Thursday, February 25, 2010
In 1987 Terence Conran resumed his role as a restaurateur when, in partnership with publisher Paul Hamlyn and chef Simon Hopkinson, he opened Bibendum in the Michelin building in Chelsea. Hopkinson had been the Chef at the seminal Hilaire on Old Brompton road along with Matthew & Henry Harris who also moved to Bibendum.
Today Matthew Harris is Head Chef whilst his brother Henry is Chef Patron at Racine after stints at amongst other places Harvey Nichols Fifth Floor and the Soho House Group. Others that have passed through the kitchens of Bibendum include Bruce Poole , Jeremy Lee’s and Philip Howard.
Simon Hopkinson helped establish the style of cooking based on classic French Bourgeois cooking with a smattering of influences from Italy , Spain and the UK. Matthew Harris has continued the tradition since Simon Hopkinson stopped cooking.
Even after 22 years Bibendum housed in the part modern, part Art Deco Michelin building remains one of the most beautiful restaurant rooms in the country. In fact the whole building including the Conran Shop , Bibendum Oyster Bar and offices was really a case study for a brilliant design and branding.
I was lucky enough to be taken to Bibendum by my parents in it's early days and fondly remember the best Roast Bresse Chicken, Crème Brulée and Bread and Butter Pudding that I have ever had in the UK . I always felt that Bibendum was the only restaurant that Terrance Conran was involved with where the brilliant design was matched with food that had great flavour and was based on wonderful ingredients. Over the years I have seen Simon Hopkinson eating in a number of restaurants ranging from La Tupina in Bordeaux to Giaconda Dinning Room in London. It is clear from these glimpses and, his brilliant writing that this superb cook also really loves eating.
I went back last week on a Friday lunchtime to see how the place is doing after hearing some disturbing reports about the quality of the food and also because it had been over 3 years since my last visit.
Sadly based on this meal the reports were largely true . My starter of peppers stuffed with tuna was very average and I would guess that it had spent a bit too long in the fridge post preparation whilst my haddock and chips was really very poor. The latter was a dish I have eaten many times but the soft and over flowery batter around an almost tasteless piece of haddock was compounded by what I can only describe as pommes allumettes not actually bad but in my opinion totally inappropriate in terms of thickness. My companion asked me to taste his rump of beef and it was really was a shock as the meat was clearly under hung and I suspect that it was not sourced from one of our few top butchers but rather standard Smithfield sourced catering butchers product. This is not what I expected from a restaurant with such a great pedigree and tradition.
On the positive side the Crème Brulée was as good as ever and one of the wines we drank was an outstanding Castello del Terriccio Tassinaia 2004. Service can only be described as excellent.
My sad conclusion is that this restaurant may need to improve it's procurement pretty quickly as I cannot believe that 4 tables at Lunchtime on Friday bodes well.
Monday, February 22, 2010
I finally had my third meal at Terroirs and really wish I had been more often since it opened especially when I think about how many poor meals and unimaginative wine lists I have been subjected to over the past six months.
On my most recent visit last week I started with the Cantabrian Anchovies , Shallots & Unsalted Butter , this is great starter that gets your taste buds racing for what is to come. To follow I enjoyed a really delicious Cassoulet finishing off with some cheese, Fourme d’Ambert, Rocamadour, Soumaintrain and Saint Nectaire . My only quibble was the Toulouse sausage in the Cassoulet was not good enough and maybe not even a genuine Toulouse however the other meats were perfect.
My companion had a Selection of Charcuterie that included Duck Rillettes ,Saucisson “Noir de Bigorre” and Pork & Pistachio Terrine. He then had a fabulous roast Quail dish and also finished off with cheese.
We drank a glass of Champagne Philipponnat Royale Réserve Brut followed by a superb Trinchero Barbera d'Asti 2003 ending with a glass of 2007 Moscato d’Asti, Vigna Vecchia, Ca’ da Gal.
This was my first meal in the downstairs section of Terroirs and it was as good as the other meals I have enjoyed upstairs . For me Terroirs ticks all the boxes, a very good well chosen wine list with simple well selected , procured and executed dishes complimented by very high levels of service.
Terroirs has a simple Philosophy: Great food and great wine sourced with an eager eye for provenance and as long as they continue to deliver they will have my regular custom.
I thought I was going to get away without having to review Dean Street Townhouse because having eaten here twice before I was confident that the required third meal could be avoided.
The reason for my third meal was a lunch with Helen the author of the brilliant World Foodie Guide . We were limited to Soho for the venue and somehow we settled on Dean Street Townhouse.
The Dean Street Townhouse has on the whole received very positive reviews but closer reading of the reviews may lead you to conclude that the food is no great shakes.
Well let me be very clear about the food , it is really awful in a nutshell poor quality ingredients more often than not very badly executed.The restaurant dinning room is really quite delightful and "clubby" but the kitchen seems to be unable to produce food that even matches those of Soho , Electric , Shoreditch , High Road and Babbington Houses !
My advice is go for some Oysters and a grilled Dover sole any dishes requiring a skilled cook/chef and good procurement are likely to disappoint.
For my most recent meal I started with twice baked haddock Souffle - it was not what I would call a souffle but I can confirm it had haddock in it followed by Pork cheeks with parsnip mash, glazed carrots and cider . The pork was of very poor quality and the sauce seemed to have been thickened with copious amounts of corn starch.
Other dishes I have tried chicken pie , salt beef , steak and roast chicken all average at best but frankly piss poor.
One wonders if there is any incentive for the Soho House Group to improve the food when reviews have largely been positive , the room is lovely, service is excellent and the place is fully booked with a good smattering of minor and major celebrities ?
I suspect Dean Street Townhouse Dinning Room has already achieved in a few months what Brasserie Lipp in Paris founded in 1880 has , a beautiful chic restaurant , great atmosphere serving dire food whilst still remaining popular .
Wednesday, February 03, 2010
101 Pimlico Road occupies the site of one of Chelsea's famous Italian restaurants, La Fontana and most recently Vivezza. La Fontana established in the 60's attracted a slighter older segment of the Chelsea set and was famous for it's seasonal truffle menus. It was therefore no surprise to spot one of London's Truffle purveyors, Alfredo pop in and have a chat with Keith Goddard the Head Chef at 101. In fact I actually smelt him before I saw him as, his leather "man bag" was full of Tuber's.
I first met Keith Goddard during his stint at O'Shea's Knightsbridge where he spent a year learning about top class meat from an 8th generation butcher and his father. When you consider how much poor quality meat is served in London restaurants of all types one can only hope other aspiring and even established chefs consider investing time and effort understanding key elements of their supply chain. It was actually at O'Shea's of all places that Keith produced simply the best Chocolate Brownie I have ever had.
Keith is still in his late twenties,and a graduate of The French Culinary Institute in New York. He has since developed his skills in a couple of start up restaurants in NYC then at Oliver Peyton's The Wallace and with Tom Aikens eponymous restaurant in Chelsea.
Will Guess who now owns and runs Rowley's in Jermyn Street (after taking over from his father) is the main investor and with Keith running the kitchen we have one of London's youngest teams to launch a new restaurant.
My original plan was to visit 101 with one of Keith's mentors but for various reasons this was not possible. The restaurant is still less than 3 months old and after some teething problems front of house the operation seems well set to support the beautifully executed food.
On my most recent visit with my wife for lunch we both had a really light and subtle confit of salmon served with a truffled egg.
My main of Battered Cod with truffle chips , spinach and lemon beurre blanc was a revelation. My wife adored her lobster and octopus salad made with the freshest leaves and herbs I have tasted for some time , in fact she was positively reluctant to let me taste.
Both deserts ; Crème Brulée with cinnamon shortbread and Chocolate Tart with peanut butter ice cream sprinkled with Maldon Salt were exemplary.
We drank a decent Pouilly Fume "Des Coques" 2007 .
My only quibble in fact is the wine list that though well chosen is rather limited in numbers and choice of wines but I'm assured this is a work in progress and a more extensive wine list is being developed.
101 Pimlico road is a welcome addition to both the area and the London restaurant scene .