On my most recent visit my companion and I started with plate of Charcuterie to share can only really satisfy two fictional inhabitants of Lilliput and Blefuscu. At £11.50 this was not good value despite being served with excellent toasted brown bread.

I followed this with a starter Confit salmon with cucumber, basil and
tomato vinaigrette that was perfectly sized for a starter and very good value at £6.50 .

My main course of Icelandic salt cod with chorizo and couscous at £14.95 was again a very good dish but with not really enough on the plate.

I finished with probably he smallest sized desert I have ever been served, a truly delightful Almond cake with peach sorbet and fresh raspberries (1 to be exact) at £6.00. The Almond cake must have been baked in a thimble to achieve those absurd proportions.

We drank a glass of 2009 St Nicolas de Bourgueil, Mabileau served at the optimum tempreture and, a rather good 2001 Rioja Reserva, Vina Arana, La Rioja Alta.

Despite my comments about portion control 28-50 is a welcome addition to the wine bar/bistro scene in London with great value wines at all levels , quality food and excellent service.

28-50 Wine Workshop & Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 02, 2010

Royal Oak

I recently made my third visit to the Royal Oak and enjoyed another marvelous and relaxed, 3 hour meal that served to confirm why this is one of my favourite places to eat in the UK.

This pub was transformed in early 2007 with the arrival of Dominic Chapman (brilliantly profiled here by Douglas Blyde ) a man whose wonderful cooking I first tasted in the late 90's at the Fat Duck (a very different menu in those days) and Fat Duck Bistro in the Bray Marina (a joint venture between Heston and footballer Lee Dixon) and more recently at the Hinds Head where Dominic was Head Chef. Chances are that I ate some of Dominic's cooking whilst he was working as chef de partie at Kensington Place for Rowley Leigh.

Dominic was away on holiday in Greece so it was also to be my first meal at the Royal Oak whilst he was away.

Since Chapman’s arrival at The Royal Oak, it has been crowned AA Restaurant of the Year, England, 2008-09, and Chapman was named by The Good Food Guide as Best Pub Chef 2009 and as Best Young Chef 2009 in the Tatler Restaurant Awards. Earlier this year it received a much deserved Michelin Star. Credit to Michael and Nick Parkinson for bringing in such a fine Chef.

My recent meal was typical fresh seasonal food made with superb ingredients . Sourcing is one of the real strengths of this restaurant be it meat , fish , fruit and vegetables or cheese.

The (irresistible) Scotch Eggs served as a perfect transition from a G&T to the starter of stuffed courgette flower . This was stuffed with Ricotta and served with fresh peas , beetroot , artichoke hearts and lightly dressed in olive oil. I would rank this as the best consumed in the UK, alongside a classic fried version with Mozzarella and anchovies that I had many moons ago at The Walnut Tree Inn in South Wales. My companion was delighted by his Chicken Liver and Foie Gras Parfait, Fig Chutney and Toasted Brioche .

We drank the potent White ,Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Doamine Chant Perdix, 2007 with our starter and main. The Grenache, Roussane, Clairette and Bourboulenc blend worked very well with both courses.

For the mains I had Line Caught Sea Bass with Sweet Young Peas, Radish, Lettuce and Bacon (see picture) whilst my companion had Roast Cornish Turbot with Samphire, Cockles and Mussels . The fish was in both cases beautifully cooked (often the best test of a kitchen when the Head Chef is away) The triple cooked chips here are in my view the best in the UK and only a close second to those at La Tupina in Bordeaux fried in Goose fat.

We drank a rather good Paulliac Cru Bouregois, 2000, Château Haut-Bages Monpelou with our cheese Alderwood, Berkswell, Ogleshield, Gorwydd Caerphilly, Waterloo, Harbourne Blue) and had time round off the meal with a couple of Delamin Pale and Dry XO's before rushing off to catch the 4.08pm train from Twyford to London.

I live in hope that the Royal Oak copies the Pot Kiln and opens a London outpost. Of course I also know the perfect location and it's less than 300 metres from my home !

Royal Oak on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 16, 2010

Premium Products That More Than Deliver

I have always thought that the quality of ingredients or products represents at least 60% of what it takes to execute a perfect dish. This ratio , in my opinion should apply equally to amateur cook and professional chef.

Over the last 18 months I have had the pleasure of meeting and sampling an amazing new dried pasta from Gragnano , a really phenomenal Irish Smoked Salmon as well as tea that is so good that I actually started drinking the beverage again at least once a day.

In all three cases I actually met the passionate people behind these products before tasting them and, saw them in full flow both educating their audience as well as going into detail about their respective products, points of difference.

Giuseppe di Martino is co owner of the established Gragnano pasta maker Di Martino as well as being President of the Gragnano Pasta Makers Association . Giuseppe and his sister created Pastificio dei Campi using the finest durum wheats and dried pasta making process.

The pasta is finished by hand and gently passed through bronze dies before being slow dried at low temperatures creating exquisite pasta. Every box of pasta can be traced back to what day that batch of wheat was sown, what field it was grown in and when it was harvested - directly linking the sourcing of the best limited supply grain back to the farmers. Gambero Rosso Magazine recently featured this amazing pasta under the title "Pasta Grand Cru"

Guiseppe explained to me over several meals involving this amazing product that his pasta when cooked al dente expands it's protein (Gluten)to circa 15-17% which explains why it seems so easy to digest and feels so light on the stomach. Inferior industrial dried pastas can expand to over 50%. It is not really a surprise that so many top Italian Chef's both in Italy and beyond are using this pasta in dishes that require the use of a top quality dried pasta.

Frank Hederman is in my view producing the finest smoked salmon in the world at his Belvelly Smoke House near Cork . I met Frank at of all places a male only steak fest orgainsed by Simon Majumdar where in my opinion the Irish stole the show with bothe the Salmon and Beef. In what was one of the best presentations on food that I have seen Frank made it clear it was not only the smoking and curing but the quality and selection of the salmon that makes the difference. He illustrated this by showing us the industrial dyes used by most salmon farms as well as sharing a few alarming facts about how many fish per cubic metre, some of the fish are farmed in.

Henrietta Lovell is a remarkable woman who has not only created a great company and premium tea business but is (re) educating this nation of tea drinkers into both making and drinking proper tea, both through personal appearences and through these charming videos. What is tea ? and How to make a cup of tea are a must watch.
On the rare days I don't have at least one cup of Lost Malawi Tea I feel a sort of emptiness and lingering listlessnes.

The products are all beautifully packaged and Giuseppe , Frank and Henrietta are passionate and knowlegeable gastronomes in their own right but, as always what really counts in the end is does the product deliver on the promise and, justify the premium. Well for me they certainly do !

In the UK Pastificio dei Campi can be purchased via the excellent FoodintheCity

Frank Hederman Smoked Salmon can be tasted at Goodmans and purchased from Wright Brothers

Rare Tea Company sells online and here

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Alloro , London

Picture courtesy of Douglas Blyde

A recent invitation to a Sardinian feast at Alloro by the London Fine Dinning Group prompted me to revise my view of both the quantity and quality of top class Italian Restaurants in London .

It was a pleasure to have Douglas Blyde as a dining companion not only because of his "intoxicating prose" but because he takes beautiful pictures too, and I can then focus on the food and wine !

I first ate at Alloro in 2003 what was an above average for London Italian lunch and then again a year or so later experienced an exceptional dinner just before Christmas. What happened in that period is that Daniele Camera who originates from Turin took over as head chef. The restaurant itself reminds me of the timeless establishments one finds in Turin and Milan , understated elegance , superb service and a kitchen that delivers year in year out.

The evening was co sponsored by Feudi della Medusa and Vallebona Sardinian Gourmet.


Chef’s Selection of Canapés
Musamari de tùnnu con fasobeddu e pilarda
Wind dried tuna with green beans and sun dried tomatoes
~Albithia Vermentino di Sardegna 2008~
Supa de freula e coccioba
Soup of Sardinian cous-cous with tiny clams
~Alba Nora Isola dei Nuraghi 2007~
Malloreddus a sa moda campidanesa
Sardinian pasta with fresh sausage, tomato and pecorino cheese
~Cannonau di Sardegna 2006~
Proceddu e patatasa arrustidasa
Roast suckling pig with roast potatoes
~Gerione Isola dei Nuraghi 2006~
Sebadas cun meli de olioni
Traditional Sardinian cheese fritters with Corbezzolo Honey
~Aristeo Vino Passito 2005~
Caffei & Murta
Coffee & Traditional Myrtle Berry Liqueur

For me the stars of the evening were the Supa de freula e coccioba matched with Alba Nora Isola dei Nuraghi 2007 and Proceddu e patatasa arrustidasa matched with Gerione Isola dei Nuraghi 2006 . The soup was perfectly balanced and a perfect example of Daniele Camera's light touch whilst the Suckling Pig was one of the best I have eaten in the UK.

The Alba Nora Isola dei Nuraghi 2007 is a wonderful example of how you can make wonderful Chardonnay in Italy . The wine is an intense yellow with a flint and toasted almond bouquet coupled with a hint of sea salt taste.

Gerione Isola dei Nuraghi 2006 is a blend of Bovale , Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Cabernet Franc .Maleolactic fermentation takes place in barriques . Maturation is for 18 months in 225 litre Ailler and Tronçais oak barriques. The scent reminds one of cherries with a tinge of Muscat and liquorice .There is a long lasting flavour that heightens the cherry and small fruit scents; a taste of tannin emerges at the back of the mouth that gives the wine its persona.

The delightful Claudio Benvenuti a Tuscan ex Frescobaldi who was seduced by Feudi della Medusa gave us a detailed history and background to all the indigenous and non indigenous wines the winery produces.

Those of us who live in London are really fortunate to have access to excellence at Alloro , Locanda Locatelli , L'Anima , Semplice and Zafferano . Alongside the aforementioned we also have some really good neighbourhood Italians like Edera , Enoteca Turi , Sardo and Locanda Ottoemezzo . Can we say the same in terms of quality and numbers about Chinese , Japanese or even Indian/Pakisatni cuisine ?

Alloro on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 17, 2010

Bar Boulud , London

3 Michelin Starred Chef Daniel Boulud’s first UK restaurant, Bar Boulud, London opened its doors on May 6th at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. I am told breakfast will only be served until Heston Blumenthal opens his restaurant in the same Hotel later this year and I'm assured the breakfast menu will not be based on his work for Little Chef.

The Adam D. Tihany designed interior seats 169 in two large connecting rooms, the first has zinc topped bar and the second has a vista of the open kitchen. Materials such as wood, leather and cork add a contemporary touch and the bar a vin theme showcases the craft of wine making, including walled wine stains from Chef Boulud’s favourite vintages and photography by Blaise Adilon of various renowned Lyon bistros and brasseries. Guests can watch the chefs at work at the charcuterie bar running along the edge of the open kitchen or dine in one of the two interconnecting private dining rooms, both seating 16 people each. The management are forecasting serving circa 700 covers a day and from what I saw on my visits so far they have a top team in place to do so.

Dean Yasharian from Bar Boulud in New York has come over as Executive Chef and Stephen Macintosh from The Wolseley is the General Manager, Bar Boulud, London looks set to follow in the success of Daniel Boulud's "diffusion" range of restaurants in NYC, Café Boulud, Bar Boulud, DB Bistro Moderne and, most recently, DBGB Kitchen and Bar, on the Bowery.

A full bistro menu is based on seasonal, bourgeois French cooking and includes dishes such as Truffled White Sausage, Grilled Atlantic Sea Bass, Braised Rabbit Ragout and Coq au Vin as well as a selection of terrines and pâtés made on site under the direction of acclaimed charcutier Gilles Vérot. Alongside the classic bistro fare we have a selection of Burgers from Danile Boulud's second tier eateries. Wine has a focus on Burgundy and the Rhône Valley, an impressive selection of wines, by the glass and by the bottle, and occasionally from Magnums, Jeroboams and Rehoboams, feature old world wines as well as new world selections made in the Rhône or Burgundy spirit. A selection of beers is also available on draft from small, artisanal producers and continental microbreweries with specially designed glassware for tasting portions.

Everything I have eaten is beautifully prepared and I'm sure sourcing will improve over time as is the case with many transplants from the US.

In terms of food though what I think is truly disruptive for London is not the much anticipated burger(s). Though perfectly good, even in New York not considered to be in the same class as Minetta Tavern or the Spotted Pig for instance but for me the Charcuterie of Gilles Vérot is the star of the show. Bizarrely I first tasted the product of this Pierre Hermé of charcuterie" in New York before visiting his boutiques in Paris . When in New York I understood that the Charcuterie is made on site by a master Charcutier supplied by Gilles Vérot. In the case of London it is Nicholas Maragou that is preparing truly world class Charcuterie in London.

We are very fortunate to have both Pierre Hermé and Gilles Vérot delights in London and for those who have not been to Catherine and Gille Vérot's boutique Charcuterie's in Paris it's worth going there just for that !

All I can say is at the moment is thanks to Daniel Boulud and the Mandarin Oriental , London "nous sommes gâtés ". I have already enjoyed some of Nicholas Maragou's delights for breakfast and cannot think of a better stop over on the way to work !

I predict Bar Boulud despite the constraints of being in a Hotel will be a great success. It has a wonderful room , service is superb and where it trumps The Wolseley par example is on what the kitchen delivers in each and every plate or board.

Bar Boulud on Urbanspoon