opened in October 2009 in a blaze of inattention. They'd done virtually
no publicity, and still haven't, and they still haven't updated their
website from before they opened.
I think I first came across it in a review on the Manchester
Confidential website, but as much as it was highly praised there, I
didn't really pay that much attention as I don't always agree with
their self-important reviewer. Then it appeared in the Guardian (or the
Independent?) in a list of good lunch deals. Then, one of the
chef-patrons, Mary Ellen McTague was anointed best up-and-coming chef
by the Good Food Guide 2011.
Bit of a bum deal for the other chef-patron, her husband Laurence
Tottingham ... Apparently Mary Ellen McTague spent four years at the
Fat Duck, rising to the position of sous chef, as well as having worked
more locally for Chris Johnson (at Ramsons
in Ramsbottom), who told me that she was one of the best things ever to
happen in his restaurant's kitchen. Tottingham has also worked for
Heston Blumenthal, in his case at the Hinds Head in Bray. Both also
worked at Paul Heathcote's London Road restaurant in Alderley Edge (she
was head chef, he was her sous chef).
Now the pair have opened up on their own on Church Lane, a quiet
residential cul-de-sac leading to the old parish church of Prestwich.
Just outside the restaurant, the parking is limited to two hours, but a
few yards down the street, it becomes de-restricted. The restaurant
itself is in a couple of small cottages, premises which used to be a
bistro and wine-bar called Fetish for Food, that I have to say I'd
never heard of till I found it on Google Streetview.
The interior of Aumbry is pretty simple and basic. Wooden
chairs painted white and distressed, some wall mirrors and and a
sideboard from the 1930s/1940s (I'd guess - my grandparents had pretty
much identical ones anyway). But the tables themselves are neatly
covered with white cloths and there's good cutlery. Glasses are a
little coarse. The tables are also quite close together, giving the
room a slightly cramped feel, though there are only 20 odd covers. At
the back of the room is a tiny open kitchen. I've seen passes bigger
than this kitchen!
There were, I think, three in the kitchen (not including the absent
Mary Ellen McTague, who is expecting a child, I understand) and two
front of house. And then, unfortunately, there were just the two of us
for lunch on Friday.
Service throughout was professional and friendly, but not
over-familiar. They started off well by providing my companion with a
textbook Dry Martini. I chose not to anaesthetise my taste buds.
At lunch, the à la carte is available alongside a 2-2-2
d'hôte lunch for a very reasonable £15.50 for two
or £18.50 for three. The tasting menu is also available by
arrangement. We had arranged to have the tasting menu. This was nine
courses for £50. Nine glasses of matching wines come in at
£35, and as soon as the glasses started to come, it was
that some real thought had gone into choosing these wines, rather than
what seems to be the normal practice of taking what they happen to have
open and forcing matches out of them. Each of the wines was clearly
identified (not that I can remember every detail now) and introduced
with a little (evidently rehearsed, but no less praiseworthy) spiel
explaining why they thought each wine would match the dish with which
it was paired. £35 for nine glasses of wine is good
too, especially as only one was a little disappointing.
We started with two small discs of potted pork (Inglewhite pork the
menu said in the only nod to the current fad for ostentatious local
sourcing) with Cumbrian air dried ham, a small mound of pickled
cucumber and a smear of piccalilli. This was paired with a glass of
Deutz NV, the acidity of which did exactly what was described, and cut
the richness of the meat. The pork was well seasoned and very tasty. We
were slightly put off by what seemed a minimal portion style, but the
waitress did describe it as an amuse, and, despite no portions being
exactly massive, in terms of the overall meal, the amount of food was
very well judged to be satisfying without overfacing. Very good bread
was plentifully available, with two good butters in a somewhat
oversized grand hotel style butter dish complete with cloched lid.
We then moved on to what I think was probably the best dish of the
meal, some home smoked mackerel served on poached rhubarb with a light
mustard sauce and some toasted rye bread. The mackerel was essentially
raw, very lightly smoked and just worked so sublimely perfectly with
the rhubarb. At first I thought the mustard sauce (half way to one of
the Nordic mustard sauces you get with gravadlax) was a bit sweet, but
when you combined all the elements onto one forkful, it worked
superbly. Though it was difficult to resist just enjoying the mackerel
and rhubard on their own.
This was matched with a René Muré riesling that
was almost as perfect a match as the dish.
The next dish was what I think is probably going to be their signature
dish: a Bury black pudding scotch egg with homemade mushroom relish and
homemade tomato ketchup. Perfectly done eggs, sweet black pudding
(Prestwich, incidentally is adminstratively in Bury, not Manchester)
and a light crisp exterior. One egg was on a small, fried mushroom cap
and the other on a cheek of mi-cuit tomato. I have to admit to both
enjoying this dish, but not really being bowled over by it. It just
felt a little too breakfasty to me I think.
Can't remember exactly what the wine was, but it divided opinion on the
table. It was a red Italian served chilled to accentuate the fruit and
reduce the tannins. It did, but maybe something with more fruit and
less tannins might have been a better starting point? An interesting
and thought- and discussion-provoking match though.
The next dish also split us a bit. I thought it was jolly good, but my
companion thought it needed more depth. Possibly riper, sweeter
tomatoes would have helped. The dish was a tea cup of chilled tomato
water which had some shreds of tomato flesh in the bottom, while some
spherified basil and goats milk yoghurt floated in it. A good use of
the El Bulli/Fat Duck spherification technique, as it provided lovely
little bursts of flavour, especially from the basil, without
contaminating the clear "soup", if you see what I mean. Lovely fresh,
clean, refreshing flavours. On the side were a couple of small hot
potato cakes that I'm not convinced were necessary and didn't really
eat that easily with a cup of soup and a teaspoon.
Nice wine match with this (a chardonnay I think), but there's still
that big question over the wisdom and need to serve wine with soup.
Next came another absolutely superb dish. Poached (sous vide we
presumed, but didn't ask) sea trout that simply could not have been
cooked any better. This came with an interesting selection of
accompaniments that caused a raised eyebrow or two, but turned out to
turn a perfect bit of fish into a mighty fine dish of food. There were
some gently pickled new potatoes, some thin slices of very earthy
beetroot, some shredded raw chard and some crunchy walnuts in a light
vinaigrette. Superb dish, but I think the mackerel just edged it.
Can't remember the wine. Or maybe this was the chardonnay and the
tomato consommé was a sauvignon. Hmm, yes, I think that was
Next up was some more pork, here in quite a main course sized portion,
combining the chargrilled loin with slow cooked leg, some carrot puree,
some cabbage and little cubes of elderflower jelly on micron-thick
slices of mushroom.
This was the only slightly disappointing wine match, but that was more
down to it being a bit too ordinary a Côtes du
the thinking behind the match.
Next wine was a delicious Krohn Colheita (1970something). And yes, you
guessed it, this was for the cheese course. Six cheeses I think, all in
perfect condition, sourced from the cheese shop across the other side
of the A56 in Prestwich's horrid 1970s shopping centre. Rosary Goat,
Flower Marie, Berkswell, something else hard, Harbourne Blue,
Next came a gorgeous light, fresh dessert: strawberries, sliced and in
a light strawberry syrup, served with an utterly glorious rosewater
panna cotta and an olive oil biscuit that was shorter than a very short
thing that's been cut in half to make it shorter. Fab. Served with a
nice light, fresh Spanish moscatel.
Then, to round things off, a dish of lighter than average chocolate
ganache sandwiched between some delicious almond crisp, a quick smear
of a nutty vanilla sauce and a double cube of chocolate sorbet. Some
chocolate desserts can be a bit heavy, I find, but this wasn't, and I
have to admit to liking it.
Served with a glass of Maury - a fairly classic match, and certainly
apt in this instance.
Espressos were a bit average and came with very rich chocolate
truffles, of which we managed only a bite each.
7/10 (August 2010)
Van Zeller, Harrogate This review has been moved to its own page: click here
The Parkers Arms, Newton
in Bowland, Lancashire The
Parkers Arms occupies a commanding position on the road between
Clitheroe and Lancaster, one of the old milk lorry routes, so handily
always gritted. For years it's looked increasingly neglected
forlorn, and just plain grubby, and that was the outside. Not
sort of place that would entice you in, other than the (numerous)
walkers who stop for a quick pint.
It's recently(?) been taken over by the two business partners behind
the former Weezo's in Clitheroe, somewhere I never got to.
I never went in before the pub was done up, but have seen some
photographs on the internet, and they've clearly managed to make it so
much more inviting, while retaining the character, and two open
fireplaces that give a very welcoming air. Lot of standard
"gastropub" sage green. Is there a special paint chart for
pubs that features numerous shades of sage green and cream?
is also a light and airy dining room with a great view.
The menus are short and constantly changing. I've been
several times now and enjoyed very good food each
Soups and pies have been strong points, but there's been no obvious
weakness at any point.
A non-vegetarian vegetable broth made with lamb stock was delicious -
one of the best of that ilk I can remember. A chestnut
velouté was really smooth and creamy feeling, but packed
mushroom flavour, topped with some confit mushrooms and a strip of
crispy streaky bacon, served with really good bread.
At an early visit, a parfait of Goosnargh duck livers was a huge
portion, with some toasted bread, but I felt the parfait,
very well made and with a lovely texture, was just a bit lacking in
oomph, probably not helped (at least visually) by the oxidation.
Revisiting the parfait more recently, there was a marked improvement in
Some potato, garlic and parsley fritters were beignets somewhere
between a fishless brandade fritter and dauphine potatoes, fried to
quite a deep colour, but without any greasiness or flavour of the oil.
They struck just the right balance of comfort and lightness, though a
little more garlic and parsley would have done no harm, particularly if
they ever served these as a bar snack, something they'd be really good
at. On the side were a lightly dressed salad and a pot of tomato
relish. I couldn't quite make my mind up about the tomato
though it worked well with the potato fritters.
Beef and ale pie was a raised pie, and about the size of a medium pork
pie, looking very attractive with its crimped rim and glossy glazing.
Inside the particularly good and crisp hot water pastry, it was packed
with good meat in a decent gravy, and there was also a jug of extra
gravy (not the same gravy, I think, as the jug was lighter and thinner
than that in the pie). The pie came on a nest of shredded savoy cabbage
cooked with lots of bacon, some carrots, and in a separate bowl, some
extraordinarily good chips. Very clean flavour, lovely and fluffy
inside, lovely crisp outside. Chips how they should be, but how so many
places fail to make them.
Venison pie is a raised pie with beautiful hot water pastry,
and had a touch of orange in the rich gravy that worked very
On another occasion a hogget pasty was delicious - beautiful light
pastry around an almost unctuous filling apparently made from de-fatted
breast of hogget.
Wet Nelly was a delicious dessert - traditionally a Scouse dish with as
many recipes and variants as there were people who made it, but
typically including leftover pastry/bread/cake and fruit - here, it's
made into a tart, with probably more fruit in it than you'd find in
19th/20th Century Liverpool, and served with lovely custard.
A pear and apple sponge pudding was a light sponge, on a bed
gently spiced pear, apple and sultanas. On top was some lightly whipped
cream and on the side was a jug of really superb custard.
A small wine list is supplied by the renowned D Byrne of Clitheroe, but
there's also a selection of really well kept local ales that repay the
What really stands out here is the passion behind the operation.
Feedback forms are distributed to diners, and I know from my experience
of repeat visits, that they're not just read, but also acted on.
5/10 (April/May 2010)
The Inn at Whitewell,
Bowland Forest, Lancashire I have to
admit to having had a few doubts about the Inn at Whitewell, as most
reports I hear and read tend to praise the setting (which is truly
glorious, and the view up the Hodder and Hareden rivers to the Trough
of Bowland is spectacular) rather more than the food and service. It's
also a very popular wedding venue, which tends not to be a great
indicator of good food. There was a wedding on tonight too, though
apart from ladies in hats milling around the bar area the only impact
was when we left, when the karaoke in the marquee outside was in full
But my doubts about the food were largely unfounded. It's nothing
particularly special, but it was all nicely done, and service was very
good - not too intrusive, but there when needed. My starter of scallops
with "with a little thai fish cake" were three good scallops, two
pretty big and one small, accurately cooked. The fish cake was neither
little nor Thai and served no purpose other than bulking out the dish.
It was a bit like having two starters on the plate. A drizzle of sweet
chilli sauce on the plate is a bit hackneyed, but like many hackneyed
things it sort of works - with the scallops at least, though not so
much with the fish cake. I didn't reckon much to the undressed shredded
carrot and beansprout salad on the side, which didn't seem to provide
the freshness that it was presumably meant to, as well as being a bit
hard to eat (i.e. getting shredded carrot and beansprouts on the fork
uses more calories than you gain by eating it).
Loin of Lonk lamb was
perfectly cooked and tasty meat, though I didn't really get what the
scraggy bit of fat was left on for. The lamb came on a great aubergine
purée, which, combined with a quenelle of decent if
ratatouille, gave an air of the Mediterranean to the Lancashire lamb.
The bacon and cabbage added to the accompanying polenta cake were a
brave attempt to give polenta some purpose, but the bacon was the star
of that little sub-dish, and was almost trying to upstage the lamb.
A chateaubriand of beef is offered for two and
served with a little theatre, carved at the table. It looked
beautifully cooked. Simply prepared and served, with a whole roast
garlic, tomato, mushroom and game chips. One of our party had misread
that as chips and was disappointed only to get the game chips, and
quickly ordered a portion of proper chips. These took a bit too long to
come, as the main courses were almost finished when they arrived, but
they were well worth waiting for. Excellent chips.
My meal finished
with three good cheeses, though for some reason one wasn't local: Mrs
Kirkham's Lancashire, Blacksticks Blue and Stinking Bishop, served with
very good bread (much better than the bread rolls that came at the
start of the meal).
3/10 (April 2010)
1066 Restaurant, The
Hastings, Lytham, Lancashire
The 1066 restaurant is the "fine dining" operation at The Hastings,
serving a six course tasting menu (for £45), I think just on
three nights a week (Thurs-Sat).
The room is a bit odd, though I'm finding it difficult to put my finger
on what's wrong. Lighting singularly misses the tables, which
probably doesn't help, but it's got a bit of a cold
Another customer complained to the waiter that the room had the
atmosphere of a doctor's waiting room, and could they not put some
music on. The waiter fiddled with a laptop in a cupboard
managed to produce some scratchy music over the speakers built into the
ceiling which really sounded like a scratchy 78. I'm not a
fan of background muzak in restaurants, but fortunately said customer
was something of a whizz with computers and i-pods and in a trice had
connected her own i-pod and managed to improve the atmosphere in the
restaurant (there were just three twos in this Good Friday evening, so
it did help).
The "fine dining" experience atmosphere isn't exactly helped by the
toilets for the whole of The Hastings operation (a very busy bar and
more informal restaurant) being right outside the 1066 restaurant. A
cry from outside the dining room of "hurry up Shaz, I need to wee
quick!" doesn't really set the best tone.
Fortunately the food is really top notch. The 6 course
menu is supplemented by a couple of "freebie" extras, and so we started
with a shot glass of asparagus velouté.
Lovely and creamy, but with a really good deep asparagus
flavour. The only thing wrong with it was that the British
asparagus season had not really started yet.
Moving onto the printed menu, the first course was a light,
well-balanced dish of crab mayonnaise and smoked salmon, beautifully
presented with a halo of perfectly sliced radish. The radish
provided a good counterpoint to the creamy crab, and a further accent
came from a hint of Japanese pickled ginger. A really nice
Next came a halibut dish, "Pan roast halibut with roast langoustines
Served with butternut squash puree, crispy potatoes and a langoustine
and tarragon essence". The fish was thoroughly upstaged by
beautiful langoustines. The potatoes were quite clever - long thin
strips formed into a sort of carpet beater-like form and deep fried.
The meal now switched to meat with some very tender wood pigeon breast
served with good cep gnocchi and a smoked bacon, hazelnut and thyme
Last time I had this dish I found it too salty, largely because of an
excess of bacon, and said so to the chef, Warrick Dodds. That
been fixed this time and that allowed the dish to shine.
Another freebie next: a superb little shot glass of melon juice and the
finest dice of melon, with a slither of jamon iberico draped over the
edge of the glass. A classic combination in a refreshing form.
Then came the main course: rump of lamb with a kataifi of shoulder (the
menu didn't scare the horses by calling it kataifi, but did mention
that the shoulder was marinated and confit).
The rump was the most tender piece of lamb rump that I can remember in
a very long time, and with good flavour too. The truffled potato
purée that came with it was very impressive too - perfectly
balanced truffle flavour.
Next came the star dish of the meal: "Rhubarb and Custard".
we didn't realise it when it arrived. The waiter brought a
basket that contained a couple of jam jars, a voile bag apparently
containing some sweets, and a some shortcake. Is that
Is there something else coming? We realised that was
jam jars contained alternating layers of an absolutely delicious,
utterly perfect rhubarb jelly and what felt like panna cotta with a
hint of elderflower. The bag of sweets turned out to contain
course) rhubarb and custard sweets. The shortbread was
done, with a shortness measured in picometres. This really
superb dish, expertly conceived and presented with wit.
Unfortunately, the final course, a selection of "five Sandham's
cheeses" ended the meal on a duff note. I'm of the opinion
Sandham's aren't the best of the Lancashire cheesemakers, and this
wasn't a great selection either. Too many of them had a
almost spreadable texture that just felt uncomfortable on the plate,
and I'm sure the lurid green of a supposed sage derby was there merely
for colour, as it scarcely tasted any different to the rest, though
shared the pasty texture. One cheese was so hot with chilli,
was inedible and could only ever serve as a macho exercise.
on earth it was doing on a plate in a fine dining restaurant is utterly
As well as the wine list, there are matched wines and matched beers
with the tasting menu, £30 for six generous glasses of wine;
£20 for six beers. When I go again, I'll take the
option, as the wines really smacked of being cheap, low end wines.
Service was pretty good, though "company policy" did not allow him to
add a tip on the credit card machine, and as we had come out without
cash, unfortunately we could not leave a tip. Yet another
is the lunacy of tipping.
6/10 (April 2010)
Inn, Wiswell, Lancashire
This review has been moved to its own page: click here The Cartford Inn, Cartford
Bridge, Little Eccleston, Lancashire
country pub, on the south side of the Cartford toll bridge over the
The immediate impression is of a nice, very clean-feeling place - quite
big, with a log fire at one end. A remarkably long bar
there is perhaps still some drinking trade, though everyone today
seemed to be there for the food.
Some deep-fried calamari were good - strips not rings, and quite thick
squid, though very tender. This came with a good, though
mismatched tomato and Parmesan salsa. There are some odd
the menu here. Like a starter of prawns on a slice of warm
scallops loaf, with red pepper coulis and salsa Verde. I
had that, just to find out what on earth a scallop loaf is, but instead
went for "Bury black pudding and cinnamon apple wholemeal
pancake." I was expecting an American-style or scotch
the side. But the pancake looked remarkably like a tortilla,
was wrapped around a dice of black pudding. At first I
they'd wimped out and just served the black pudding in a tortilla wrap,
for the pancake was pretty tasteless, like a tortilla. But it
too thick and the wrong texture for a tortilla. Can't say I
any cinammon or apple from it. Nothing wrong with the dish,
a bit odd. Nice mustard creme fraiche on the side.
My companion had a slice of a well made chicken liver parfait, that was
unfortunately just a little too fridge cold. Maybe if it had
a little warmer it would have developed greater depth of
But better than many, and the accompanying fig and cranberry chutney
Lancashire hotpot, with lamb off the local Pilling marsh, was a good
example, and served in quite a quantity, sufficiently so that while I
initially mourned the rather sparse potato topping, I wouldn't have
wanted much more, especially with there being two mini loaves on the
plate too. Pickled red cabbage is traditional with hotpot in
circles, and no exception here, though it was a pretty horrid,
over-acidic version that defied eating.
Oxtail and beef suet pudding was fab. Remarkably thin suet
with a rich, deep oxtail and beef filling. Very nice mash on
side, and some very chunky beetroot salad.
Crème brûlée of the day was lemon and
were certainly evident in the dish. Quite a thick
brûlée topping. Nice, but there was a
curd feeling to the cream.
Black cherry Bakewell (actually a black cherry frangipane tart) was a
Service is cheery and competent, though a little nervous.
In the past, they used to have their own brewery out back (and the sign
is still there on one of the outbuildings), but the ales are now bought
in, though all "real" - three local and one from Yorkshire.
wine list offers no surprises, but is well put together, with plenty of
choice and some interest, and a significant number of bins under
2/10 (February 2010)
& Dragon, Clifton, near Penrith
revamped pub close by the Lowther Estate near Penrith, and apparently
in ownership somehow related to the Lowthers. Much is made of the local
sourcing, including poultry and beef from the organic Lowther
I arrived for lunch and my heart was immediately warmed by a blackboard
by the front door stating that "The grouse season has begun! Delicious
Dexter beef available. Try some today".
The heart sinks however, when the man (presumably the manager, as he
was the only one not wearing black shirt and jeans) on the reception
desk, singularly ignores me stood in front of him for a couple of
minutes - he didn't even look away from his computer screen. Perhaps he
was on for a high score? He looked one of those singularly gormless
creatures who must be given good references by previous employers to
get rid of them. Through the 90 minutes of my meal, nothing changed my
impression of him, though other staff were pleasant and capable. I gave
up with him and wandered into the bar, but again could find nobody to
seat me. I wouldn't normally worry about not being officially seated,
but there were no menus on the tables, nor visible anywhere, so I
needed someone to show me to a table. Eventually I did manage to
distract the manager from his engrossing computer and was offered a
choice of restaurant or bar, though there really seemed to be little
difference, other than that the restaurant tables already had place
The revamped decor is the now standard sage green and magnolia with
flagged floors. Furniture is large and chunky, and (in the restaurant
at least) appears to have formerly served its time in churches. Some
very big, long table in the restaurant give a slight impression of a
There's a printed menu which, at lunch, features a selection of
baguette sandwiches. The bread which comes to the table is also
baguettes, and the toast which came with my starter was also baguette.
Why on earth would a country pub, with its feet firmly rooted in the
local region, and proclaiming loudly its local sourcing use French
bread (even if it is made locally) so widely?
Disappointingly neither the printed menu nor the blackboard had any
mention of the Dexter beef or grouse that had got my hopes up outside.
When someone finally (after getting on for 10 minutes) came to take my
order, I asked about the grouse or Dexter, but I was told that's only
available in the evening. I get very irritated by this sort of thing,
and having tried again, told the waitress that I hoped they ended up
having to throw away a grouse. She appeared to sympathise, but could
I ordered an organic chicken liver paté, which was fine,
correct, faint hint of brandy, if a little underseasoned, despite being
sprinkled with sea salt. Very nice little salad on the side. The toast
(the aforementioned baguette) appeared to be half toasted, half fried.
My main course was the "pie of the day", off the blackboard: ham and
mushroom puff pastry pie. As I had assumed, this was a bowl of pie mix
with a piece of puff pastry on top. The pastry was a bit thick. The ham
and mushroom mix was a bit disappointing: a creamy blend of wafer thin
sliced roast ham (rather than the pieces of chunky gammon you might
expect), virtually no mushrooms and lots peas. Very bland, with the
dominant flavour being peas and cream. There was no salt and pepper on
the table, but it came quickly enough when I asked for it. Really
needed it, but didn't compensate for the lack of hamminess. Some simple
veg (cabbage, carrot, french beans) came on the side.
For dessert I ordered a strawberry sundae from the small selection of
desserts split between the menu and the blackboard. When it came the
waitress pointed out that it was actually blackcurrant with a
strawberry on top. There was a blackcurrant Eton Mess on the
blackboard, so I presumed somebody had started off the wrong dessert
and decided to chance their arm that it would be accepted. Curiously
though, it was blackberries, not blackcurrant, and there were a few
slivers of chopped strawberry in there too. There were also a couple of
pieces of meringue in the mix of custard and whipped cream binding the
fruit. Maybe it was just a one-size fits all dessert.
I came out with an overall impression that this was somewhere that
would be useful in the area, and is close enough to the Penrith
junction of the M6 to be useful for those travelling up or down the
motorway. But probably not worth a major detour.
On my departure, I took the opportunity to correct their misleading
advertising by rubbing out the words grouse, Dexter and beef on the
blackboard. Petty. But satisfying.
1/10 (August 2009)
followed Robert Kisby on his career trail around the North
West's dining scene for many years, from the days he was an
unknown-to-everyone junior chef in the brigade of Gilbert
the Midland Hotel's French Restaurant in Manchester. Lefèvre
of that last generation of French chefs in Britain who had been brought
up on, and passed on the traditions of Escoffier. Robert Kisby learned
his trade from Lefèvre and is one of the few left who sticks
to those traditions. For that alone, he probably deserves some sort of
culinary equivalent to listed building status.
Through all the
years, he has been an employee; now he's pitched up at this roadside
inn near Tarporley in Cheshire, he is for the first time chef patron.
The experience has left him three stone and and a lot of savings
never went to Cabbage Hall before Robert Kisby took
over, so I don't know how much of the front of house decor is down to
Kisby. It's a bit flash with chairs that look like they came out of a
black and white film of a Paris brothel. But it's not offensive and
we'd gone to eat, not film Changing Rooms.
Once you're past the
decor, the first thing that strikes you is the complicated menu
structure, which surely can only mean harder work for the kitchen?
There is a "designer platter menu" offering platters of attractive
sounding selections of pub grub, regional specialities etc. "Designer"
here picks up on the tailoring theme (cabbages are apparently a rag
trade term for cloth offcuts) that runs across the menus: the "Bespoke"
menu is an à la carte; the "Tailor's" menu is a 2-course
prix fixe, the
"One Piece" (quick lunch menu). But it doesn't end there. On Friday and
Saturday evenings, the dinner menu is enhanced with further options.
saving grace is that everything on every menu is very appealing. The
food could perhaps best be described as not-entirely-modern British,
with a strong
emphasis on local sourcing, tempered by the spirit of Escoffier. Apart
from the naming of producers and suppliers on the menu, there's nothing
trendy here: there are no foams, no smears of sauces and the day any
liquid nitrogen makes an appearance in Kisby's kitchen will no doubt be
the day his demi-glace freezes over.
So, onto the food.
on a bed of cassoulet were really excellent scallops: beautifully sweet
perfectly cooked. The cassoulet was equally well done, but we wondered
how well they two matched together.
A galantine of rabbit was
nicely executed, with a marked rabbit flavour, and came with superb,
really tasty pickled mushrooms. "Prawn and avocado hors d'oeuvre" was
essentially a classic prawn cocktail, but it was the other elements of
this "hors d'oeuvre" plate that really shone: a superb, very, very
clean tasting quenelle of crab mayonnaise on a bed of subtly pickled
cucumber; and some delicious Morecambe Bay potted shrimps that had been
potted in a perfectly spiced lobster butter.
Some superb turbot,
again perfectly cooked, had been wrapped around some crab and spinach
and was then served with a delicious Dugléré
sauce, that was so good
that it was a real treat that some more came in a small jug.
thermidor was spot on, with a good mustardy spicy flavour that didn't
overwhelm the lobster. The lobster was accompanied by some remarkably
nicely flavoured rice.
Veal Suédoise was a very good rib chop of
veal (a cut that, in my view, should be used more often than the more
usual T-bone veal chop) liberally sauced with a classic mushroom and
sherry sauce, and came with some simply cooked spinach and the rather
less simple Berrichone potatoes. Quite how many of the customers would
know what Berrichone potatoes are, I have to wonder, and copies of Saulnier's Repertoire de la Cuisine
are not on every table. But having checked my copy when I got home,
these were the real deal: cooked in stock with onions and bacon.
was a very good selection in good condition, including a notably good
Cheshire from Mrs Appleby. Weakest of the selection was a very meek
Crêpes Suzette was another classic dish, though, not
entirely a classic rendition as I'm pretty sure there were some pieces
of kumquat zest in there too, along with a nice mandarin sorbet.
Unfortunately, there was something not quite perfect about the pancakes
- they felt a little, thick, blonde and underdone.
Bread was plentiful, but was one aspect of the food that could benefit
from further attention: it felt a little commercial.
first glance, the wine list looks a bit short and uninteresting, but a
turn of the page reveals a Chef's Cellar collection of more interesting
bottles, though here prices move quickly up to the Cheshire
stratosphere. Moreover, looking at the list again later, on their
actually a bit more interesting than many similar restaurants, with the clear hand of Boutinot behind, I think: it's
just a bit of a hard read, without any descriptions. A
bit of description of the wines (beyond the division
into styles) would be helpful. They tried to push some
sauvignon blanc onto us, and when we suggested that particularly with
creamy sauces, we'd prefer something with more body, a blend of
sauvignon blanc and pinot gris was recommended and sounded interesting.
Tasting it, it felt more sauvignon like though there was a more
florality and a bit more weight to it than a sauvignon - it felt a bit
like Te Koko, in fact in terms of weight, but if the sommelier says
it's a blend of sauvignon and pinot gris, you sort of assume he might
know. Closer examination of the
bottle revealed it to be Casa Marin's Sauvignon Gris from Chile.
Pointing this out, the sommelier was still adamant that it
was a blend of sauvignon and pinot gris and that there was no such
grape as sauvignon gris. Hmmm ....
We thoroughly enjoyed this meal, and thought it well worth the hour's
drive. Driving back, we were struck by just
how difficult it was to find fault, apart from the minor, very picky
comments noted above. If they can keep up this standard, then
I have a feeling we be back more than once!
6+/10 (June 2009)
The Dalton Arms,
dockside pub offers simple, largely homely cooking.
Soups are good. A starter of a black pudding salad wasn't
particularly so: the black pudding was a good one with the slices not
overcooked as they can easily be. But the salad was
undressed, and it really needed it to make it a complete dish.
A belly pork dish off the daily specials blackboard was decently cooked
belly pork, but, although the skin had been criss-cross scored, there
was no attempt to create any crackling. It came with a huge
of good chips and an equally huge bowl of mixed veg: roast carrots and
parsnips tossed together in burnt butter with some tenderstem broccoli.
Battered scampi is distinguished from your average pub scampi by being
fresh langoustines. Good batter. Good chips.
They make a great song and dance about their sticky toffee pudding (to
the point of selling it retail): it was a very good example, but not
Service is friendly and apparently family.
1/10 (May 2009) Update:
driving past in
June 2009, I saw a sign on the road advertising burgers with the world
cup on football. Checking out their website, it seems they've
changed hands since the above was written, so please be aware that my
review dates from when it was under a previous management.
The Ox, Liverpool Road,
busy pub, which advertises itself as a gastropub, but on the couple of
occasions I've been, there seem to be more people having a (very good)
pint than diners. The food isn't startlingly good, but it's
certainly very acceptable, and not just by Manchester's low standards.
Fennel and radicchio risotto was topped with a seared scallop and quail
egg. Nice scallop, nicely cooked. Soft boiled quail egg. The risotto,
however, was rather unevenly cooked - some of it was right, some of it
was a bit underdone and chalky. My guess was that either they realised
a bit late that they hadn't done enough (there were eight of us), or
that they spoiled one panful and had to start a new batch. To be very
picky, it would have helped (though not in the cooking of the rice
obviously) if the plate had been warmer.
Chicken liver parfait, wrapped in foie gras butter, accompanied by
loganberry jelly and brioche: this was a superb parfait, the foie gras
in the butter just adding that little bit more richness, that was
nicely offset by the jelly. Yum.
"Confit duck leg with dauphinoise potato, peppered balsamic strawberry
Peppered balsamic strawberry sauce sounds like some horrible car crash
between 1980s nouvelle cuisine and a 1990s TV chef. But it was nowhere
near as ill-judged as it sounds, and actually worked very well with the
nicely done duck leg. Maybe if the skin on the duck had been crisped a
bit more, that would have improved the dish? The potatoes weren't
dauphinoise, as there was a layer of onions in there and there wasn't a
huge amount of cream. Missed a bit of green (squeaky beans maybe?) on
A chocolate fondant came with "Uncle Joe's Mint Balls" ice cream.
Decent fondant. Fab ice cream.
2/10 (December 2009)
The Angel Pub, Angel St,
that side of Manchester and I had a memory of reading about the Angel
Pub. Checking their website on my 'phone, I saw the name of Robert Owen
Brown and realised that's obviously why I remembered hearing good
things about it. Unfortunately the website - which I notice has now
been updated to a holding page - misled us. If I'd googled further, I'd
have realised that Robert Owen Brown had moved on well before
Christmas, and that the Angel had in fact closed. But I didn't. So we
It's a horrible area of Manchester's centre - all derelict
buildings and empty spaces. The Angel stands alone in a desert of
demolition-turned-car-parks. Very unprepossessing from the outside, but
we thought what the heck and gave the door a shove. Cold, damp, and a
bit smelly. God this place is seedy, nasty, grotty. Should we just go?
We've got here, let's see what there is. Opposite the entrance is a
blackboard menu, that reads fairly well. Go on then.
We ask the man behind the bar, who appears to be a manager, if he can
do lunch for two (the place is empty, save one table of drinkers). We
might as well have asked him if he thought fermat's theorem had any
relevance for 21st century interior design. It was like the staff had
just woken up and found that they were, unexpectedly, running a pub,
but hadn't yet fully grasped the concept. Eventually he "came to" a bit
and we sat by a window, and were told he'd bring the menu, as the
blackboard was wrong.
While we waited for the menu, we were able to take in the gloriousness
of the interior. There's retro, and there's shabby chic. This place is
beyond either. A lamp (unlit) sits on top of a pile of plastic beer
crates. The furnishings appear to date from the 1960s, with
the lack of comfort that you would expect from 50 year old banquettes.
The floor is wet. Is it the remains of the ice that had built up
overnight, or had they just washed it?
Eventually the menus arrive, and we make choices, only to be told a few
other things that are available. Hare terrine sounds good. Langoustines
sound good. That's my companion sorted. I stick to the printed menu
with chicken liver paté and roast pigeon with black pudding.
few minutes later, the chef appears, a personable chap. He explains
that the hare terrine won't be ready till the evening, and he didn't
think that even a double portion of langoustines would make a
substantial enough main course. So my companion reverts to the
photocopied menu with razor clams and a rib-eye steak with
Béarnaise and chips.
We're still wondering whether we shouldn't have just left before
committing ourselves, when the first courses arrive. And what a
surprise. The razor clams are beautifully cooked (and they can be
tricky), in a nice shellfish broth, though unfortunately there's no
spoon, and we really don't think it would be a good idea to disturb the
staff's slim grasp of reality by asking for one.
My chicken liver pâté isn't bad. Well made, a bit
underpowered and underseasoned, but a very good texture.
There was then quite a long delay for the main courses, which makes you
wonder how they cope when they've got more than one table in. But so
many restaurants seem to manage must better when they're busy for some
reason that I've never managed to fathom.
Eventually the steak and the pigeon arrive.
The pigeon looks a bit grey and overcooked, and curiously the breasts
are half lifted off the carcase, as though the kitchen has suddenly
panicked that it wasn't done and they needed to speed up cooking.
Oddly, it didn't taste overcooked - maybe it had just been overrested a
bit? The pigeon shares the plate with a pretty huge piece of black
pudding and some very good mash. Nothing else. No gravy/sauce. Far too
much black pudding in comparison to pigeon. It was more like black
pudding and mash with a pigeon on the side.
The rib-eye steak was perfectly cooked to medium rare as requested and
remarkably good meat. The Béarnaise was spot on, and the
Whoever is in the kitchen now, clearly knows what they're doing. Front
of house seem not to be entirely in the same reality as us, and the
place is grotty almost beyond belief. I'm afraid to say that the food
doesn't make up for the derelict location and grotty interior
sufficiently to say I'll be back.
0/10 (Jan 2010)
Café, Harvey Nichols, Leeds
brunch. Well, I hoped quick, but service - or rather the kitchen - was
so appallingly slow ... A short menu for brunch, all uncomplicated. Why
did it take 30 minutes to produce my grilled black pudding with
sauté potatoes and mustard crème fraiche? When it
came it was very good black pudding. The sauté potatoes
sauté potatoes as we know them - they were new potatoes cut
wedges, and I think the only sautéing they'd had was when
were shaken when they came out of the deep fryer. The pool of
crème fraiche on which it all sat was missing any mustard
whatsoever. Which is a shame, as it would have been a good combination.
I couldn't be bothered sending it back, as I didn't want to a) wait
another half hour and b) order more drinks to fill in the time.
0/10 (May 2009)
The Piazza by
second meal here, this time dinner with a wine group (so we were in one
of the private rooms and had arranged corkage). We had told them what
wines made up our theme for the evening: riesling, red priorato and
then back to some sweet rieslings, and asked them to come up with a
menu. They came up with a very intelligently compiled menu: Seared
scallop with cauliflower purée and elderflower foam Roast
venison with chocolate and red fruit reduction Apple and rosemary tart
tatin with vanilla ice cream.
Portions were not over generous, but by the end of the evening, I don't
think anyone was hungry, helped perhaps by separate bowls of buttery
mash with the venison. The cost was £40 a head including room
hire and corkage.
The scallops (two medium sized ones) were perfectly cooked, but a
little more elderflower presence would have been welcome (maybe in a
different form than foam?), and perhaps a Jersey royal each, might have
made the scallops look a bit less lonely on the plate. Again with the
venison, just a touch more of the sauce might have been handy. It was
beautiful venison (loin), nicely cooked. The combination of chocolate
and raspberry didn't appeal to all, but down our end of the table, it
definitely hit the right note, particularly with our wines. Some pommes
purée was served separately, and fortunately they succumbed
sad eyes suggesting that one bowl between two wasn't quite enough. Very
smooth and runny, but not especially buttery. Maybe they're using some
flavourless Spanish butter? Plenty of salt in the potatoes though. And
indeed throughout there was absolutely no need for any seasoning to be
added at the table.
The tarte tatin was absolutely spot on. Perfect pastry; perfect
caramelisation and just enough rosemary that you could notice it, but
without it feeling in the slightest intrusive.
With a dedicated waiter for our room and Holly popping in and out
throughout, plus the fact we were doing our own wine service, service
was very good. But overall at Anthony's Piazza the service remains a
bit of a concern of mine. There's just a lack of interest, apparent not
least in the refusal of all of our offers to help themselves to a taste
of any wines that they wanted. Maybe they thought they were being
professional, but it actually smacked of a lack of professional
interest. (I remember one London maitre d'hotel refusing our tip as he
regarded the small pour of Latour 61 as the best tip he'd had in
3/10 (May 2009)
The Box Tree, Ilkley
Box Tree at Ilkley has been going longer than I have and is one of the
grandes dames of the British restaurant scene. It has seen
fashions come and go; it's seen owners, chefs and chef proprietors come
and go. Originally opened in 1962 by Malcolm
Reid and Colin Long, it quickly became the best restaurant in the
north, and held on to its reputation for many years. For
Marco Pierre White, under Reid and Long it was "the most
magical restaurant I ever stepped into."
When Reid and Long retired, some of the magic - and
the two Michelin stars - went. In 2004, Simon Gueller, who
made his name at a string of restaurants in Leeds, took over the Box
Tree (though the previous incumbent, the redoubtable and entertaining
Mme Avis, still owns the building). Initial reviews were a
mixed, but in time things settled down and Gueller won back a Michelin
star. On the basis of my recent visit, he must be on his way
regaining the Box Tree's second star. It really was a superb
meal, and so gratifying to see a dining room packed to the gills on a
The standard of cooking is set with drinks, when delicious
canapés are served: a beautifully truffled jerusalem
purée and some little tomato and goats cheese pastries, with
depth of flavour out of all proportion to their feather-lightness.
Once at the table, a demitasse of a perfect mushroom
veouté was served as an appetiser. A sort of
healthily full of lobster and other shellfish was light and summery,
while my starter of grilled quail was perfectly cooked and perfectly
seasoned. My one criticism might be that in a restaurant as
as the Box Tree, there were a few two many bones left in (the winglet
attached to the breasts and the leg bones). My one criticism
the service would be that no finger bowl was brought with the quail,
even after I had started gnawing at the bones. Our third
was a platter of some of the best Jabugo ham ever tasted, served with
two crostini, one topped with deeply flavoursome roasted tomatoes, the
other with an artichoke purée with truffle slices laid on
A dish that really couldn't have been bettered.
course was a sirloin of veal served with a separate cocotte of a
spinach, girolles and very good gnocchi in a creamy parmesan sauce.
The veal was - strangely for Dutch veal - a bit on
side, though that did lend some flavour. Again the meat had
accurately cooked and seasoning was spot on. The veal is
explicitly advertised as Dutch on the menu: there really is no excuse
for a restaurant of this calibre not to be serving some of the
excellent British, outdoor reared, rose veal that is now coming to
market - the meat was not as good as the sirloin of British veal I had
had at the Duke of York at Grindleton (see below)
a week or so earlier. Our table also had a brill dish from
à la carte main courses, served on some excellent truffled
and a textbook, almost perfectly spherical poached egg: this was
described as the finest brill ever eaten, and having tasted it, I had
An autumn fruit tart had a great autumnal topping
lightly stewed fruits on top of a quite superb glazed pastry disc: the
accompanying Philadelphia sorbet (the processed cream cheese of that
name) was fine and went well enough, though I couldn't help thinking
that something slightly less cheesy, maybe a mascarpone sorbet, might
have worked better. Our other desert was a sort of
Sachertorte: two baby loaves of not overly chocolatey, nor especially
light chocolate cake, were served on a bed of apricot purée
topped with shards of delicious chocolate, the whole being illuminated
by two balls of superb sorbets, raspberry and passion fruit, of an
almost day-glo brightness. It doesn't particularly sound it,
it was a delicious, perfectly balanced dessert. We didn't
one, but we couldn't help noticing the procession of raspberry
soufflés going to all the tables who were eating off the
excellent value table d'hôte menu: all identical, and all
perfectly and toweringly risen. Coffee was pretty good, and served with
excellent home-made, interesting, chocolates, which are presented in a
retired Davidoff humidor.
The wine list has lots of interest
while the markups are pretty standardly steep at the lower end, there
is some good value at middle and top ends: it definitely pays to trade
up on the wine here. Possibly the selection favours reds over
white, but eventually we noticed a Pinot Bland Spätlese
from Willi Opitz in Austria that worked very well indeed with our food.
With the one exception of not noticing that a finger bowl
be needed with the quail, service was otherwise absolutely excellent
6/10 (October 2008)
The Duke of
York Inn, Grindleton
flair by Michael Heathcote" goes their catchphrase. This is
no relation to the other Lancastrian Heathcote, former
chef, now restaurateur, Paul Heathcote.
It's getting hard to move in the Ribble Valley for pubs that have
become restaurants - and most are pretty decent too. This
however, seems a cut above the rest.
The menus read well, and the idea of having a "pie night" (Wednesdays)
and a "game night" (Thursdays), as well as an extended fish specials
list (on Fridays naturally) all appeal to me, as does the fact that
there is a specials blackboard. (Though when I went today,
of the blackboard was repeated on a printed "specials" section on the
printed menu.) Shame the menu on their website
up-to-date. I like the Angel
at Hetton's idea of a webcam on their blackboard.
Inside, it's split into two areas: the bar area and the restaurant
area, both available for eating. The bar felt a little bare
cold in atmosphere (at least it is, when
they're not packed), but it's nice that the original rooms of the old
pub appear to have been retained, rather than it all being knocked
through. The restaurant room is larger and more open with
onto the village street on one side and mirrors on the other side
giving a good sense of space. Tables are bare in both bar and
restaurant, but they do provide proper cloth napkins.
the selection of ales left a bit to be
the wine list is very suitable for purpose: the dearest bottle - apart
from vintage champagnes - is a £42 red burgundy from
Roumier. I don't think the producer would be too keen on the
attached to the wine, which says that it has a "Stella reputation" -
ah, that'll mean it's rubbish, overpriced and an English
invention. Hmmm ... perhaps not too inaccurate ...
A starter of game terrine was absolutely superb, though not quite what
I was expecting, nor quite a terrine. This was a delicious
parfait containing three fillets of game (rabbit, pigeon, partridge
maybe?) with a very nice chutney and little salad on the
Beautiful dish: one of the best of the year. Fish soup was
one of the best soups of the year: richly coloured and flavoured served
with the proper accompaniments, though the croutons are a little
unusual: very thin slices of bread dried/toasted, presumably in the
oven: the disadvantage is that the croutons virtually dissolved very
quickly, meaning you couldn't really load them up with the very good
rouille and cheese and let the whole laden crouton soak up the fish
soup. Our third starter was a pigeon salad: a nicely cooked
tender breast, with a fine brunoise (tiny cubes) of the confit leg,
served with a nice, lightly dressed salad and some baby beetroot. This
was very nice, and the confit leg was particularly delicious and well
seasoned, but there was a slightly off-putting element, in that, apart
from the roast breast (which was lukewarm, everything else was cold.
My main course was a local veal sirloin with girolles.
veal, very tender, but with a good flavour, perfectly cooked.
I mean perfectly. Superb stock-based sauce with it, along
good girolles, some potatoes and a nice mound of cabbage with a fine
brunoise of carrot and swede mixed through it. A tiny
might be that the root vegetables would have been improved with just a
little longer cooking. Not a huge portion of veal either,
might make those with heartier appetites (of which there are plenty in
these parts) look askance at the £14.50 cost - but the value
seemed good to me, and the portion size entirely adequate. By
contrast, the steak pudding benefited from its eater having said hearty
appetite: quite a large pudding, though the suet crust was lovely and
light, filled with plenty of good meat and a real depth of flavour to
the gravy, of which there was also a separate jug brought to the table.
The pudding was accompanied by some really good fat chips and
same cabbage with carrot and swede as with the veal. A roast
of very local lamb had a beautiful flavour, and we appreciated it being
cooked medium. I'm increasingly of the view that lamb should
pink, never red. The lamb came with a quite gorgeous boudin
the shoulder, but also a rather large stodgy rösti.
the rösti must have included red onions, as it was a somewhat
unappealing grey colour, and we found the outside of the rösti
little tough, though it was nicely crisped.
In contrast to the starters and main courses, where there's an
abundance of choice, making decisions difficult, the selection of
desserts was quite short and really rather uninspired.
else had been so good, I thought I'd try a selection of home-made
ice-creams. Vanilla was decent; chocolate was heavy and
stodgy; and the third scoop, of sticky toffee pudding ice-cream, while
not actively unpleasant, is not something I'll be rushing to eat again,
being very heavy and dull. A way of using up stale sticky
pudding (also on the menu), I suppose. The sticky toffee
itself was a reasonable example: a large portion, reasonably light, but
distinctly lacking in dates. The quenelle of chantilly cream
the sticky toffee was nicely flavoured and gently whipped, though there
wasn't quite enough of it to match the portion size of the pudding it
accompanied. Desserts seem to let the Duke of York down a
drank a very nice Ripasso Valpolicella, which
while perhaps on the simple side, went with our food very well.
Bread deserves a special mention - slices of plain white and brown
loaves, but clearly subjected to a long slow rise, as they were full of
life and flavour. I forgot to ask if they make it themselves.
4/10 (if the desserts were up to the standard of the starters
and mains this would be edging 5/10) (October 2008)
The Red Cat,
whitewashed pub with a handful of extensions looks uninspiring from the
outside, but inside it's nicely appointed with good table settings and
proper napkins, even at lunch. Unfortunately, the food is
tune with the exterior than the interior.
I didn't think it was the most exciting sounding dish, but it was a
fixture across all the various menus, so I assume it is something of a
signature starter: Goats Cheese Hash Brown, apple puree, apple and
walnut salad. A medium sized, underseasoned, potato cake with
bit of goats cheese in it and some grated apple on top - lost in the
middle of a large white plate, with just four small blobs of babyfood
apple purée around it. Quite nice actually, but
not really a complete dish.
My main course of Beef and Guiness Pie, wild mushrooms, potatoes,
tarragon was a bit of a travesty. A watery, very
stew of admittedly good and well-cooked beef, with cubes of potato and
mainly, I think, shitake mushrooms, which had that sort of sliminess
that they sometimes develop. If there were any Guinness in
the bottle had been opened in vain. The pastry top had been
cooked separately, and although it had a lovely golden appearance (it
had been well-glazed), the pastry was a bit underdone. Just
like the bread offered before the starter, which, though
home-made, was far too pappy and doughy for my taste.
I can accept I chose badly with the starter, but the beef pie really
left a lot to be desired.
not rated (September 2008)
The Market Restaurant, Manchester
at the Market, I believe. Presumably new chef too, as the
has a different accent now and the food feels a bit lighter and more
modern, certainly with a more deft touch when it comes to presentation,
though not all is as well executed as in the past. The new
have revamped the wine list, losing the new world bins in the process,
but they have invested in much better glasses than the Paris goblets of
Risotto of squid ink and crispy squid rings was the best of the
starters: good, very inky risotto, looking like a slice of black
pudding on the plate, with some very light battered squid rings,
looking a bit like fried shallot rings. It only needed a bit
smoked trout and it would look like Nigel Haworth's signature starter
at Northcote Manor! Bream and leek terrine fell into the trap
many fish terrines, of being bland a bit too cold; with a slick of thin
tomato juice dressing on the plate, it wasn't the most attractive
looking starter either. Their own smoked duck salad was an
altogether prettier starter, though the portion size was tiny, with the
wafer thin duck being dominated by the small salad in the centre of the
Sirloin steak with chunky chips and green peppercorn sauce harked back
to the old Market's simplicity and was well executed, particularly the
steak, which while not the best piece of meat, was pretty good and very
accurately cooked to the degree requested.
Pavlova has long been a fixture among the desserts and so it
continues. But my cinamon and apricot pavlova was a light
meringue blob (not the gooey texture that I always think a real pavlova
should have) topped with a gloriously unhealthy amount of gently
whipped cream, with a few smears of apricot purée on the
plate. No trace of cinammon that I could detect, and you'd
been hard pressed to guess the purée was apricot without
read the menu.
I have withdrawn my rating, as in mid 2009 I had a very poor experience here,
about which the less said publicly the better.
Michael Caines at Abode,
NB the following reviews are from when Ian Matfin was in charge of the kitchen: I have not yet been since he left.
gloomy basement with a very industrial feel houses what is probably
Manchester's best restaurant. Of course "best" is relative, and the
Manchester bar is set so low that the "best restaurant" in Manchester
could be a bit grim. But, thankfully, Michael Caine's at Abode really
is pretty good. It is the only place I would recommend in Manchester.
The "Amazing Graze" remains one of the biggest bargains around: 3
(admittedly very small) courses for £12. With three choices
each course, one of these days I am going to go for all three options
at each course and get myself a 9 course tasting menu for
But today, we went for the £12 lunch and added in an
carte main course.
Cured mackerel with "textures of rhubarb" was by far the weakest dish
of the meal. The mackerel felt a bit tired and lacked taste, as well as
being a bit soft and mushy. The rhubarb was hardly thrilling either.
But then things picked up. Slow poached brill (sous vide presumably)
was some beautiful fish that had really responded well to the slow
poaching. This was served on a bed of spinach, with some roasted
salsify and artichokes on the side and a hazelnut foamy emulsion. A
really lovely dish.
A good sized piece of halibut had been accurately roasted and came with
some watercress purée, and what were billed as "baby leeks
à la grecque", but really didn't have a great deal to
distinguish them from some lightly cooked baby leeks.
Then back to the el cheapo lunch for some confit pork shoulder which
came with some mash containing some small cubes of black pudding mash
and a remarkably good tasting beer gravy. Unusually the black pudding
didn't stand apart as it often does, but somehow managed to pull the
whole dish together.
For dessert, a ginger and lime souffle seemed at first to be rather
lacking in both lime and ginger, but that was a false impression, as -
somewhat surprisingly - the flavour came along later. On the side was a
small quenelle of a sour confit lime sorbet that counterpointed the
sweetness of the soufflé. We drank a very palatable bottle
South African chenin-chardonnay-viognier blend. As well as the setting,
the other thing that can
let this restaurant down is the service. They have some really good
staff, but unfortunately they can't be there all the time, so it's all
the more noticeable when, as today, you get the B team. Nothing
particularly obviously wrong (except for aperitifs taking far too long
to arrive), but noticeably poorer than on other visits.
4/10 (April 2010)
I think this is probably the best restaurant in Manchester at the
moment, certainly among the non-ethnic options. It's shame it's tucked
away in a window-less basement really, as for me that just notches a
couple of points off a notional overall final score. I particularly
liked the way, having been very delayed on my train journey to
Manchester, that I could go in at 2pm and still get a full lunch,
without a moment's hesitation from the excellent staff.
The Amazing Graze table d'hôte lunch is one of the biggest
bargains of culinary Britain - 3 courses for £12. Ok, they're
smallish "grazing" portions, but if you want a 24oz steak and chips,
you're not going to be coming here anyway, are you? What you get for
the £12 are three pretty to look at and tasty, well conceived
dishes. With the excellent bread, it's enough for lunch and I don't
leave feeling hungry. But sometimes it's good to go à la
where you get two options: grazing portions or "full" portions, the
grazing portions being about half the price of the big portions. You
can mix and match the two portion sizes, but obviously going for small
means you get to try more things, which is part of the fun. And you
definitely need to leave room for desserts. At the moment (Sep 09)
there's a peach tart on, that is simply exquisite. Of the savoury
dishes, the real successes for me were a foie gras terrine (coyly
called duck liver on the menu) served with pickled strawberries (no,
really) and a fennel financier, and the raviolo of ham hock with crispy
pigs ears (excellent pasta with a large golf ball sized filling). Not
quite hitting perfection were the other two savoury courses: cod cheeks
with belly pork (light on the belly pork, which also lacked the flavour
needed to stand up to the cheeks and fennel sauce); and saddle of
rabbit. The rabbit was stuffed, or rather rolled with a chicken
mousseline, and both were just a bit underpowered and samey. The
particular 'let-down' of the dish was the indigestible skin which held
the rabbit loin and the mousseline together. The highlight of the dish
was an excellent grain mustard sauce and some superb herby gnocchi.
Coffee - at least the espresso I usually have - is excellent and comes
with yet more food! Most recently some really nicely made chocolate
truffles which had a hard exterior and molten interior, and a shot
glass of excellent chocolate mousse topped with a banana cream.
5/10 (September 2009)
Rossetti Hotel near Piccadilly station has been made over and re-opened
as one of the Abode chain. In the basement, reached by
some distance along anonymous corridors, is the restaurant, Michael
Caines at Abode. Of course, it's not Michael Caines itself (how do they
get away with that when it comes to the Trades Descriptions Act???),
but Ian Matfin, the
chef in charge of the kitchen, certainly knows what he's doing.
For me, the room is a rather dingy basement that tries to be smart and
trendy - how far it achieves that probably depends which way you're
facing and whether or not you look up (if it does look smart and trendy
to you, don't look up: there's a certain amount of petticoat showing on
the ceiling). Initially
when it first opened, service left something to be desired but it has
improved dramatically (and with the same staff!) on most recent visits.
The Amazing Graze menu at lunchtimes is good value at a tenner for
three courses - but they are taster courses only, and really the best
value comes from the matched wines at just £2 a glass.
raviolo (more tortellino-like actually) of goats cheese was lovely, but
very single, and the tiny portion isn't really disguised by the tiny
plate. The main course was well executed, but unmemorable to the degree
that I've forgotten it. Raspberry soufflé for dessert was a
technical exercise in miniaturisation which they pulled off perfectly,
but I found the soufflé a little sugary, though the
super-mini quenelle (though in perfect proportion to the
soufflé) of chocolate sorbet was a cracker. No doubt the
Michael Caine's at Abode is the best in Manchester - normally, you'd
add a rider that that's not saying much, but it's so way above the
quality of the rest of Manchester's grim dining scene, that it's now
worth going back to Manchester.
4/10 (August 2008)
The Angel at Hetton,
olden days you needed to be ready to rush through the door as soon as
they unbolted it at 12 noon in order to get a table.
Because of delays (my butcher sawing up a cow's leg for osso bucco for
me - much tastier made with beef than veal ...) we didn't get there
till 12.25 and were thinking that if it was full, we'd go on to the Box
Tree. We needn't have worried: whether it's the impending
recession, too many alternatives nowadays, or The Angel at Hetton
simply isn't as good as in the past under the late, lamented Denis
Watkins, I don't know. But there were parking spaces right
outside the Angel (unheard of in the past unless you were there around
11.30!) and lots of empty tables inside. They never filled up
completely and they no longer need the blackboard of names in the queue
that existed in the past.
So much for the past. The snug has had a little facelift
it a bit brighter, but the chairs are too big for the room; the rest
appears unchanged. The food's still very good. The
much poorer than in the past (with the one exception of a young
waitress, who clearly cared what she was doing).
We started with half a dozen oysters shared between us. Not
most thrilling of oysters, but nothing wrong with them, and the right
cutlery came for both of us, although despite us making a space between
our placemats, the plate was put in front of just one of us.
minor quibble, but symptomatic of the regrettably ignorant, unhelpful
A ham hock terrine was wonderfully coarse and rustic, though some toast
would have gone well with it, and it cried out for some chopped gherkin
on the side. Angel's white pudding, allegedly with summer
cabbage, grape chutney and red wine reduction seemed very much home
made. Though it also seemed more like a twice baked cheese
soufflé without the cheese flavour. Very subtly
to be generous, but a lovely light, airy texture. The primo
cabbage seemed to be more like bok choy to me and the single milliletre
of red wine reduction artfully streaked across the plate was
unnoticeable in anything other than artistic terms. Though I
to say, for all the negativity I imply, I did rather enjoy the white
pudding: with only a bit of a lift of flavour, it would have been a
Our main courses were fish off the blackboard: always what The Angel
was renowned for, though the selection today seemed smaller than in the
past. Perhaps that's just false memory though. We
fillets of bream with a sort of mediterranean stew, heavy on the
substantial chunks of chorizo, which managed not to overwhelm the fish,
and turbot with truffled mash and lobster sauce. "Who's
the bream and who's having the turbot" asked the waiter (though the
waitress who brought our starters didn't need to ask). We
him, and he put them down the wrong way round. The bream was
good, though perhaps didn't need quite so much chorizo. The
turbot too was good, but surprisingly small. As I understand
we're in the best season for turbot and one of the joys of turbot in
restaurants is that restaurants can afford to buy the bigger fish which
make for better eating. These were very thin, halved fillets
a smallish fish (medium plaice size, maybe). I wasn't 100%
convinced that they weren't brill: the skin was quite dark for turbot
and had none of the nobbly bits that to mind distinguish turbot from
brill on the fishmonger's slab. The truffle mash was superb -
just the right balance of flavour. The lobster sauce was a
simple, apparently lobster-less beurre blanc. Very good,
beurre blance, but without any noticeable lobster or shellfish flavour
For dessert, my Peach 3 ways, peach raisin shortbread trifle, peach and
basil sorbet, roasted peach with lemon and thyme was a really good
dish. Excellent trifle, astoundingly good sorbet, though I
expecting the whole roast peach which sat on the plate alongside the
dainty trifle and sorbet components of the dish. Not sure how
much lemon and thyme had made their way into the roast peach, but as it
was there was certainly nothing to complain about.
Homemade mini scones with jam and clotted cream were good scones, but
the kitchen had been very parsimonious with the clotted
They'd make good petits fours rather than a dessert.
Good coffee. The wine list is an excellent example: a good
variety from the familiar to the unusual, from the trophy to the
humble, all generously priced, all very well - and accurately -
described. The wine list also has various useful, informative
notes in the margins. I don't think there are many restaurant
wine lists you come across with an explanation of how to spot a corked
Unfortunately the passion for wine evident in the list, doesn't extend
across the road to their wine shop, which was staffed by a young chap,
completely ignorant about wine and utterly flummoxed when something
didn't have a price on it. Still, it saved us a couple of
pounds, which is what we've usually dropped in there previously.
3/10 (August 2008)
Pipe and Glass, South Dalton, Yorkshire
and Glass Inn lies in the picture postcard village of South Dalton,
about 15 miles beyond the eastern end of the M62 (why does the M62 end
in the middle of nowhere?). An unusual external
chimney dominates the
exterior, making me wonder if it might once have been a forge. The bar
is still pleasingly pubby, while the restaurant is characterised by
solid wooden tables, with some very large tables in a conservatory
The superb service was immediately obvious right from the welcome. We
ordered a couple of drinks and repaired outside to spend a few minutes
in the sun while we read the menus and examined the rather interesting
wine list that had clearly been compiled with enthusiasm and interest.
While we read the menus we gazed with admiration on some fantastic
looking sandwiches that were brought out to others sat in the sun. The
menu reads very well, and in combination with a goodly number of
additional dishes on the blackboard doesn't make a choice particularly
We eventually determined the best approach would be a couple of
starters and a main each, and almost immediately after we'd decided,
one of the excellent staff obviously skilled in mind reading appeared
to take the order, which she did with no questioning of our requests.
Bread was really good; butter was good. While it's not a white
tablecloth establishment, the tables are properly laid and special
mention needs to go to the water glasses (as visible in the picture
below), which are some of the most comfortable glasses to hold that
I've ever come across. They have them for sale, and despite the steep
price tag, I'm regretting not having bought some.
Rabbit and ham hock terrine with a scampi fritter, pease
pudding and pea shoots
This took our breath away when the plate was placed on the table -
truly beautiful presentation, and real work of art, which is not
something you'd normally expect of such a generous portion. But also a
work of art matched on the palate: the depth of flavour in the terrine
was remarkable. Londoners might currently be being wooed by
the charcuterie of Bar Boulud, but I doubt any would be
superior to this stunning terrine.
Chicken liver pate with sweet onion marmalade and walnut toast
The picture reveals one of the most significant aspects of this for a
pub-restaurant: no oxidation - that just makes it so much more
appealing, and although the effect is not as obvious as in wine, a
fully oxidised fowl liver pâté always seems to me
to have some scalping of flavour. As with the rabbit & ham hock
terrine, the kitchen had managed to get a real depth of flavour into
this, but a flavour predominantly of chicken livers, not of an
identifiable marinade. Pretty damn perfect.
Fishy inters: Crayfish Caesar salad with anchovy beignet
No picture of this, I'm afraid: it didn't have the sort of photogenic
appeal of the starters, nor the wow factor. Though the impact on the
mouth made up for that. Hallelujah - these were real crayfish, not
those nasty, nasty, nasty brined crayfish that are all but ubiquitous,
and immediately identifiable by the poor texture and excess saltiness.
None of that here, immediately noticeable from the excellent texture. I
didn't get more than a taste of one of the crayfish, but it was
reported to be a very pleasant light dish.
Hornsea white crab meat, radish, fennel and cucumber salad,
apple and dill dressing and brown crab beignet
Another dish as good as it looks. Beautiful, fresh, sweet crab, lightly
dressed. very light salad. If there was one thing I might pick up on,
it is that personally I would have liked more of the brown meat, as the
beignet was so beautifully puffed up, it was mainly air! I'll never
understand why chefs are so scared of brown crab meat - I love it, and
much of the time would even prefer it to the white.
oops, a little too wobbly for the image stabilisation software in the
camera. Lowna goats cheese, leek and marjoram tart, roased beetroot
and soubise sauce.
I was surprised my companion ordered this, as he doesn't particularly
like either vegetarians nor goats cheese - and I didn't quite
understand the rationale that he wanted something light - pastry?
cheese? light? <shrug> Although it addressed one of the
main complaints that one vegetarian acquaintance has about restaurant
food - that it too often lacks edges, it seemed to me a rather large
portion (but this was Yorkshire), and I think I might have got a bit
bored with it about half way through. Very good pastry.
Stuffed roast breast of guinea fowl with wild garlic, spring
cabbage, rosti potato, wild mushrooms and crispy air dried ham.
This delivered virtually everything you could ask of it. The guinea
fowl was perfectly cooked - really moist, yet with a good flavour.
Unfortunately I didn't note down what the stuffing was and now can't
remember. Despite the root vegetables (which to be very critical, could
have done with a little more cooking), this was a very springtime dish,
very well conceived. Excellent rosti too.
Portions are such that desserts weren't really and option, though as we
had plenty of wine left, we rounded the meal off with:
a Lincolnshire Poacher rarebit with tomato chutney
A splendidly light, almost souffléd topping, but overall
this was the weakest dish of the meal, as there was just too much
mustard in the mix, overpowering the cheese.
A bin end section at the end of the wine list caught my attention. The
first bottle of 2006 Cristom Pinot Gris Estate, Eola - Amity
Hills, Oregon was pretty badly oxidised, but the next one was
a good, rich almost Burgundian pinot gris. A slightly pinkish straw
colour. Fairly subtle on the nose with some pears and beurre noisette.
There's a nice weight in the mouth: rich and buttery, and nicely
evolved. Though more acidity than you might expect in a pinot gris.
We then moved on to a 2005 Hermitage Blanche, JL Chave
Selection. The immediate impression on the nose was of some
delicious freshness. Very good weight, poise and balance. Pretty
All round, an excellent meal, and better than both the Pheasant and the
Star at Harome, which we moved onto.
8/10 (May 2010) The Pheasant at
Harome, Yorkshire The
Pheasant at Harome is the younger sibling of the Michelin-starred Star
at Harome, and it's clear that the Perns have their eye on a star here
too. We stayed overnight at the Pheasant, taking dinner here
then lunch the next day at the Star.
The courtyard really reminded me of France:
though it looks a little more English from the street:
The Pheasant is in a very pleasant spot, looking over the village
duckpond, and I had a very pleasant room, or rather suite, for the
overnight stop. £145 DB&B single occupancy - that
includes the table d'hôte dinner, or £30 towards
the carte, which struck me as a little tight, as the TdH costs
£35. Amazingly my "room" had two bedrooms, a sitting room and
- for some reason - a fully equipped kitchen. It must have been kitted
out as a holiday cottage let by previous owners, as why would the
owners of two restaurants provide self catering bedrooms?
But, onto dinner. There are no photographs of the food or the
restaurant, I'm afraid, as the fairly formal dining room (white
tablecloths, central table where everyone's wine and water bottles were
kept out reach) was rather dimly lit. It's a shame as the food was
largely a bit unmemorable, so apart from a few scribbled notes, I'm
struggling to remember the details.
There's a table d'hôte and a tasting menu, but we decided to
two starter portions and a main, which between us effectively gave us a
broad picture of the kitchen's abilities. Most of the dishes are
available in a starter or main course size, to encourage a grazing
approach. Dishes are listed - in the current fashion - by their main
ingredient: Pork, Venison, Woof, Beef and so on.
The wine list I found a little short and lacking in obvious interest,
though a pleasing number of bottles were also available in 375ml
carafes, which helped in selecting a couple of wines to go with the
food. I can't remember what we drank (the problem with the carafes is
that you never see the bottles), other than a really good pinot blanc,
which might have been from Argentina.
"Pork" was some lovely slow cooked pork belly with a really glassy thin
crackling, served with a langoustine and, I think, some jerusalem
artichoke purée. It was nicely cooked, and a pleasant dish,
but was barely lukewarm.
The same was true of a scallop dish. Nicely cooked scallops, but with a
bit of an odd flavour to the scallop flesh that we couldn't identify,
presumably from marinading or a liquid in which they were cooked. This
came with a rather odd, and to our minds not at all well matched salad
of crunchy sprouting beans, and a very good "scallop cracker" evidently
made from the roes.
Both dishes came on cold plates and were so barely lukewarm, that we
questioned the waiter about it, who assured us that was how it was
meant to be. Apparently (the waiter said) because it's all slow cooked,
the chef doesn't then want to put them on hot plates or heat them up
for fear of overcooking. Sounds like nonsense to me, and smacks of
emperor's new clothes.
Fortunately, my next dish had some temperature. This was a small
portion of a gratin of Scarborough woof with confit tomatoes. The woof
was again nicely cooked, and the tomatoes provided some acidity to lift
the very heavy richness of the dish. Initially (particularly for a
non-prime fish such as woof) this seemed a very small portion, but it
was so rich that it was a bit of a struggle to finish it, and I can't
help but think it would have become a bit tedious in the larger, main
course portion. Alongside my woof, my companion had a lamb sweetbread
dish that evades all memory recall, other than that it was nicely done,
but simply served too cool.
For main courses we had two dishes that superficially looked remarkably
similar. Venison was slow cooked, presumably sous vide, and had a
decent flavour. Some intensely dark green lovage purée came
on the side, along with some gnocchi that had been quite light, but
appeared to have either been fried or grilled after cooking, a process
that made them hard and unappetising. I had some sous vide sirloin of
beef, which was very good, though a bit of the old maillard reaction on
the outside would only have improved it. On the side there was what
looked like the same really intense dark green, textureless
purée as with the venison, but was apparently spinach. The
real star of the dish was a brilliant take on pommes anna, which
appeared to have been a slice of a pommes anna terrine, which had then
been fried very, very quickly on all sides, to crisp up the outsides.
The potatoes were the only hot thing on the plate, everything else
being (as was the venison) as tepid as the first course.
With the main courses came a large bowl of simple vegetables, including
lots of the sprouting beans that had been such a large component of the
scallop dish. Presumably the bowl of vegetables was the nod to the
"needs" of the Yorkshire appetite, as it really seemed at odds with the
carefully plated and balanced dishes.
A gratin of apples served with a Somerset cider brandy sabayon and a
stunningly good stem ginger ice cream was by far the best dish of the
meal, probably helped not only by having some heat to it in the glazing
of the sabayon, and a welcome absence at last of sous vide cooking.
This was by no means a bad meal, but for me seemed to concentrate far
too much on slow cooking sous vide and then simple presentation, often
with a purée. Service was very good, and definitely on the
formal side - down to the execrable practice of keeping bottles (or in
our case, carafes) out of reach.
One rather bizarre thing was that on a Wednesday evening, the Pheasant
was like a geriatrics' club. Barring one single diner, I was the
youngest person dining there by at least 10 years, and there were more
than a couple of customers who must have been in their 80s or more.
Before dinner we had to move from one lounge to another with our
aperitifs as we could hardly hear ourselves think over the old geezer
shouting to his companions. When we went into the dining room there
were two dowager duchess types dining on separate tables at one end of
the dining room. Two singletons itself would have been odd, but they
actually turned one of those tables when another single diner turned up
later. I can't remember ever having seen so many single diners in one
restaurant at the same meal. I wonder if the number of oldies was
related to the reliance on sous vide/slow cooking? Dentally challenged
and soft meats ...
Breakfast in the morning displayed some really crackingly good
ingredients, as well as a really nice selection of hot dishes,
including a selection of frittatas, and an exceptionally good buffet,
largely of fruit and meats.
I was disappointed when paying the bill that the food and drinks at
dinner weren't itemised: although the amounts seemed broadly correct,
there was no way of checking that the bill was accurate. I also like
bills to remind me what I've had!
5/10 (May 2010)
The Star Inn, Harome, near
Helmsley, North Yorkshire
again at the Star in May 2010, as part of a mini-Odyssey of east
Yorkshire's finest, which also took in the Pipe and Glass near Beverley
and the Star's sibling in Harome, The Pheasant. Since my last
visit two years previously, The Star has expanded, and this time we
were in the restaurant, looking out on the decked terrace which was
busy with al-fresco diners and then onto a kitchen garden. The
restaurant felt to me to have a bit of a nautical cum art deco air,
with slightly cramped, white-tableclothed tabletops, and black
upholstery. On an unusually warm afternoon, the restaurant was a bit
hot and it's a shame that the refit hadn't included some better
cooling. As before, the menu reads well and there is also a selection
of specials, though here in the restaurant, they are recited by the
waiter, whose heavily Italian-accented pronunciation made me think that
it would be much easier to have a printed menu of them. The
printed menu is only a sheet of A4, so the specials could
have been incorporated into it, or on the reverse.
Ham hock terrine with spiced pineapple pickle and a fried quail egg,
was a witty reworking of the classic gammon and eggs with a slice of
pineapple. A nicely made terrine, though definitely very much in the
shadow of that at the Pipe and Glass the day before.
This rather unappetising-looking plate of food was a wild garlic
risotto with blue cheese and a beetroot foam. The foam was what made it
look a bit iffy, and served to hide the beauty of the perfectly cooked
risotto below it. However, in flavour terms, it really worked, lending
a sweet-earthy note almost reminiscent of an aged Burgundy, to the
dish. The risotto itself was perfect, capable even of a subtle wave
when the plate was shaken. The flavour of the wild garlic was subtle,
but clearly there, and the blue cheese worked surprisingly well. But
why was it decorated with two unopened chive flowers, and not wild
A simple dish of steak and chips - billed as rump steak, but looking
like just the popeseye part of the rump (and cooked in a pan, not
water-bathed as everything seemd to be at the Pheasant the night
before), served with a flavoured butter and a nice salad with some
pieces of Blue Wensleydale crumbled into it. The chips are out of shot,
but came in a stainless steel basket and were very good. Curiously, I'm
sure I saw three different types of chips leave the kitchen: these
medium sized ones, some big chunky, almost pomme pont neuf style, and
some finer ones too. Talk about making life hard for yourselves ...
From the recited list of specials of the day this was the finest fish
pie I've ever had, and am likely ever to have. To start with, it was a
luxury version, containing turbot, halibut and scallops, along with
some nuggets of exquisite (cold) lobster around the outside. Each of
the fishes were in pieces big enough to identify in the mouth, and each
was absolutely perfectly cooked. The fish came in a really gorgeous,
very light, very subtly mustardy cream sauce, which also contained a
veritable forest of ultra-tender young samphire. It was a bit of a
puzzle how they managed to get the buttery mash, glazed with just
enough cheese to give it colour, to sit on top of the very light broth
without collapsing into it. A mighty, mighty fine dish, and they even
managed to present it remarkably delicately on the plate. Bravo!
As at the pheasant, a large bowl of vegetables and potatoes came with
the main courses - despite both main courses including potatoes
already. That seemed to me to indicate a kitchen a bit on autopilot, as
surely most chefs would ask themselves why they were sending potatoes
on top of potatoes? The bowl of veg also stretched our already slightly
cramped tabletop to bursting, so that candle (hardly necessary in the
bright sunlight anyway), cruet, butter etc had to be removed.
Bread was a bit mixed - a cheese bread was a bit hard, while a wild
garlic roll was quite brilliant.
The wine list is good with fair depth and interest, though no bargains.
We drank a beautiful bottle of 2007 Bernkasteler Badstube Kabinett by
Dr Thanisch that was gorgeous stuff.
I was by now fit to burst and couldn't even have managed a waffer theen
mint, but my companion had a small bowl of strawberry sorbet - one
element of a bigger dish of strawberry desserts on the menu - that was
apparently very good, though of a texture verging on granita.
Service was again really good, from the welcome and
throughout. I certainly felt it was better informed than at the
the Star wasn't quite as good as the last time I'd visited, but on the
dishes I had, it was easily up there. Again the bill wasn't itemised,
though at least we were given one this time. The bill seemed
about right, but there just seems to be something a little shady these
days about not providing itemised bills.
7+/10 (May 2010)
A previous visit to the
Star at Harome
Inn at Harome has long had an excellent reputation, and has attracted a
string of awards and even a Michelin star. I hadn't
been as it is just a little too far out of what's comfortably possible
from my home base in Lancashire, but as I had been in Leeds the
previous evening, I took advantage of my unusually eastern location to
drive to Harome for an unbooked lunch in the bar. It was
good 90 minutes drive from Leeds, so don't misjudge how far north and
east it is (on a level with Scarborough, to which the nearby A170
leads). Possibly not quite as long if you only have cars
you driving up the fiercesomely steep Sutton Bank (1:4).
The Star was smaller than I thought it would be - only about 20 covers
in the bar, and that would be really cramming them in. The
which also functions as the village pub, is quite dark, and full of
heavy wood; the ceiling is low and dark, replete with more beams than
you'd think strictly necessary. Books and awards fill the
along with a clock that manages to chime an hour less than the hands
show (particularly noticeable when it's one o'clock and it strikes
twelve times!). The tables are rustic great hunks of wood,
settle-type seating on the wall side and equally rustic hunks of wood
milking stools on the other side, which can't really be terribly
comfortable if you're having a full meal. The rusticity of
bar area is very ill-matched with the refined, assured cooking, which
really deserves proper height tables and chairs. But it was
certainly nice to get proper napkins.
If I say that about the most major quibble I could possibly dredge up
about the food is that the miniature brioche loaf that came with the
chicken liver parfait was only half sliced, meaning that you had to
tear the other half apart yourself; then that gives some indication of
how near perfection the food was.
The menu has as many place names as actual dishes ("Pickering
Watercress", "Yoadwath Mill smoked salmon", "Duncombe Park Roe Deer",
"Cotherstone Cabbage", etc), but the dishes read well and, with the
blackboard menu (of mainly fish) supplementing the printed menu,
decisions are difficult to make.
A chicken liver and foie gras parfait was a very well made example,
with excellent texture, and the chicken liver dominating, but with just
a bit of foie gras richness showing through. The accompanying
salad was lightly dressed, the gooseberry and green peppercorn chutney
worked well with the parfait, and the miniature loaf of brioche was as
good an example as you'll find.
A risotto of "homegrown Matador spinach" had a beautiful spinach
flavour enriched with cheese, with a deep-fried spinach leaf that was
pure essence of sweet spinach in the mouth. Also on top of
risotto, were two small croquettes of a smoked salmon brandade -
beautifully made, with a nice subtle flavour, and a surprisingly good
combination with the risotto. To be hypercritical, maybe the
slightly overcooked, but I much prefer it that way to being
My main course came off the blackboard: a "posh rabbit pie": lots of
rabbit (it had a placename of origin, but I can't remember it), leeks
and some very tiny onions in a delicious tarragon velouté.
pastry was two discs of a French style (i.e. slightly tough)
shortcrust, the top crust being beautifully glazed. Again being
hypercritical, perhaps the pastry looked better than it was, and why
was there a bottom, as it was only ever going to end up soaking up the
sauce and becoming a bit soggy? That bottom crust was,
useful in mopping up the sauce, in addition to the very good bread (the
rolls with a hint of bacon were especially good). The
worked exceedingly well with the rabbit.
All the desserts I saw come out of the kitchen looked superbly
presented. I went for the most seasonal - an elderflower
with "Harrogate sponge fingers", marinated strawberries and a small jug
of excellent custard. The jelly was a clear hemisphere with
excellent texture and 'wobble factor' and a delicate, but definite
elderflower flavour. The "Harrogate sponge fingers" were
of very light jam sponge cake.
Very good coffee came with a slice of miniature battenberg cake, a
chocolate truffle with a white chocolate shell and a home-made bounty
Service was excellent throughout.
It is, however, not cheap. My four-course meal with just a
of an indifferent Yorker ale from the Leeds Brewery and a glass of
delicious apple juice, came to £62. Not cheap, but
value for the quality of the food and excellent service.
the restaurant, which I assume has slightly more of a sense of
occasion, the value seems even greater? One rather odd thing
that I was merely told the amount due, not given any written or printed
receipt. The amount was about what I expected and seems to be
right, doing the sums after the event, but it seems a very odd
8/10 (July 2008)
El Gato Negro, Ripponden,
road through Ripponden at the traffic lights where several roads meet,
this is a converted pub - nicely done, but without losing the traces of
its former existence (the bar is, apparently, the original bar from the
The food is relatively straightforward tapas, but on the evidence of
our visit, very well executed. You'll not find anything
particularly unusual on the menu, which is compact, with five meat,
five fish and seven vegetarian options. The menu is your
mat - you tick off (pencils supplied!) what you want and hand it in and
sit until the food comes in no particular order.
Pan Catalan was really just fried bread topped with tomatoes and
garlic, but boy was it good fried bread with delicious, very fresh
tasting tomato and a very well-judged level of garlic.
Roast Belly Pork with Morcilla, Apple & Pea Purée
cooked (though no attempt had been made to produce crackling on the
belly pork), though I'd have liked a bit more of the
purée. Not a dish made for easy sharing
never quite sure what the distinction is between a small, light main
course and tapas, though this seemed to me more main coursey than
tapassy, as did the Grilled Hake with Samphire & Salsa
That had a very nicely cooked tail end of hake with some thin, but
unusually woody samphire given its fineness and a lovely lift from the
combination of (sherry vinegar?) dressing and the salsa verde.
From the vegetable options, we chose a bowl of Chickpeas, Broad Beans
& Peas in Mint & Parsley Sauce which curiously was the
dish to arrive, but eating it you could see why - the freshness of the
flavours was very evident and made a very satisfying, enjoyable dish.
Given the strong Spanish flavour of the savoury dishes, desserts were a
little disappointingly Anglophone. Sticky toffee pudding,
crème brûlée (not even crema catalana!)
Our lemon tarts were good examples, though didn't really thrill.
All jolly good. But don't think of tapas here as a cheap
option. Three of the meat tapas are between £9.50
£13.50, and the hake is £9. By contrast
expensive tapas at Paul Heathcote's Grado in Manchester (surely the
nearest competitor for tapas?) is the exellent quail at just under
£7. Not to say that El Gato Negro is over-priced,
know their worth and charge it, and this is no undiscovered
Service is bright, cheery and welcoming - and well-managed.
6/10 (July 2008)
looking from the outside, but less so inside, this is apparently one of
Leeds longstanding institutions, famed for its queues and its food.
There's a very good atmosphere, and at just 6.15pm it was
buzzing. Staff seem to be more local than Italian, but the
welcome and general service throughout is none the worse for it, and
they're all pretty good. The only issue with the service was
curiously long wait between starter and my main course pizza.
But the long wait for the pizza was a bit of a blessing, as my starter
portion of pasta alla siciliana was big enough to be a main course
anywhere else but Leeds. The pasta was nicely cooked and the
aubergine & tomato sauce was attractive and just in the right
quantity for the amount of pasta. This was topped with a
chargrilled slice of ricotta that worked really well, though a little
more of that would have been welcome given the quantity of the
rest. Why they offered parmesan as well, I don't
I suppose Italian restaurants have to offer parmesan with virtually
The pizza had a good dough - which certainly seemed to have been
properly allowed to rise. Maybe it could have been a little
crisper, but it had a nice lightness on the perimeter crust.
Tomato sauce tasted well. This was a pizza diavola - with hot
salami and buffalo mozzarella: simple, elegant and not overspiced,
despite a scant smattering of chopped chilli. After the
was too much for me, but the readily boxed up the remaining half for me
to take away.
Very good espresso.
With a large bottle of San Pellegrino, £21.65.
Possibly a little on the pricey side for what I had?
1/10 (July 2008)
Little Chef, A64,
January 2010, with Britain in the grip of exceptional snowfalls, I
spent a night at a Travelodge on the A64 between Tadcaster and York.
Naturally as I waded through the snow I didn't pay much attention to
the Little Chef next door, though I did think it didn't look seedy like
I couldn't resist looking at the menu in my bedroom - for a laugh, and
for a masochistic reminiscence.
Then I realised that this was one that had been done up following the
Heston Blumenthal TV programme. I had 45 minutes to spare before
meeting up with friends in York, so thought it was worth trying.
The first impression was of how bright and clean looking it was; and
how there was no nasty smell of old cooking fat. The next impression
was the great staff. Nobody was sullen. All were really bright and
cheerful. When I went in, the servers were all busy serving, but the
cook saw me come in and came over to show me to a table.
I had to have the ox cheek of course - one of the dishes that Heston
Blumenthal put on the menu. I'm guessing it's boil or microwave
in-the-bag, but it wasn't bad. Three hunks of cheek, just a bit too
chewy, in a pretty decent, very dark red wine sauce. Really nice mash
on the side.
I chose the most Hestony sounding dessert: trifle made with green tea
soaked sponge, ginger beer custard, popping candy, chocolate rice
crispies. Yeah, well, it was ok, I suppose. Obviously made in a central
production kitchen, and with no detectable green tea or ginger beer
flavours. But they're obviously trying. You don't just get the little
disposable plastic bowl containing the trifle, there are three little
bowls - one with the popping candy, one with the chocolate coated rice
crispies and one with "crumble" crumbs.
A pretty good coffee came with jelly beans as petits fours!
All in all much better than the absolute last resort most Little Chefs
would be and have been.
It's not a particularly cheap meal though. The cheeks are
the dearest thing on the menu, other than steak and chips with
Béarnaise sauce (and yes, they actually do have the acute
on the menu!). But it's not a rip-off either.
Of course, one of the things Little Chefs always used to be known for
were the all-day breakfasts. So, purely in the interests of research, I
nipped in before setting off back home the next morning. The Olympic
Breakfast gives you an attractive, un-greasy plateful: good bacon, good
black pudding, good, nicely cooked eggs (fried only), disappointing
sausages, flat mushrooms, grilled tomato and a couple of slice of
toasted bloomer, for £6.95. The pot of tea seemed a bit
All in all, while the food is a massive improvement and actually worth
stopping for, what really struck me most was the excellence of the
Free wi-fi is nice.
2/10 (January 2010)
Rogan and Company,
Cartmel is a nice little place, not quite centred on the lovely 12th
priory, which escaped destruction during the dissolution of the
monasteries by virtue of it also being the parish church.
famous for its racecourse (unless you're going to the races, do not
under any circumstances go to Cartmel on a race day), then for the
village shop and its sticky
toffee pudding (incidentally, one of the poorer examples you can buy),
and then Simon Rogan opened L'Enclume, Cartmel also went onto the
L'Enclume (see below)
is in a really lovely setting, and the
food can be brilliant, but it (the food) is a bit pretentious and the
insistence on multi-course tasting menus means that it's increasingly
of less use to us locals. Last year, it was reported that Simon Rogan
was looking to open a second restaurant in Henley. That fell through,
and so he looked to Cartmel itself. Premises on the main street, just
off the square were secured (the antique shop that had been in them
moved across the road), and Rogan's second-in-command, John Bradshaw
was going to be installed when it opened in April 2008.
John Bradshaw died suddenly in January. A very untimely death: he was
only 31, and it was just four weeks after the birth of his second
child. But the new restaurant project, now christened Rogan &
Company, continued and (something that will come as a great surprise to
many London restaurant owners) opened bang on time in April. A John
Bradshaw private/party dining suite on the ground floor pays tribute to
the intended chef.
Comparisons with Heston Blumenthal's Hinds
Head were inevitable, and that thought makes me realise that Simon
Rogan has moved his camp somewhat from his original pledged allegiance
to Marc Veyrat to follow more of the molecular gastronomy route. It's a
long time since I've seen the good king henry and other locally foraged
herbs that were such a feature of early menus at L'Enclume. Now
alginate concoctions are more of a regular fixture. Rogan &
is described as "casual dining", but this is much more of a restaurant
than a gastro-pub.
Externally, the family relationship to
L'Enclume is obvious, with the same sage green paintwork. Internally,
there are similarities too, but oddly, at least on my lunchtime visit,
Rogan & Company almost feels a bit classier than its Michelin
starred sister. I omitted to look upstairs, which I understand is where
the restaurant is: we ate downstairs in a flexible space that is part
bar, part dining room. Modern fittings and fixtures blend well with the
more olde world beams. Bare tables are so highly polished that it's
tempting to have a quick game of air hockey with the glasses.
menu avoids the whimsy and wackiness of L'Enclume, reads very well, and
is supplemented by a blackboard. The menu offers everything from a
sandwich through to a classy full à la carte meal.
Our starters were roast veal sweetbreads with a red onion
compote and truffle vinaigrette, Dressed crab with
roquette salad and celeriac remoulade and a wild
mushroom and pine nut pithivier, served with a Madeira sauce.
All were pretty much faultless dishes. Perhaps the sweetbreads could
have been improved if they had been a little crisper on the outside?
But the crab was an exquisite little dish (and so vastly superior to
the tasteless example at a recent really rather grim visit to the much
vaunted One-O-One restaurant in Knightsbridge): here it was a timbale
of some of the sweetest, freshest white crab meat I've ever tasted,
topped with a mousse of the brown meat, with just a hint of mustard to
give it a lift. The celeriac remoulade was spot on, and even the little
rocket salad was a well judged accompaniment. The pithivier had some of
the finest pastry I've had in a long time; utterly ethereal pastry,
wrapped round a mousseline (which to be very critical might have
benefited from being a little lighter and a little heavier on the
mushrooms). The madeira sauce was spot on.
Our main courses were a blanquette de veau with rice pilaff
off the blackboard and, from the menu, an organic chicken
fricassée served with buttered chard and macaroni cheese,
the macaroni and and the rice coming in a separate little cast iron
pots. I've had macaroni cheese as an accompaniment to roast veal at the
Gavroche in London: this was a superior
macaroni cheese. So too, the accompaniment to the veal was some of the
best rice I've had in a very long time: a really good taste. Lest it
appear that the accompaniments outshone the main event, I should add
that the blanquette de veau was a pretty much textbook rendition, and
the chicken was well nigh perfect too: very tasty bird in a lovely
sauce with lots of mousseron mushrooms.
For dessert, Apricot Sablee, star anise mousse
and sauternes poached apricots
was a supremely elegant version of what it said on the tin.
Incidentally, the star anise mousse is about the most outré
the menu. Each individual element was at the top of its game, and
combined into a great dish. Sorry, if it sounds like I'm gushing, but
this really was an excellent meal. Perhaps the weakest dish of the
whole meal was a stunningly presented (layered in a martini glass) Black
cherry and lemon trifle, with a mint sorbet,
which was a bit heavy, with the layers of cherry jelly a bit overset.
The taste was spot on though. One indication of the kitchen's attention
to detail was that the trifle came decorated with a crystallised mint
leaf stuck in the excellent mint sorbet.
After such impressive food, it was no surprise that espressos were spot
service was efficient and polite, though very relaxed. There is plenty
for improvement in the service (for example, ordering "the
(the only one on the list) shouldn't really elicit the response "can
you show me that on the list"), but there was nothing to complain about.
think Simon Rogan has been very clever here. Although L'Enclume has by
all reports had a very good year, Rogan & Company is going to
provide a steady stream of income to help the combined business through
leaner months. While I might go to L'Enclume once or twice a year
(because the tasting menus rely to a large extent on their novelty), I
could easily go to Rogan & Company once or twice a month. It's
worth saying that the cooking is of a much higher standard than the
closest competitors, places like the Punchbowl at Crosthwaite and the
Drunken Duck near Ambleside.
6/10 (May 2008)
A subsequent visit in late June was rather less
Eggs Benedict suffered both from a very tough muffin and the
that they'd glazed the finished dish under the grill, which meant the
hollandaise had just started to overcook and turn into scrambed eggs -
it hadn't got there, but was on the way. There was some
good bacon, under the two accurately poached eggs: I could tell it
wasn't Peter Gott's or Slacks (the two major local producers), as it
was too good, but was a bit surprised when the information was relayed
from the kitchen that it came from Yorkshire. And while we're
the bacon - why bacon? Eggs Benedict is supposed to be made
ham. Not bacon, not smoked salmon, but ham. If
are serving eggs Benedict, I wish they'd do it properly. The
sweetbreads were as good as before, if not better, as this time they
were actually a bit crisper on the outside. Our third dish,
however, was a real failure: a croustillant of confit duck with star
anise syrup. A great dish to have at a restaurant: not only
you have to cook the duck legs long and slow, but then the meat's been
picked off, and neatly packaged into a crisp feuille de brick pastry
wrapper. Unfortunately the whole thing lacked any real
the duck was merely very ducky and could have done with some spicing or
something to counterbalance the rich meat, and the star anise syrup was
just a slightly sticky, off-clear heavy fluid with no flavour at all.
A warm cheesecake tart with poached yellow peaches, was
identical to a cheesecake dish that had previously been on the
la carte menu (RIP) at L'Enclume (where it went under some silly name
like "dessert with no name" because its shape was vaguley sombrero
like). Beautiful very light, incredibly thin pastry with a
fluffy, almost soufflé-like filling, though "peaches" was
half of one peach.
Overall, then, out of four dishes, we had a 50% success rate.
Which was rather better than the service that was two-thirds
sullen and only one-third pleasant and welcoming. Actually it
took several minutes to be acknowledged by anyone. Service
also incredibly slow, but no apology or explanation was forthcoming,
neither to me, nor to the other table who made a point of saying that
they hadn't left a tip because service had been so slow. I
above that there was room for improvement in service, but instead of
improving, it seems to have gone the other way.
It was also interesting to see that already, after just a few months,
the number of dining tables downstairs has been reduced, to be replaced
with high bar tables and stools, presumably reflecting where the money
is and the level of dining trade.
On this visit, probably just 2-3/10. (June 2008)
& Company in June 2009, the menu seemed shorter and more aimed
the "light bites" market, rather than full meals. This may
be related to the fact that L'Enclume itself is now open for lunch
again, including a £25 table d'hôte set lunch, and
be a bit silly for Rogan & Co and L'Enclume to
the lunch market, even though the food is rather different.
Northcote Manor, Langho,
near Clitheroe Appearing
on the Great
British Menu seems to do two things: first it brings people through the
door in droves (they did over 40 covers this Saturday lunch, over 4
times the number the last time we had lunch) and second, it gives them
and us an opportunity for another set menu.
Here at Northcote, the
British Menu Semi Finals lunch menu comes in at £35 for three
courses and £43 for four courses, both including coffee and
petits fours, with a selection of recommended wines by the glass,
priced separately. Also at lunchtime is a table
(though individually priced) and an à la carte. At
of our lunch, we asked to see the evening menu - the à la
has rather more choice, including the GB Menu dishes, which aren't
available alc at lunch, there's a tasting menu, plus a Great British
Menu menu, which interestingly drops the curd tart and replaces it with
another dessert (forget what, but no doubt we'll see it on the TV
soon). Some of the dishes on the tdh and alc are described in
curiously bad English: e.g. "new season's butter puff pastry wrapped
lamb fillet belly, served crispy, and ..." If you rearrange
words you might get 'new seasoon's lamb fillet wrapped in butter puff
pastry, crispy belly [sc. of lamb], and ...' which I presume is what
the dish really was.
Drinks and orders are
as ever taken
in the comfortable lounge which manages not to impose too hushed an
atmosphere, and after (as ever) a longish delay, you are taken through
to the dining room (mind the step). The dining room has been
redecorated since my last visit (over a year ago) and feels a bit
classier now. But it still has a rather cool, provincial
feel to the room (unlike the temperature today, which was roasting, not
helped by the high humidity, lack of breeze and lack of any air
conditioning or ceiling fans). Personally, I don't find it
most congenial of dining rooms (though the new decor helps), but that
really is just a personal view, and I really can't see what they could
do to make it more congenial to me. While I'm on the non-food
complaints, it's a shame that they still haven't solved the issue that
you have to go through the busy service corridor to get to the
toilets. Oh, and I do wish they didn't make the male staff
those dreadful, very cheap looking Northcote Manor ties. Oh,
one more thing: if they are going to tell waiting staff to ask how a
dish was when clearing plates, s/he should have sufficient command of
English to understand "very nice, but it could have been warmer".
On his Great British
Haworth's starter (you may recall) is a Warm Hot Pot Salad, Sweetbreads
and Pickled Red Cabbage. This is a somewhat pared down
the Hot Pot Salad that I've had in the past, and didn't seem quite as
good as its big brother has been previously, but it's still a great
dish, even though it could have been a bit warmer. Possibly
red cabbage is a touch over-spiced, but that's nit picking, and even so
it did not particularly detract from the dish overall. The
Pot is served with a glass of pinot grigio from Friuli, deeply
extracted from the coppery colour, but served so icily cold as to
remove any perfume or flavour. Though even when it warmed up
bit, it was hardly a great wine and distinctly over-priced in value
terms at £11.50 a glass. But wine has always been
expensive at Northcote.
Next up is one of the
I've had the pleasure of eating in many months: Line Caught Whitby Cod,
Trotters, Tripe, Broad Beans, Peas. An amazingly,
good cube of cod, absolutely perfectly cooked, on a fairly sparse, but
absolutely right in quantity, smattering of slivers of tripe and
trotter meat, in a perfectly judged meat jus. The beans and
might have benefited from another 30 seconds cooking. The
is topped with a brilliant bit of cod crackling. This is served with a
Encruzada (mis-typed as Encruxada on the menu) from Quinta does Roques,
a much better wine than the pinot grigio and much better value at
£6.30 a glass, though still served far too cold. I
understand the pricing, as this is only just a pound or so cheaper per
bottle retail than the first wine, not nearly half the price.
reminded me, however, just what a good food wine, white Dao is.
Main course is a Canon
White Beef, Smoked Marrowbone, Baby Cauliflower, Watercress
Purée. Very beefy, very tender beef (cut from the
sirloin?), beautifully cooked, and in a substantial portion.
marrowbone, also perfectly cooked, comes as a crisp, very clean tasting
croquette, though without any detectable smokiness.
and watercress both worked very well. On the side in a
rather medical looking bowl, was a buttery puréed potato,
just had something a bit wrong about it that we couldn't pin down.
The dessert on the
menu is a
Lancashire Curd Tart with rose petal cream and redcurrants. I
love curd tart, probably more than the next man, but it's not a
restaurant dish: it's patisserie, something you have a slice of with a
cup of tea. It doesn't need cream, it doesn't need rose
nor redcurrants. I can really see why Nigel Haworth decided
change it for the next round of the competition. On the table
d'hôte menu was
a carpaccio of alphonse mango, which we had instead.
Coincidentally, at £4.50, rather cheaper than the
difference between the 3 and 4 course menu. I can't help but
think this was a better dish too. The thinly sliced mango was
delicate and fragrant, apparently marinated with the merest hint of
mint. On the side was some utterly delicious coconut scented
tapioca and a baton of meringue. A small bowl of superb mango
granita was served separately on the side.
An excellent meal, a
few very minor faults, but still excellent.
Incidentals are top
too. Bread is superb and comes all but incessantly and petits
fours with the coffee are also excellent, and very interesting too:
miniature Eccles cake, a square of raspberry jelly, a top notch truffle
and a Fisherman's Friend flavoured macaroon (which is several thousand
times better than it sounds).
8/10 (but see below)
A more recent visit, for dinner in June, was less successful.
salad of radish, onion and organic leaves (all apparently from
Northcote's own gardens, which now have organic certification) had an
extra little bonus to remind me of its origin in the form of a shard of
what looked terra cotta plant pot. Fortunately I spotted it, and was
just going to make what I hoped would be a humorous remark when they
took the plates away when I bit into another piece (it transpired later
that this had damaged a tooth). After drawing it to the
d's attention, a replacement was provided: it no longer contained any
noticeable bits of plant pot, though it was a smaller portion than
previously and with much less radish. I couldn't help but
they'd either weighed what had been returned to make sure I didn't
profit from sending it back or that I'd got back what I sent back, just
better picked over. It was still on the bill too, though
thankfully just once. We again had the cod, this time as an
à la carte main course portion - the main reason for going
in the evening, actually. Beautiful cod, beautifully cooked.
Being a larger portion than previously, there was also more
the trotter and tripe dressing, and this was much to the dish's
benefit, and with a stronger piggy flavour too. But the dish
really let down by the cod-skin crackling being tough, un-crisp and
inedible. A carpaccio of rhubarb with custard ice-cream was
delicious in itself (though obviously would have been better earlier in
the season with the forced Yorkshire rhubarb) and not at all improved
by a sort of orange angel delight foam that came separately.
6/10 (June 2008)
A couple of meals in 2009 were more disappointing still and merit no
more than 5/10.
The Red Pump,
Bashall Eaves, Lancashire
a very old pub that for years languished as home to a
rather grim Italian restaurant, but is now restored to former glories
by the new ownership which came in about three years ago. The
is divided into a series of dining rooms, some bright and sunny, some a
bit more gloomy. As often these days, the menu deals in local
produce prepared in simple dishes, like potted beef, rabbit stew, game
pie and steaks simply cooked with chips. The food might be
simple, but on the evidence of this visit it is done well.
rustic chicken liver paté to start with was fully oxidised,
well seasoned and came with toasted good, home-made bread and a
good-flavoured, but rather runny onion chutney. Another
was a very nice pigeon breast and lentil salad (maybe a bit heavy on
the puy lentils compared to the pigeon, but the lentils were very
nicely seasoned), while the final member of the party had some potted
crayfish. I wouldn't have picked the crayfish myself, as
becoming a bit ubiquitous and seem to be available to the catering
trade pre-cooked, pre-prepared (pasteurised?) in (presumably) brine in
large tubs. But these were a much better quality than I'd
expected and the spicing in the butter in which they'd been potted was
subtle, but definitely there. Our main courses included two
the dishes they seem best known for: game pie and slow cooked belly
pork. The game pie was
way between pie and hotpot: various game, mainly feathered with some
rabbit, I think, casseroled and then topped with sliced potatoes. It
was served with some good braised red cabbage and some straw chips,
which were rather poor, being cool, a touch
greasy and soggy. The belly pork was really top notch: served
with superb, light crackling; really meaty belly with very juicy meat
evidently cooked long and slow, served with a nicely flavoured mash,
some slightly dull baked pears and squeaky beans. The final
course was a huge slab of fillet steak with a good salad but again poor
chips, this time fat ones. The steak was excellent meat, cooked exactly
as requested. Desserts were a delicious, very gingery
and ginger cheesecake, served with home-made ginger biscuits, and a
rather less successful bread and butter pudding, which was one
the heavier stodgy ones, but came with some excellent ice cream from a
source I'd not heard of before - "Uncle Bob" in Chipping.
OK espresso came with some really nice shortbread biscuits flavoured
There are some well kept local beers, including the excellent Bowland
Gold from the Bowland Brewery at the completely mis-named Bashall Town,
just over a mile away, and Timothy Taylor's Landlord (which mine
hostess explained that she had to have on as it's from
and so many of the locals still regard that area of Bowland and the
Ribble Valley as part of Yorkshire). As well as
(and keg lagers) there is a short wine list, that isn't going to excite
anyone, but it looks like it's been chosen well. When we asked for a
fino sherry, we were offered a choice of chilled or room temperature.
Not sure who would want a glass of room temperature fino, though
bizarrely that's how it's usually come at Le Gavroche. I had a quick
taste of a glass of Macon Lugny (didn't get the details) which seemed
pretty good, and I was impressed that it was suggested that we let it
warm up a bit from fridge temperature to appreciate it fully. But
definitely a place for the food and the beer rather than the wine.
initial welcome, is able, friendly and female.
Devonshire Fell Hotel & Restaurant, Burnsall, near
Skipton, West Riding First
off, it's worth saying that the view from the conservatory dining room
across the dale, with the River Wharfe snaking its way along the dale's
floor, is enough to recommend a visit if you're anywhere near the
vicinity. The food doesn't quite hit the same highs as the
view, but it's absolutely fine. Turning away from the view,
to the interior, it is a large open plan space, with much use of garish
colour (apart from the silver-grey gents loos with their oh-so-tasteful
naked ladies on the walls; I'm afraid we didn't use the ladies' room to
see how that compared). A large bar dominates the main room
with its bare floor boards and casual seating and tables off the
room. To the front of the property is a conservatory
extension (a touch chilly when we visited) with more formally laid
tables, though the walls are decorated with brightly coloured modern
The menu is relatively simple brasserie fare. We started with
a chicken liver parfait that was well made, though oddly pretty
uniformly oxidised throughout the two slices; and a twice-baked cheese
soufflé, that while light lacked flavour. The
parfait was served with some excellent melba toast, the
soufflé came with a small selection of the usual salad
leaves lightly dressed in a completely flavourless dressing,
and a small bowl of hot chutney, which the dish really needed to inject
some character. We shared a bowl of
mussels as an intermediate course: these were nicely cooked, despite
being a remarkably diverse range of sizes (are mussels cheaper if you
buy them ungraded?), and had a good flavour, but as a dish, it was
completely marred by an incredibly over-salted creamy broth.
In moules-frites mode, the mussels came with some chips and
garlic mayonnaise, though just six or eight chips, which might well
have been disappointingly parsimonious if you were having this as a
main course. Very good chips, though.
For main course, my companion had a nicely cooked sea bass fillet
served with a pile of shaved fennel and an exceptionally good fondant
potato. I had steak tartare, with side orders of more of the
excellent fat chips and some deep fried onion rings in a lovely light
batter, though, as the pools of oil in their bowl bore witness, they
could have been better drained. The steak tartare was made of
very coarsely chopped fillet steak, topped with an egg yolk in the half
shell, and came with separate bowls of tiny capers (perhaps a bit
over-rinsed), roughly chopped cornichons, finely chopped shallots and
Worcestershire sauce. I prefer my steak tartare a bit more
finely chopped and always think the seasoning should be done in the
kitchen: what came on the plate as a neatly presented patty of steak,
soon became a right mess on the plate once I'd mixed in my
accoutrements. Also, the coarse cut of the steak meant (as to
be expected) that the accoutrements remained largely
discrete. The steak tartare came with the same superb melba
toast - probably the best melba toast I've ever had. When it came to
desserts, a creme brulée was a good example, but with the
sticky toffee pudding I was once again visited by the curse of the
incompetent microwave operator, who doesn't realise that five minutes
is not the same as 50 seconds. I assume 5 minutes, as I don't
know how else the small single portion (which makes me wonder if it was
bought in) pudding could have been rendered so rubbery and
inedible. After wandering round the ground floor to find a
member of staff to take it away, it was quickly removed and replaced by
an edible version, that was nicely rich in dates. Two single
espressos were not the best examples. With a bottle of water
(nice that it wasn't pushed onto us by default) and a bottle of
Boschendal Chardonnay-Pinot Noir, the bill (excluding the comp'ed
sticky toffee and coffees) came to just over £130, which is I
think a bit above what the food was worth, so I'm left wondering just
how much I would want to pay to enjoy the view for an hour or two.
1-2/10 (March 2008)
West Riding of Yorkshire Twice
recently, we've been caught out by something I find really irritating:
restaurants that claim to be open at lunch, but then only do a very
basic lunch that bears no relation to the restaurant's reputation. We
encountered this at Holbeck Ghyll in the Lakes a few weeks ago. Then
again today, we thought we'd try the much lauded Weaver's Shed at
Golcar near Huddersfield in the West Riding. It's well established and
almost invariably gets high praise. Although they cleverly avoid
putting any menus on-line, the restaurant's own website says
A typical meal will begin with
warm Gruyere biscuits served with drinks in the bar, followed by a
small complimentary ‘amuse-bouche’ at the table.
This can be anything from a sliver of foie gras terrine, to a small cup
of Kitchen Garden soup, according to season. After three courses of
fresh, unique dishes based around locally sourced produce and
organically grown fruit, vegetables and herbs from the Kitchen Garden,
guests can choose to take coffee at the table, or retire to the lounge.
[snip] Stephen provides the petits-fours to accompany after-dinner
good, doesn't it? Well, maybe that's the case at dinner, but it's not
really a fair representation as far as lunch goes. It was a cold, wet
day. The bar-lounge was cold, and the atmosphere in
the dining room, was rather cold. What of the menu, and its "fresh,
unique dishes based around locally sourced produce"? We were handed a
3-3-3 table d'hôte. Is there any à la carte
available? we ask innocently. "No. That's all there is." Not even a
pretence of checking with the kitchen. Disappointing, but fair enough
if those are the rules. But the menu itself hardly deals in "fresh,
unique dishes." We have the choice of split pea and coconut soup, eggs
benedict or yorkshire pudding with gravy. Mains were sausage and mash,
grilled Limousin sirloin with maître d'hôtel
butter, or hake (I forget exactly how that was done). Afters were queen
of puddings, cheese or some sort of cheesecake thing (as far as I could
understand when it was recited).
I have to say the food was good. There was nothing to
criticise about the Eggs Benedict. The soup could have done with a bit
of a lift of sorts - there were a few bits of chopped chive in it, and
when you got some of those on the spoon, they lent a welcome freshness.
There was a good texture to the soup (and no windy after effects
The steak was really good meat, though they weren't able to cook it as
rare came as medium, and medium rare came as just short of well-done.
It was, however, very tender sirloin with a good, smoky char-grilled
flavour: we couldn't be bothered to send it back, due to a combination
of our despair at the kitchen's aspirations on this lunchtime, and the
fact that even over-cooking it hadn't overshadowed the quality of the
meat. The cooking error might have had something to do with the rather
thin slices of steak we got: not exactly the archetypical Yorkshire
abundance, but entirely appropriate. The steak came on top of a handful
of unevenly cooked sauté potatoes. Vegetables (plain boiled
carrots and cabbage being the two options) are charged extra. The
maître d'hôtel butter was good, and certainly not
shy of flavour.
Queen of Puddings was probably the best dish of the lunch and as
textbook an example as you might wish. Given the restaurant's emphasis
on local ingredients (even down to having their own kitchen garden), it
was very odd that only one of the three cheeses served (fridge cold
unfortunately) was English.
Espresso came in glasses (the only glasses that weren't Riedel), though
the accompanying petits fours, were more petits ones: a couple of
crown-threateningly hard chocolate and nut confections that were too
big to be able to put in your mouth and just let melt on the tongue.
It is a nice, if surprisingly small dining room. Rough stone walls,
stone flags and the creaking floor boards of the upper storey forming
the ceiling. The tables are large and well-spaced, well set with the
appropriate Riedel glasses, cover plates and general restraint. There
is, however, an affectation (derived from Marc Veyrat?) when it comes
to the cutlery: forks and
spoons are "normal"; knives are Laguiole, resting in slots cut into
small black pebbles. Each knife has a little paper note wrapped round
its blade, telling you a) what a wonderful knife it is and b) that
tradition dictates that you keep the knife through the meal. True.
And it saves
washing up, I suppose. But I can't say I would be particularly happy at
reusing a knife that has been used for smoked salmon (did I say that
the eggs benedict had hot-smoked salmon instead of ham?) with steak.
Fortunately, I'd had the soup, so it wasn't my problem. My companion
licked his knife clean and wiped it on the table cloth.
In contrast to the rusticity of the dining room (the old weavers'
shed), the bar area, richly decorated with menus and cookery books from
the world's leading restaurants, feels more like the mill owner's
parlour, with carpets and elaborate cornices. Shame they hadn't put the
heating on, or lit the open fire.
The wine list is intelligent, with good descriptions of the wines: the
sort of interesting wines that demonstrate real interest from the
owners, and at reasonably restrained prices.
Overall, this was not so much a disappointing meal as a disappointing
experience. I'll certainly not be embarking on the 150 mile round trip
again, and wouldn't bother with lunch again. If I were in the area
though, I would still be tempted to give dinner a go, as it certainly
sounds from all the reviews that it's quite different in the evening.
3/10 (March 2008)
Nigel Smith's Restaurant,
Ribby Hall, Wrea Green Ribby
Hall is an upmarket holiday park at Wrea Green (just off the main road
between Preston and Blackpool), and Nigel Smith's Restaurant (so
modestly named after its chef, Nigel Smith) is its high(ish) profile
anchor restaurant. The dining room is large and modern, with a feature
gas fire place using up the carbon credits - combined with the central
heating on full blast, this made the room feel almost uncomfortably
hot, despite being a large, airy room. On the evening we visited, we
sat not in the main dining room, but in the corner of a conservatory
style extension adjoining the main room (with chairs and banquettes
covered in a vinyl, which rather accentuated the uncomfortable hear)
just off the main room.
The menu offers no surprises, with standard British brasserie fare. It
perhaps lacks the refinement that the front of house
decor would suggest and I think they may need daily specials to
encourage regular revisits by locals in addition to the transient
holiday park custom.
I started with a nice dish of belly pork (not crispy belly pork, as on
the menu), with a bramley apple purée that had lean yet
moist belly pork. Accurately done. The other starter was a generous
slice of a chicken terrine that lacked only a bit of seasoning. The
presence of some very precisely pink chicken livers through the centre
of the terrine was both a welcome addition and showed some ability in
Two demitasses of a delicious smoked salmon consommé, each
cup with a slice of scallop followed, somehow combining smokiness and
meatiness. The scallop was perfectly cooked, but I couldn't help
thinking that a quail's egg might have been better. The
consommé was the best dish of the night by far.
For main courses, we had a beautifully presented Shepherd's Pie, which
had a real depth of flavour, though we were both positive it was really
a cottage pie, as it seemed to be beef, rather than lamb. A
confit Goosnargh duck leg, with a perfectly light, crisp skin avoided
all the pitfalls that confit duck legs can fall into. The duck was
served with a very well judged mixed spice mash, and some delicately
sweetened turnips. A very good dish.
Things, however, took a serious nose dive with desserts. "Olive Oil and
Sauternes Cake, Compote of Warm Tangerine Segments" was simply not
right. It came as a triangle of heavy, flat looking
sponge cake, with a ramekin of tangerine segments in a light syrup on
the side. The tangerine ramekin was hot; the cake was also hot, by
virtue of being so far over-microwaved that it was fairly difficult to
get the spoon through it. I summoned the waiter and asked him to take
it away as it was inedible. What was the problem, he asked. I picked up
the triangle of cake and squeezed it hard - very hard - between my
hands and watched (to my surprise as well as the waiter's) as it sprang
back into shape. It was rapidly and
graciously replaced by a chocolate mousse, which had a spot on texture,
though a curious nutty, torrefied flavour, which made me think it was
either made with cheap chocolate or very expensive chocolate. On the
side of the chocolate mousse plate was a delicious, rich vanilla ice
Overall, there seemed to be some good things going on here, though with
one serious misjudgement.
It is, however, let down by a somewhat lazy wine list.
2/10 (March 2008)
Ghyll, Windermere The
setting and the view are magnificent, all the more so on a less than
perfect winter's day, when the ever-changing weater meant the view
changed about every five minutes.
Unfortunately the food (and to a lesser extent, the service) failed to
come anywhere close to the magnificence of the
setting. It was lunchtime and then menu (once you ignored the
sandwiches) was more restricted than the full evening carte, but very
much in the same style. A smoked jerusalem artichoke soup was
an interesting start, unlike a goats cheese feuilleté, which
was no more, no less than some bits of goats cheese between three
circles of filo, with a sprinkling of tired looking salad in a ring
round the outside of the plate. My main course of turbot was
a decent sized portion of fish, nicely presented, but sadly a bit
overcooked. Desserts were unmemorable.
It was all extremely expensive too.
On the other hand the wine list is very impressive, with lots of
interest and prices that are not that unreasonable, though it is
unforgiveable that a glass of fino sherry should be served warm.
Very much giving them the benefit of the doubt and strongly influenced
by the view, I'll score this 1/10 (March 2008)
Hall, near Kirkby Lonsdale
Please note that the following
reviews of Hipping Hall are from when Jason Birkbeck was running the
kitchen. For some unfathomable reason, I haven't been since, something
which I must rectify.
A wine-merchant acquaintance
of mine had mentioned Hipping Hall to me on a number of occasions as
somewhere worthy of attention. While I trust his judgement, I'd borne
in mind that he was supplying wines and that his praise may have been
relative to other North Lancashire/South Cumbria restaurants.
I was wrong. This really is cooking of the highest
I went for dinner (they are
only open dinner) on 7th June 2006. Hidden behind trees, which muffle
much of the noise from the busy A65, and up a short drive lies a
slightly higgledy-piggledy agglomeration of 15th - 18th century stone
buildings that make up Hipping Hall, now a restaurant with rooms. It
was a beautiful warm evening, so we sat outside in the small courtyard,
overlooking a curious, almost ecclesiastical looking wash house next to
a small stream.
we enjoyed the early
evening sun and wondered whether, while the menu read very well, they
could pull it off, a wooden platter of nibbles arrived. This set aside
any possible doubts: they were so good, so well conceived and executed
that we knew this was going to be a really good meal.
The nibbles were:
in a shot glass half filled with a superb hollandaise (also warm)
Another shot glass of
very good marinated olives
Chorizo cigarettes (a
fine dice of quality chorizo in a crisp feuille de brick - the
"cigarettes" were 2-2.5 inches long and about the thickness of a pencil)
Parmesan pastry crisps
Olive pastry crisps
Smoked salmon and caviar,
served on spoons
Frogs legs with tartare
sauce - the frogs' legs had been french trimmed so there was just the
thigh meat remaining, lightly breadcrumbed and fried. Beautiful. As
indeed was the tartare sauce.
The dining room is in the
oldest part of the building - a 15th century hall, complete with a
(more recently added)
minstrels' gallery at one end. A large inglenook fireplace dominates
one wall, and the wall opposite the minstrels' gallery has a large
tapestry. It could have ended up looking rather kitsch, but manages to
avoid it completely. A huge wooden table fills the centre of the room
and serves as the waiting staff's station for ice buckets and such.
The chairs are very
comfortable dark brown leather. The tables have good quality white
napery, Spiegelau glasses and fancy modern cutlery that only just stays
on the right side of function vs form.
at the table, a variety
of excellent breads were produced, and the dish of breads left on the
table. An appetiser followed soon after: this was a really lovely
pressing of tomato, anchovy and mackerel with a fillet of red mullet on
the side. We'd been impressed by the kitchen work involved in the
nibbles served while we read the menu: this went one step further. The
pressing was probably about an inch and half square with ripe, deeply
flavoured layers of tomato containing fresh, escabèche
flavoured diced fish. That would have been great on its own, but it was
lifted (rather than merely having its lily gilded) by a perfectly
cooked, quite fragrant fillet of red mullet on the side. A real wow!
dish. And that was the freebie appetiser.
My starter was "Confit belly
of Kitridding Gloucester Old Spot, Roasted Langoustine, Choucroute,
Crispy Pigs Ear" with an excellent jus too. The belly pork had a great
flavour and I believe had been properly confit'd rather than just slow
cooked. The langoustines were huge, sweet, perfectly cooked and worked
surprisingly well. The choucroute was as good an example as I've had,
and the crispy pigs ear was a take on St Menhoud in the form of two
half pencil sized panéd morsels.
companion had a "warm
salad of Canadian lobster, wild asparagus, fresh peas and broad beans,
lobster foam", which was reported to be as good as the best Scottish
lobster and a very good, light, fresh dish.
main course I had a
"Fillet of Veal, glazed sweetbreads, black pudding tortellini, creamed
cabbage, veal jus" which was just that, all exceptionally well prepared
and cooked and beautifully harmonious on the palate. A really good dish.
companion went the piggy
route with "Pot roast pigs head, crushed ratte potatoes, root
vegetables, pickled ginger, apple purée, roasting juices".
He was in raptures over the apple purée, and the head meat
was reported to be as good as any he's ever had, and miles ahead of
most. Also in the dish were a couple more of the crispy pigs' ear
cigarillos I'd had with my starter.
The pre-dessert was described by my companion as
the best dessert he'd had for years. It
was an ovoid glass filled with layers of a luscious vanilla cream,
passion fruit jelly, pineapple ice cream, passion fruit mousse and
foam. Passion fruit filled the nose, but didn't dominate. Superb dish.
Desserts were a prune bonbon (a sort of cross
between a doughnut and a turnover) with prune and
armagnac ice-cream; and an excellent individual tarte tatin that
completely knocked spots off that served at Gordon Ramsay RHR and at
For coffee we retired again to the courtyard
outside to watch the last of the evening light go.
Coffee could have been a bit better (the second cup was much better
than the first, so perhaps just a matter of the first cup of the day
out of the machine), but petits fours continued the high standard of
the rest of the meal for the most part. There were warm lemon
madeleines, warm chocolate madeleines, lemon tuiles, chocolate
doughnuts, little tuile cones filled with an utterly delightful peanut
mousse, squares of chocolate ganache, white chocolate and caramel
sweeties wrapped in cellophane and (this was the only disappointing
element of the whole meal) white chocolate ice cream in a very hard,
rather too thick chocolate shell that had been heavily and needlessly
coated in dessicated coconut.
The menu is £42.50
for three course, which given the amount of skill in the kitchen is
without doubt a real bargain (their DB&B rates are similarly
well-priced). We drank a 2000 Domaine Niero Pinchon
Côte-Rôtie from the intelligent wine list, which is
really very generously priced: the Côte-Rôtie was
£46. Frank Stainton of Kendal who supplies most of the wines
retails it at £25.50. It is a rare thing to see a wine markup
of less than 100%, rarer still in a restaurant of this calibre.
have now been open
almost a year, and to my mind, it must be the Newcomer of the Year for
North West England, if not northern England full stop.
and hugely recommended.
Queen Street, Blackpool
Press - as of Spring 2008, the restaurant continues but the chef, Neil
Sedgwick has left and has been replaced by Michael Golowicz the
one-time chef-patron of the old September Brasserie.
(unoccupied for some years now) of the defunct September Brasserie on
Queen St in Blackpool, but unrecognisable in every way. Makeover isn't
the word. This seems more like a complete rebuild! It's light, airy and
modern, with good lighting. On one visit so far, the food was
remarkably good and - at lunch - very fairly priced, with three courses
for £14 including a glass of wine. In the evening there are a
somewhat confusing variety of menus (to become still more confusing
with the announcement that they are going to introduce a tapas menu
too). The decor and the food are both modern, but there is
the bizarre reappearance of two blasts from the past: a variety of
vegetable dishes are available as "sides" and in this day and
age it's remarkable to see the cover charge making a reappearance, but
only on the à la carte. Having to pay £5 for the
privilege of only having only two courses instead of four is ludicrous
and reveals a certain arrogance on the part of the kitchen (an
impression that is reinforced by the presence of a chef's table). The
result of the ludicrous cover charge is that they they might well lose
custom in the evening - they would certainly, if there were much
competition in Blackpool.
had some good scallops, very nicely cooked with a saffron foam and a
couple of other twiddly bits I can't remember now followed by a very
nice, very tender, very well flavoured rib-eye steak with an absolutely
spot on béarnaise sauce (a small jug with the remainder of
the béarnaise was provided, and we eagerly gobbled it up).
The accompanying pommes pont neuf let the side down a little, as they
could have been crisper. A nice selection of cheeses rounded
off a jolly good meal.
4/10 under Neil Sedgwick)
The Olive Press, Preston
burgeoning chain of
Olive Press restaurants gets a bit of stick from some reviewers for
their formulaic approach. But that's never done Pizza Express
harm, and like the PE of old, the OPs are showing the assembled
multitude of Italian mediocrity how to do pizzas. A good
stretched thin, cooked through and cooked crisp (very rare in so-called
Italian pizzerias, at least here in the north west) with good quality
toppings and not all under a blanket of plastic mozzarella.
Sounds simple. So why does it take a lad from Bolton to show
the local Italians how it should be done?
The Winckley Square, Preston branch of Heathcotes has (Longridge aside)
always been the best of the Heathcote empire in my view, through its
various incarnations. And here in the Olive Press incarnation
(downstairs, below the Chop House), it seems to be still the case -
there just seemed to be a bit more care in the cooking and in the
service than at the Clitheroe branch, which I visited late in
A large marmite of mussels was fine, though lacked a depth of flavour
that the best moules marinières style dish can
half portion of one of the pasta dishes wasn't terribly enthralling -
penne with chargrilled chicken, mushrooms and pesto. The
was a bit overcooked and a bit dried out, but there was a pleasing
lightness of touch in the cream sauce. The main course pizzas
were spot on. A bottle of 2005 Barbera from Araldica was
easy drinking (though pretty much at its money at £17.95),
is more than can be said of the pretty horrible glasses it was served
in - presumably the glasses are selected on their ability to bounce on
hard floors rather than any aesthetic or drinking pleasure.
A more recent revisit allowed for a reconsideration.
Pizzas are what to go for here, and it's unfortunate that
not a slightly longer list of options - e.g. it would be nice to see a
proper pizza napoletana. Unlike the previous visit, this time
there was a specials menu on the table (note to Heathcote's HR
department: it might be a good idea to train your staff to mention
this). I had a very dull and boring dish of fried mushrooms
grilled ciabatta from the specials menu. Which was just some
fried mushrooms (sliced so thin that they were scarcely identifiable
though the predominant type seemed to be the not at all wild oyster)
apparently without the truffle oil advertised on the menu.
an oil (not truffle oil) dressing on some accompanying rocket leaves
and the mushrooms apparently having been cooked in oil, the dish had a
bit of a greasy edge. The ciabatta was good though.
We know the pizzas are good, what about the rest? That was my
thought in ordering a 'salmon, spring onion and mozarella macaroni
bake'. Nicely cooked macaroni, a tolerable amount of salmon
(though very broken up, so you didn't actually notice it by change of
texture from the macaroni) some breadcrumbs on top provided a useful
contrasting texture, but there was a slightly odd fishy (as opposed to
fresh salmon) flavour that didn't seem to quite work for me.
there weren't any spring onions in it at all, but rather some
undercooked peas. It's difficult to undercook peas, but
they managed it.
They were very quiet at this visit, and the staff seemed a bit bored
and disinterested, unable to judge their pacing. E.g. I
ages for the bill, but when earlier I had visited the gents, I returned
to find my table had been cleared. Ah yes, and (note to
Heathcotes Estates Department) the decor in the gents needs some urgent
On the basis of this visit, 1/10. I'll definitely stick to
pizzas at Olive Presses in future.
Winckley Square Chophouse, Preston
The Winckley Square
branch of the Heathcotes Empire always used to be one of the best bets.
Downstairs, the Olive Press is very reliable, but today was my first
visit to the upstairs operation, the Winckley Square Chop House, and it
was unfortunately a bit disappointing.
When you enter from Winckley Square you head straight ahead and down
the stairs into the Olive Press, or turn left into a bling (i.e. dark)
bar area which forms an ante room to the Chop House dining room. The
room is little changed from when Heathcote's Brasserie first opened
here all those years ago, just updated slightly, an area of suspended
ceiling, and the lighting turned down to something like a 25W light
I started with a "crisp lamb salad" that was three slices of slow
cooked (but not quite cooked slowly and long enough) belly of lamb in a
crisp crumb, served with a salad of thinly sliced radish and
watercress. The menu mentioned something about spiced tomato ketchup:
if that was home made, then they have perfected the art of making a
slightly runny sweet chilli sauce. The dish was slightly marred by one
of the slices of lamb having a bit of cartilage left in it.
My rib eye steak was good meat, accurately cooked rare as requested and
served with some really exceptionally good chips (a variety of sizes,
all fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside), a rather dried out
mushroom, and an even more dried-out looking half of a roast beef
tomato. In fact the tomato was rather good - slow roast with slivers of
garlic - though it did still look like it had been sat under the lamps
for six hours.
A pistachio crème brulée was an out and out
disaster: split, scrambled, soggy brulée topping and an
otiose quenelle of substandard vanilla ice-cream that both had
ice-crystals and that unpleasant texture that frozen cream has on the
roof of the palate. This was replaced by an elderflower pannacotta.
This was a bit over-gelatined and lacked any elderflower flavour.
One of the weaknesses of the Heathcote Empire (perhaps with the
exception of Longridge) is the way that chefs are constantly moved
around the empire, and it was perhaps significant that I heard one
other table complaining that something had come with boiled egg, rather
than the poached egg they were expecting from the menu, and that I saw
the chef on the pass fixing a copy of the menu into his tab grabber.
1, maybe 2/10
Fence Gate Inn, Fence, near Burnley
visit here was just after Easter 2007, though it had long been on the
radar. Although there was nothing particularly wrong with it,
didn't over-impress, and it's taken almost exactly two years for a
Fence Gate Inn rose to a brief national attention four or five years
ago when they made the world's most expensive pie, which involved Wagyu
beef, black truffles and 1982 Mouton Rothschild for the sauce among
other luxury ingredients. The pie sold at £1000 a
was, of course, a one-off publicity stunt, and thankfully
there is none of that nonsense now and, indeed, prices are pretty
reasonable, apart from a beef fillet dish which was by a very long
chalk the dearest thing on the menu (about twice the price of almost
everything else). I
was amused by a possible indicator of these recessionary
the menu Thai Salmon and Cod Fishcakes had had the final s crossed out
on all our menus.
There are two public opportunities for eating at
this large pub and banqueting venue: to
the left of the entrance is the bar, on a winter's day heavy
wood smoke from the fire, or the brasserie, which for some reason they
feel needs a separate name: Topiary. The bar is open plan pub
with lots of heavy wood; the brasserie is smarter with proper
tablecloths, and a combination of proper dining room chairs and leather
banquettes. Heavy pub-style wine glasses placed upside down
the tablecloths add a cheap look and air of not really
how to do things. The
practice of paper napkins at lunch and (as we could see from the tables
being re-set for dinner) cloth napkins at dinner is irritating and,
when there is no difference in cost and no set lunch deal or anything,
just plain cheap.
blinds on the windows do an efficient, utterly unnecessary job of
keeping the light out even on a bright, sunny day, though there is
to keep the tables bright, and the modern art visible, the latter
including odd beige things, apparently made out of faded brown paper
that are evidently meant to look like topiary trees, each formed into
three round balls. They also, if you catch them in a certain
each look like three skulls piled on each other.
There is a certain inattention in the dining room that extends beyond
the charnel house like decorations. The white tablecloth had
stain, or at least a discoloration that looked like wax that hadn't
washed out properly. The salt and pepper mill was grubby with
piece of food hanging off it. When it was turned the right
up, one of the glasses was dirty with lip marks on the rim.
then there were the strange splash marks on the aubergine-coloured wall
up to which the table abutted. Goodness knows what they were.
If one table front of house shows such poor cleaning, what -
are forced to wonder in the post Ramsay Nightmares age - is the kitchen
There are two menus: one for the bar and one for the brasserie, plus a
few blackboard specials on the wall by the door. You can
from the bar menu in the brasserie, but not the other way
When the cheery, but inattentive staff take your order, they don't
mention the specials, even to the point of not telling you what the
soup of the day is. They've not got the hang of up-selling
The food actually isn't bad. Starters were the weakest
point. A pasta dish (chopped up tagliatelle!) was clearly
supposed to be a take on a pasta carbonara with chorizo and
chicken. Unfortunately it was a little dull and with a heavy
cream sauce, coloured rather than flavoured by the chorizo.
Regular clientèle presumably aren't up to eating
tagliatelle that has not been chopped up? Scallops were good
scallops, accurately cooked, served with asparagus,
sauce and a large quenelle of what a glance at the menu afterwards
revealed to be aubergine caviar: not something you would guess - it was
cold, largely flavourless other than a bit of raw onion.
Main courses took a definite turn for the better. Bowland
Mushroom and Oxtail Pie had a good pastry top flavoured with
thyme, contained large chunks of tender meat in a really good gravy and
came with excellent chunky chips. We wondered if there was
any oxtail in it, as the meat seemed more prime muscle. Lancashire
hotpot (off the specials menu - fortunately we'd remembered it was on)
was by contrast a little short on meat, but had its own very rich
gravy, though it was a little oversweet, presumably from the
cooked-to-mushiness carrots and ?swedes that bulked out the
Lancashire hotpot is a very variable, personal dish: this isn't how my
grandmother made it, but I'm perfectly prepared to believe it's the
traditional preparation in the chef's family. The hotpot came
with some beautiful mash - for once just very light fluffy potato, not
laden with butter and/or cream. We also had a couple of side
dishes which were excellent: onion rings in a light, crisp, grease-free
batter were among the best ever, and a bowl of petit pois cooked with
spring onion and garlic cream was delicious.
The Fence Gate Inn trades somewhat on the owner's former
calling as a butcher and there is a separate section on the menus for
sausages - apparently
award winning sausages. We tried two types of sausage (from a selection
of six on the menu), which were very good, and also very
nicely cooked too - worthy of note as sausages are not the easiest of
things to cook well.
while not massive or over-facing, are fairly large and certainly we
could only manage one dessert: we went for the intriguing sounding and
mis-spelled Sherry Trifle Crème Brule (equally intriguing
that brûlée was spelled and accented correctly on
menu). Initially this looked a little odd: crème
brûlée topped with a big dollop of lightly whipped
cream. Then when you ate it, it made sense: this was actually
sherry trifle (and a good one), but the custard layer had had a
brûlée topping added before the cream
added. Quite clever actually, and it worked well, and looked
They make much of the wine list being award-winning, even down to a
sign outside the door, but don't actually mention who awarded them
anything. It's actually well put together with lots of
interesting wines, well (if a tad over-enthusiastically) described, and
at pretty reasonable prices.
1, maybe 2/10
am very pleased to report that on today's
showing, the food - at least the dim sum - at the Yang Sing is very
much back on form.
But why don't they have any customers any more? Time was on a Saturday
or Sunday lunchtime you would have to queue on the stairs to wait for a
table, and the dining room would be 60:40: Chinese:Caucasian. Today
there were less than ten tables occupied and nobody from the Chinese
community (other than the staff). Have the Yeungs offended the Chinese
community or not paid their dues to the Tongs or whatever? But it still
doesn't explain why the non-Chinese community aren't there any more.
We had a selection of superb dim sum all of which knocked value and
gastronomic spots of a disappointing meal earlier this month at the new
London golden-boy, Ba Shan. In theory, the Xi’an and Szechuan
at Ba Shan should be the punchier, against the more delicate Cantonese
cuisine of the Yang Sing, but I found the opposite to be the case. The
dim sum at the Yang Sing combined punchy, yet balanced flavours with
finesse of execution.
Little char siu pasties combined deep, cha sui pork morsels in a nice
err... gravy with exquisite, light crumbly pastry that any French
patissier would sell his grandmother for.
Paper wrapped pork chops are fairly thin slices of pork sirloin cooked
en papillotte with five spice and onions. The tenderness of the pork is
remarkable, as is the combination of depth and delicacy of the spicing.
Cuttlefish "bumble bee" is all about texture rather than great
flavours: very tender, chopped cuttlefish is crumbed, stuck with
slivered almond "wings" and deep fried.
Beef dumplings with spring onion and ginger manages to have a fairly
light filling in a delightfully slimy wrapper and an equally slimy, and
slightly sticky ginger spring onion sauce.
Rather more "fusion" were some delightful lemon chicken samosas. Very
clearly wanton wrapper skin, rather than Indian samosa, and so very
light and crispy with a delicate lemony cream sauce with pieces of
Steamed scallops with ginger and spring onion were excellent scallops,
though a little swamped by the very salty light soy with which they had
There aren't trolleys here, but on Sundays, some dim sum is hawked
around the room on trays: a fried dumpling, looking a bit like Lebanese
kibbeh, contained a delicious pork and chinese chive filling
(infinitely superior to the pork and chinese chive filling of whatever
it was at Ba Shan) in a slightly odd, glutinous coating. Jolly nice.
Staff are very good - helpful and knowledgeable.
The wine list is intelligent, and we had a very nice white Sancerre at
a not unreasonable price.
into this Manchester yearling (actually on top of Sam's Chop House)
really just to see what it was like, and just had one of their
tapas/dim sum platters and a bottle of Singha beer.
The decor manages to stay just the right side of over the top and,
certainly at lunchtime, the downstairs exuded a cool air of calm.
My platter comprised (for a good value £7) some stunningly
good chicken satay. A much more generous amount of chicken
than is common, and as the peanut sauce was served separately the
effect of the marinade on the chicken was pleasantly
noticeable. The platter was also supposed to contain some
thing called Moo Yang, grilled marinaded pork, but I could have sworn
what I got was lamb by the texture. Jolly good,
whatever. Prawns deep fried in a light crumb were fine, if no
better than most places. An upmarket prawn toast (on slices
of baguette) could have done with having a strong prawn flavour, but
tasted much fresher than most other places. The final element
of the platter were some prawn, pork and crab steamed dumplings which
had a lovely fresh flavour.
Service was excellent and knowledgeable, presentation of the food well
above average for a Thai restaurant, and all in all a very pleasant
experience. Definitely one to try for a fuller meal.
French Restaurant, Midland Hotel, Manchester
old belle dame has had another face lift. This former railway
hotel’s lobby is now all stark black and white, with a new
marble floor. As always with new owners, they have found a whole new
area within the sprawling layout and a new bar has been created on the
Oxford Road frontage. At the heart of the ground floor, however, the
French Restaurant continues as before. If it’s not listed, it
probably should be, as it reflects a different era. There are some new
touches: the paintings are now all fakes, the originals having been
sold and rather unfortunately the new owners’ interpretation
of fire regulations means that the lighting is uniformly very bright,
which has lost some of the room’s former romantic ambience.
are more modern than the room, though execution sadly falls very short
of the promise. A demi-tasse of asparagus soup came as a freebie
appetiser. This lacked much asparagus flavour, and instead was
dominated by being heavily over-salted (I noticed another table
complaining about this too) and having a touch too much truffle oil on
appetiser, we started with a dish of a warm salad of scallops and
langoustines with puréed cauliflower and a ham hock and foie
gras terrine. The salad element of the scallops was beautifully
dressed, but presented in an over-heavy, slightly soggy parmesan-tuile
basket. The scallops were fine, if really rather small and cool, but
the langoustines were superb, large and beautifully sweet.
Unfortunately the cauliflower purée under the scallops and
the watercress purée under the langoustines were a bit too
cold (they were warm enough to know that they weren’t meant
to be cold), a theme that ran through into the main courses (the rather
coarse, mass catering plates may not help). The terrine was very good,
with a decent depth of flavour and what looked like a largish torchon
of foie gras through the middle. Unfortunately, the foie gras was more
of a mousseline of foie gras, which meant it lacked its own flavour in
combination with the ham hock, and didn’t really deliver on
what the terrine’s appearance would have suggested.
course was an assiette of lamb. This comprised a best end chop on the
bone and another off the bone, with a bit of very soggy, very pappy,
tasteless stuffing. Very good lamb, but poorly trimmed, with huge
amounts of fat left on the plate: the boneless chop’s
stuffing was held in place purely by a flap of fat. On the side was a
sprig of rosemary, skewering an overcooked kidney, a cherry tomato and
a rather rubbery piece of lamb’s sweetbread. Again, the
accoutrements on the plate (some spinach and some sort of tomato
fondue, together with some finely turned carrots and courgette) were
distinctly on the cool side. Also on the plate was a pile of lukewarm
pickled cabbage, that was so vinegary as to be positively unpleasant,
particularly when drinking wine from the Midland’s deeply
uninspired wine list: I had to push it aside and curse the red vinegar
it left me having to try to avoid on the plate. Served separately, in a
copper pan, was a very large helping of shepherd’s pie, which
was at least hot. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much else. Decent
meat, slow cooked, but really very tasteless, with a very water jus not
at all binding the meat. The mashed potato on top was just plain dull.
My companion had a dish of sea trout and a lobster boudin. A very good
bit of fish, though with the skin browned but not crisped. The boudin
was good, though the casing was tough and inedible. On the side was a
large slick of almost cold mashed potato.
highlight of the meal was a superb raspberry crème
brûlée. Light, delicate, beautifully flavoured
with a very thin crisp caramel on top. The large portion meant it was
easily enough for the two of us.
espressos looked like they had been poured out of a pot of coffee,
though at least they tasted well and were served with good chocolates.
its own trolley of huge loaves, sliced at the table, though the breads
themselves could have been a little better tasting and, while by no
means stale, weren't exactly straight out of the oven.
very good and old school, with some of the now much slimmed down team
apparently hanging on from BTH days (like some of the cutlery and other
silverware, though unfortunately that doesn’t include the
wine list which is dull in the extreme). The service could at times be
rather entertainingly formulaic. “Thank you
sir … <puts the other plate down> …
and thank you sir.” It’s unfortunate that the
French Restaurant continues to be let down by its chef. Just some basic
improvements (such as getting food to the table hot) would really help.
Perhaps the pastry chef should be put in charge of the brigade?
the occasional places of this standard that make it into the guides
with scores of 1, 2 or 3 out of 10, so I think it's worth a 1/10, maybe
a 2/10 given that it really is an experience: it's a special occasion
place. Personally, though, I'd rather eat in Establishment or the Yang
Sing when in Manchester.
San Carlo is
a big, modern bustling Italian restaurant, with an open kitchen,
dominated by the open flames of a large pizza oven. One wall
is mirrored, which makes a large, airy space, seem even larger and more
airy. Dotted around the room are a number of blackboards with
additions to the menu and special wines. The blackboard menus
do not seem to change much, and in any case, just in case you can't see
a blackboard clearly, it's all repeated on a printed menu.
The food, almost inevitably in a place of this size, can have some
misses along with the hits. Their take on mozzarella in
carozza, for instance, came in an oddly chewy thick batter.
Osso Bucco Milanese, on my most recent visit was the only item on the
blackboard that wasn't on the printed 'blackboard' menu and came as a
generous portion of two hefty slices of shin with a rich, if a bit too
tomato-ey sauce. The meat would really have benefited from a
bit longer, slower cooking, but in a big restaurant like this that's
forgiveable. The osso bucco was accompanied, however, by
plain boiled arborio rice, which really struck me as just not trying -
there was not the slightest effort to turn it into the traditional
accompaniment to osso bucco of risotto milanese. The other
traditional element of the dish, the gremolata (chopped garlic, lemon
zest and parsley) was also conspicuous by its absence. A dish
of "pasta Norma" was also a touch hit and miss - penne pasta served
with an aubergine and tomato sauce topped with pecorino cheese and
blasted under the grill. The sauce had a lovely fresh taste,
with lots of basil, but the pasta was a bit hard from the grill and the
aubergine would really have benefited from being cooked
longer. Bizarrely, given that the menu laid such emphasis on
the pecorino, as soon as it was arrived parmesan cheese was
offered. A veal chop with sage was fine, if a bit on the
small side (and I'm sure the menu mentioned a weight as well).
can be patchy, varying from inattentive (to the point of not responding
when tapped on the back!) when you want them, to over attentive when
you don't (I lost count of how many times for each course we were asked
if everything was okay!). The service is one area where San
Carlo could really aim to improve, and then they would merit the
obligatory 10% service charge added to the bill. To add
insult to injury, when the credit card machine is handed over, it asks
you to put in an additional service charge. Cheeky!
list is solid stuff, with a few trophy bottles thrown in (there are
often quite a few of the Manchester glitterati eating here) - prices
are at the top end of not that bad, if you see what I mean.
Jolly good espresso.
Mung Mee Thai Restaurant,
Thai restaurant is joined at the hip to an oriental
Both are an extremely welcome addition to the otherwise uninspiring
restaurant scene of Lancaster. The menu ranges through the
mainstream Thai repertoire, seemingly with a few not-quite-Thai dishes
thrown in for the comfort factor.
The food is perhaps a little toned down for the western (or do I mean
the north-west England?) palate, but manages to retain great depth and
balance of flavours in all the dishes I've had: it's a very clean,
fragrant cuisine. As can be the case with Thai food,
of main courses sometimes leaves a little to be desired.
Service is charming rather than expert, apparently being drawn mainly
from the local oriental student population, but is eager to please and
better than merely competent.
A two course lunch (including tea/coffee) is a complete bargain at a
mere £7.99 and offers a pretty wide choice of dishes.
(several visits in 2007
tiny café on Morecambe's seafront, but it's a thousand miles
away from every other café in Morecambe, or for that matter
on most British seafronts! It's quirky with a display of cakes and
pastries on a table in the window (if the other tables are full, you
just push the cakes to one side and sit at that table - goodness knows
how they survive the health police!). Tables and chairs are mismatched;
if it's not roaring sun and tropical temperatures outside (that does
happen sometimes in Morecambe!), the window is invariably steamed up.
There's a printed menu on the tables, plus a blackboard, which is where
the interest is. It's all quite homely. Some of the food is good, some
is really remarkably good. I've had some good homity pie and once some
really good lamb burgers (plural - two of them) made from local salt
marsh lamb (from Cockerham I think, on the south side of the Bay,
rather than the better marketed Holker Hall salt marsh lamb from the
north of the Bay).
Some of the cakes and pastries are home-made, others are home-baked
(Danish pastries, for example, are bought in uncooked/part-cooked and
finished in-house). They are quite open about this. There are often
steamed puddings on the menu, though on one occasion a sticky toffee
pudding wasn't that at all, but rather a steamed sponge with a toffee
This isn't cooking that's going to set the world alight - though it
does make Morecambe glow a bit.
Resolutely no smoking and no mobile phones. There is a small
delicatessen area between the café and the kitchen which has
some acceptable produce.
Each time I've been, however, it's been sadly let down by the service,
which is hands-off and elusive in the extreme.
All in all, a very welcome addition to Morecambe (and the only place I
would go to eat or recommend anyone to eat in Morecambe).
pie shop that merits a mention here as, apart from the Bay Horse just
south of Lancaster and the Mung Mee Thai restaurant in the town centre,
this is probably your best bet for lunch in
Lancaster, though you do have to take it away. But I also think the
quality of the pies merits attention location notwithstanding. The
queues out of the door, and the fact that they've usually sold out of
virtually everything by 1pm are testament to the quality.
All the pies have good pastry and all are notably well
& Kidney, has big chunks of good quality meat and kidney in a
gravy. Regrettably they have discontinued the cheese and onion pies
which were small saucer shaped pies with lots of
onion and real cheese. On the other hand there are still the potato
cheese and onion pies, which add an extra layer of interest to the
butter pies, which are filled with sliced potato,
cooked just right, with a nice buttery flavour with just the right
amount of salt and white pepper. A recent innovation is that
the vegetable pies are now suitable for vegetarians, as the pastry for
them is now made using vegetable oil, not lard.
It seems odd to be raving about a takeaway pie shop in a restaurant
guide, but they really are very good.
Horse Inn, Forton
just off Junction 33 of the M6 and right
to the former Bay Horse station (to which the inn gave its name) on the
Preston to Lancaster railway line, in the tiny hamlet of Bay Horse
(ditto) this small country pub, family-run, has become a local dining
destination, offering some of the best food in north
Lancashire. The bar has a reasonable atmosphere,
though despite the appearance this is 100% gastro and 0% pub: I've been
going for many years now, and have never seen anyone come in just for a
drink. The restaurant area, however, is best avoided if you
it is cold and lacking in atmosphere.
They do a good trade in sandwiches at lunchtime, as well as a slightly
shorter version of the printed menu, with a couple of dishes
the blackboard (sometimes duplicating what is on the printed lunch
menu, as well as the soup of
the day which figures on both). As always these days, local
produce figures predominantly.
Wilkinson's food when through a phase a year or two ago of seemingly
just getting better and better, though now it seems at a peak
Starters tend to be better (better balanced at least) than main
courses, and of the main courses, the more traditional dishes such as
Lancashire Hotpot and Fish Pie tend to be the more rewarding choices,
as well as offering the best value.
the starters, terrines are always extremely reliable, often combining
(lots of) tasty
chicken breast, Lancashire blue cheese and maybe fruit of some form,
served with invariably good and well-matched chutney. On one occasion I
had an excellent "Mrs Beeton's potted crab". On a springtime
soup was leek and potato with a
poached egg and soldier. Despite a green colour, the soup
done with a bit more leek flavour. For some bizarre reason
there was a
sprinkling of broad beans in the bottom of the soup. The egg
though not really needed, and it could have done with being warmed more
thoroughly. The soldier was soldier of toast floating on the
Bit of lily-gilding here. In August 2008, I had a really top
notch chicken liver paté (though I was hard-pressed to find
Blacksticks Blue element that I'm sure I read on the menu). More of a
parfait than a paté: smooth and well seasoned, with a nicely
dressed little salad and some loose chutney, heavy on the sultanas. As
well as the good bread (quite possibly home made?), the paté
came with a slice of toast from an equally good, but different loaf.
the past, meat
courses have been better than fish (though Craig's fish cookery,
particularly the timing, seems to have improved in the last couple of
years): a mutton shank slow-cooked in Lancaster Bomber
beer with a goats cheese mash was excellent, as was a superb Lancashire
hotpot, served with a stunningly good home-made pickled red cabbage
(pickled red cabbage is usually something I loathe!). Confit duck legs have come
with a very good madeira
sauce, roast figs and a very good mash, unnecessarily and
inconveniently served in a small marmite on the main plate: the duck
legs themselves were spot on, perfectly cooked and much more succulent
than many reheated confit duck legs can be.
A dish of rump of lamb in May 2009 was very accurately cooked, though a
bit chewy, and came with a very good madeira sauce, some superb
puréed potato and parsnip and a couple of tiny little copper
pots, one with nicely cooked carrots and onions, the other with
excellent spring cabbage.
my own previous advice about fish at the Bay Horse, in August
my main course, off the blackboard, was grilled plaice
with chips and tartare sauce: as simple as it read, and with simplicity
comes no room to hide. No need to hide today. A nice plump whole
plaice, cooked perfectly came with some absolutely superb chips. A lot
of places these days pride themselves on their double or triple cooked
chips, but few manage ones as good as these were today: these had a
thin, crisp exterior with the crunch of the topping of a great
crème brûlée and a light fluffy
all the more remarkable, given that they were what I suppose you could
call rustic cut (i.e. all different shapes and sizes, not perfectly
formed pommes pont neuf). Maybe they were frozen and then fried, rather
than oven-baked - I don't care; they were damn good! The tartare sauce
was home made (well, at least the tartare bit was, I couldn't be sure
about the mayonnaise base) and came in a sizeable quantity, oddly in a
baby Le Creuset marmite pot. After a few minutes (a bit too many) came
some rather sad looking vegetables (three chantenay carrots and
cabbage) which were over-microwaved (you can hear the ping of the
microwave in the bar!) and (presumably) in an attempt to reduce the
portion to a single portion, but not being able to quite find a dish
small enough, looking not just a bit bedraggled, but also a bit
have a dessert here, but they've always been excellent, e.g. a
treacle and fig
tart - dried fig, this time - served with a scoop of damson ice
The tart was just aired, presumably in a microwave, as the good, short
pastry was a little soft, and had a nice rich filling without being
sticky or gooey. One summertime pudding was a rich,
unctuous lemon posset topped with four raspberries, which worked really
well to cut the richness of the cream, nicely presented in a mini
kilner jar, though maybe a piece of lemon shortbread might have made
the dish feel really complete. A textbook burnt vanilla
cream was spot on in every regard, save
perhaps being a slightly too large portion. This was served with some
poached rhubarb in a light syrup and some, presumably homemade langues
de chat biscuits adding another note de trop.
Bay Horse falls down on two counts: 1) the beverage side: the wine list
and beers on tap are dull. My pint of Black Sheep in May 2009 was not
well kept. 2) the service: they use local youths, who aren't managed
during service and appear to have had little training. Service
takes orders at the bar, brings food to the tables and (when it gets
round to it) clears the dishes away after, but doesn't really do much
more - they often seem to be overseas students from the university just
up the road, and occasionally there have been slight language problems
in the past. A
particular lowlight on a visit in 2009 was the two young girls running
front of house discussing their favourite meals: Kentucky Fried Chicken
for one of them; pizza for the other. I really can't think of a worse
impression for front of house staff in a restaurant to make. There isn't really
any welcome, warm or otherwise (though
the spirit is willing I think), and overall perhaps the greatest
drawback of the Bay Horse is a certain lack of atmosphere, particularly
in the room designated as the restaurant.
(last updated May 2009)
Orchard, Broughton, near Preston
Italian Orchard nestles in the northern armpit of the M55 and M6, but
you don't notice the traffic. This is a huge
trattoria-pizzeria. Having ignored it for many years, I've
now been going regularly since the early part of 2005 and it is very
consistent - and, I think, improving. In the year up to July
2007, service has become more relaxed and effective.
enter via a large bar area, which has a very stylish wood-burning
fireplace in the colder months. The interior is vast and
cavernous: a glass fronted extension running the length of the building
offers the best tables; behind it is a darker area; and then there are
more tables upstairs - there is room in all for around 400 covers!
can be a little ordinary at times, though in recent months (this
sentence was revised in October 2005) the food seems to have taken a
praiseworthy step upwards, but the wine list is remarkable.
wine-lists: there are three. The lowest level wine list is
printed on the back of the standard menu: there are no details of the
wines, just name of wine and producer, no vintages, (there used to be
no explanation, but there is now a few words on each wine): and some of
the wines need explanation, as even the basic wine list has some really
unusual wines. The next wine list is more of the same, and
printed on the reverse of the specials menu. The next wine
is the big daddy, encompassing the other two. There's a
more detail here, including vintages, but still no
The Braganini family, who own the Italian Orchard
enthusiasts, particularly for the wines of of their native north-east
Italy, especially Trentino and Friuli, and more particularly from small
producers: there is a depth and breadth of wines from north east Italy
that is probably unmatched in any other UK restaurant. A
remarkable number of wines are also available in magnums or other large
formats. Other regions of Italy are not ignored (there are
over a dozen vintages of Sassicaia, for example), though the list only
leaves Italy for champagne and port.
when I first wrote about the Italian Orchard, I wrote that "it is
unfortunate that the food is not quite up to the standard of the wine."
But that is to praise the wine, rather than denigrate the food, and you
should also bear in mind the size of the operation - they can do
hundreds and hundreds of covers at once! Much of the food is,
it has to be said, rather standard Italian fare - pizzas, pastas,
saltimbocca, and other meat dishes. Pizzas are good, but not
in the top class category (it's very much worth remembering to request
that a pizza is cooked really crispy), and cater largely for the
English taste. Pasta is good, though cannelloni
has been a little heavy. Recently, however,
cannelloni has been exemplary: plated (rather than served in the oval
Le Creuset dishes that are the norm), with a very light-textured
filling and a good light pasta, complemented by a gentle hand with the
tomato and bechamel saucing. Even more recently, however,
cannelloni is back to the cast iron dishes. Calamari in a
lightly curry-spiced batter are excellent and in a large
Italian antipasti platter is stunning with several varieties of cured
meats and salamis, all of the highest quality: this is the must-have
dish, as it is difficult to believe you could get better
specials menu is where most of the interest is, though I've not quite
worked out how often the specials menu changes: sometimes it seems to
be the same for weeks at a time, other times it is different each time
I go. Ravioli of crab was lovely, with a good light pasta and
creamy clean flavoured filling. On another occasion, good
veal kidneys came with a well-flavoured sauce and an
truffle raviolo, which provided the balance of flavour and texture that
lifted the dish from workmanlike to really very good.
a venison in berry and port sauce was lifted by an excellent raviolo of
wild mushroom. Occasionally there are flashes of brilliance
the kitchen: a north-east Italian version of involtini, wrapped in
cabbage leaves and then in ham, the filling light and airy with an
interesting agrodolce flavour. Meat dishes like saltimbocca
steak diane are at best competent: the saucing on the saltimbocca (as
with a number of the meat dishes) was a little heavy for me: there's a
slight tendency to gloopiness on occasion, which increases with the
darkness of the colour of the sauce! Desserts, in common with
most restaurants of this type are largely bought in and hence
avoidable, though the crème brulée shines out by
notably good example. Coffee is good. Staff can be
mixed, but mainly from language difficulties - the result, probably, of
the laudable policy of taking young students from catering colleges in
useful in the area, and it would make a good stopping off point for
anyone travelling past Preston on the M6 (come off at Junction 32 and
take the A6 north, turning right at the first traffic lights).
Restaurant, The Stanley House, Mellor, near Blackburn
the chef, Warwick Dodds, left in late 2007 (he is currently cooking at
The Hastings in Lytham). The notes
are from before he left and may not be representative of the current
situation at the Stanley House. Caveat lector!
relatively new (when I first went in July 2005) opening, this is a
boutique hotel and restaurant, combining a restored seventeenth century
manor house with a newly built extension (made to look like a barn
conversion), which houses the restaurant. The hotel and
restaurant are sited on top of a hill with commanding views out towards
the sea. Entering the restaurant, you are immediately struck
by the decor, which is heavy, baroque and bordello-themed, with lots of
deep purples and sage greens. All the art on the walls
appears to be by Rolf Harris (which is not saying that you can't tell
what it is yet: all the pieces I looked at were signed Rolf Harris and
the self portrait was a bit of a giveaway too!)
would seem to be intended as a destination for the moneyed to show off
their money: second and third division footballers and second and third
division footballers' wives and mistresses. Tables are
properly laid with some interesting modern design cutlery which, unlike
some modern designs, actually work. Dining chairs are,
bizarrely, swivel chairs: they look like proper dining room chairs
(apart from the odd electric lilac leather seat pad), but incorporate a
swivel mechanism. This makes getting in and out easy, no
doubt particularly for the infirm, but I don't think that was the
intention. Locanda Locatelli in London has the same chairs,
though in less lurid coverings.
food is between excellent and very good. Mostly
excellent, but occasionally let down by a bit of confusion on the
plate, primarily in appearance rather than flavour.
I think the food has improved since last year. But without a doubt, the
front of house team has changed out of all recognition for the better
to a huge degree. Now they are largely French and know exactly what
they're doing. This has transformed a rather grim experience into a
splendid one. A most welcome innovation this year has been the
introduction of a stupendously good cheese trolley: it majors on French
cheeses, but all are in absolutely tip top condition, and the staff
know all about them and are able to tell you which order to eat them in
(often a useful intrusion).
Highwayman, Burrow, near Kirkby Lonsdale
A new opening from
Nigel Haworth and Craig Bancroft of Northcote Manor near Whalley in
Lancashire, building on the success of the Three Fishes in Mitton, near
Whalley (see below).
The format is the same as the Three Fishes, clearly on the why break a
winning formula model. Although open only a very brief time (and it's
not even finished yet, as the garden, which the signs at the entrance
tell you is also non-smoking, as well as the dining rooms, has not even
been started yet) it's already very busy. Clearly the format is a
afraid it's not a winning formula
for me. The local sourcing policy is laudable, though how local Formby
asparagus is to the Lune Valley, I'm not sure; not to mention the
that features in one starter and the products of the Marrbury
Smokehouse in Dumfries & Galloway. If
out the formula anywhere else, it's going to be even more difficult for
the local suppliers to match the demand: they must be really stretching
some of the suppliers already.
really don't understand the rigorously
enforced Berni Inns style policy: find a table (not easy, and it leaves
customers wandering around trying to find the best table for them),
note its number (on little brass discs embedded into the table) and
order at the bar or "food station". Something that the newspaper
critics, who have been lavish with their praise, don't mention. Perhaps
people like Nick Lander are spotted and receive restaurant service as
well as the kitchen tour he described in the Financial Times? Where the
order at the bar policy really falls down is with larger parties. A
party of six was seated near me: if a waiter had taken the order that
would have been accomplished within a couple of minutes. But leaving
the customers to their own initiative meant that the one delegated to
hand in the order had to return to the table a couple of times to check
their memory of what his fellow diners wanted and how they wanted
things cooking. And of course, it's pay as you go or give
credit card number, which means that normally it's the host who will
have to do the ordering. This really is unnecessary I believe.
Furthermore, there's no concession in the pricing - no doubt because
there are no fewer waiting staff than a similar sized establishment
would have, if it had proper table service. It also raises the
interesting question of what level of gratuity the customer should
leave, given that you're only getting two thirds of the service you
would get elsewhere (assuming taking orders, bringing food, clearing
tables to be roughly equal tasks of a waiter/waitress). They
have sufficient staff, so why not do it properly?
a big place that
must be able to do a huge number of covers, and the sheer scale of the
operation means that this is never going to be at the finest edge of
gastronomy. In that respect the menu is well designed, with many dishes
involving putting ingredients together, rather than relying on great
skills at all stations in the kitchen.
started with one of
only two vegetarian starters, both of which involve cheese, as does the
only vegetarian main course. If you're a vegetarian who doesn't really
like cheese, you're going to be in bother here. There's only one
vegetarian item on the whole menu that doesn't involve cheese: a tomato
salad. You can't even have a bowl of chips, as they're proudly fried in
dripping. My Yorkshire Pudding, Melting Leagram’s
Sheep’s Milk Cheese, Mushrooms & Tomato Fondue, Wild
Leaves was a three inch diameter, nice and crispy Yorkshire
(Burrow, though in Lancashire, is close to the border with both Cumbria
and Yorkshire, so we'll let them have that as local!) filled with a
very dull, really remarkably bland duxelle, which was topped with some
rather oddly stewed tasting tomatoes (which also surrounded the
pudding) and a slice of Bob Kitchen's excellent young sheep's milk
cheese, just melting on top of the lot. The advertised wild leaves were
a small handful of rocket. The dish lacked flavour and balance, with
the tomatoes dominating: not an especially good thing, and you could
certainly have too much of it.
main course was an
Aged 8oz Cumbrian Fell Bred Rib eye of Beef (Matured for 5
weeks), Real Chips cooked in Dripping, Onion Rings, Tomato, Field
Mushroom. This was a really good bit of rib eye, though it
seemed very parsimonious for its advertised eight ounces, perfectly
cooked as requested with a good flavour from both the meat and the char
grilling. The onion rings were a huge disappointment: the batter was
tough and leathery, almost as if they had been pre-cooked and either
kept warm or re-heated. Maybe they'd stood too long while waiting for
the steak? The chips were good, but could have been crisper: the best
bits were the "off-cuts" and broken bits; and I'm not sure that the
dripping really added that much more to make it worthwhile stopping
vegetarians eating them. The tomato was a tad undercooked, but with a
rather nice herb crumb topping. The mushroom was a small open mushroom,
about which not a lot can be said. I ordered some bearnaise sauce with
my steak (£1.50 extra): not a bad bearnaise, but it was
barely lukewarm and clearly prepared earlier in the day.
eschewed the main menu (with its acknowledgedly bought-in puddings,
which seems a step too far in pursuit of local suppliers for a
restaurant with a kitchen) and looked to the supplementary menu (a
seasonal menu, not a daily specials menu) and a banana split. This was
a rectangle of unexceptional, thin shortbread topped with half a
banana, cut in two and separated by a scoop of very frozen ice cream,
with squirty aerated cream sprayed over the top and then sprinkled with
some nice ground praline. Combined with some caramel sauce piped onto
the plate, this all had a really nice flavour (the praline adding a
lovely touch), but it would have taken scarcely more to improve the
execution no end: ice cream that wasn't quite so frozen solid; proper
cream instead of the squirty stuff, which had largely collapsed before
I was even half way through the dish; maybe even the other half of the
banana, though that's more a question of generosity than improvement.
and efficient at what they do, are rather robotic: each one that comes
to the table announces their name to you and says that if there's
anything more you'd like during the day, please do ask. But of course
you can't do that: if you want to order food or drinks, you have to go
to a food station, which makes it all pretty pointless roboticism.
though is just how busy it is: it's not even fully open yet, yet it's
heaving, and I can't help but think that their car park (and there's
nowhere else to park and you need a car to get to it) isn't quite big
enough to cater for all the covers, especially once they open the
garden too: the car park already feels a bit cramped and tight.
in December 2007, things hadn't really improved. I had to
send one dish back twice:
some cauliflower fritters (from the section of the menu entitled
"nibbles") unfortunately had large lumps of raw flour in the centre of
the larger pieces of cauliflower florets, which were deep-fried in a
chipshop batter. Presumably they had been floured then
refrigerated. Having been returned, and despite the
being fried for a noticeably longer time, there were still clumps of
raw flour at the centre. I gave up and ordered some onion
with Lancashire cheese crouton. This was partway between a
onion soup and an English cream of onion soup. Nicely made
good creamy texture. Maybe a bit more onion strength would
help? Main course was a very good mutton pudding with a good
crust and a good filling, the inclusion of some kidney being a pleasant
surprise. A bit more depth of flavour in the gravy would have
helped. This was served with far too much, if very good mash
potato and black peas, which as ever with maple peas were a bit hard -
but that's the nature of the beast.
Quite a long wine list and rather uninspiring beer selection takes this
more into restaurant than pub territory, though it's strange that there
is such a small selection by the glass. Notable, however, is
very good selection of grown up soft drinks in the ilk of Mawson's
Sarsaparilla and Dandelion & Burdock, Fevertree, Fentimans etc.
Unfortunately they're not exactly cheap. The bill came to
£23.35 per person for two courses and soft drinks, which
further return visit in June 2008 was abortive thanks to an ordering
fiasco that went beyond amateurish combined with the fact that two of
the dishes I wanted were not available: I was too irritated and left.
Come on, Nigel and Craig (Howarth and Bancroft), sort this
Fishes, Mitton, near Whalley
large informal restaurant masquerading as a pub
(which it was for about 400 years) in the heart of the Ribble Valley,
it opened in September 2004 under the same ownership as nearby
Northcote Manor. It's a huge open barn of a place, with more
than a feel of a Berni Inn to it. And that feeling is
reinforced by the order everything at the bar style
operation. Come to think of it, they would do well to visit a
Berni Inn for lessons on how to provide even the most basic standard of
service. But I'll come back to that.
The menu reveals the philosophy of Nigel Haworth and the brigade he has
in the kitchen here: regional cookery, British classics, local
sourcing. The reverse of the menu is a map showing all their
local producers. Very laudable of course, and here they
certainly pull it off: some restaurants with a strong emphasis on local
sourcing can sometimes fall down on the quality of some of the
ingredients, particularly meat: but that's not the case here - this is
a real showcase for the best of Lancashire (and Cumbria and Cheshire,
but mainly Lancashire) produce. Prices are good and the
kitchen does very well. I started with some "Treacle baked
free range Middlewhite Garstang ribs with devilled black peas" which
was a really good dish on a cold spring day, with a good balance
between the sticky coating on the ribs and the well-flavoured meat
itself; and the spicy, if a bit too hard black peas went very
well. My main course was off a seasonal menu and was a belly
pork dish that was really very good indeed. Apart from the
fact that it still had on the cling film that was obviously holding the
whole belly in a roll.
I say, you order at the bar. Fair enough.
Reasonably common. But it's very strict. There
aren't that many actual waiting staff, and, having been swayed by the
next table ordering the "real chips", when a waiter brought my cutlery,
I said I'd forgotten to order chips and would he mind adding them to
the order. No. You have to order at the
bar. So I go and join the queue again. One of the
people behind the bar is in deep conversation with her boyfriend down
the other end of the bar, leaving the others to cope with the huge
queue. I gave up. I didn't want chips that badly.
the main courses, I was asked if I would like to see the sweet
menu. Might as well. Couple of things take my eye,
and I assumed a waiter/waitress would return to take my order (the
usual way of operating in establishments like this). None
did, and when I finally caught the eye of one, he indicated that I
should order at the bar. Back to join the queue.
Eventually I order and eventually (the food doesn't exactly come
quickly, and I wonder if they've misjudged the size of kitchen brigade
they need) my coconut sorbet with chocolate sauce arrives.
Fortunately the chocolate sauce (hot) is in a separate jug - it would
dominate the exquisite coconut sorbet if poured all over.
Bounty bars work because the sweetness of the coconut goo can stand up
to the sweet, greasy chocolate. This coconut sorbet was not
at all over sweet and had such an elegant flavour that it couldn't
stand up to the sauce, although that too was excellent.
I could do with a coffee. No. Join the queue
again. Difficult now as most of the staff behind the bar are
deeply engaged in getting ready to knock off for the
afternoon. Apart from the one down the end of the bar, who's
still gazing longingly into her boyfriend's eyes. Not for the
first time, I give in and when I do finally get served, I just ask for
the bill, pay and get out.
incredible that what's actually a very good kitchen can be so
comprehensively let down by its management's ideas on service and the
incompetence of those actually employed to provide that service.
was pretty good (1/10 maybe even 2/10 for the food), apart from the
cling film on the lamb which is utterly unforgiveable, but it's not
somewhere I'm likely to go back to again as the complete absence of
service brings its score down to somewhere less than 1/10.
can really say is "beware".
King St, Blackpool
is not somewhere that has ever been a destination for fine
eating. For many years, the main restaurant trade was carried
out by a number of - largely unimpressive - Italian trattoria places,
some of which later morphed into pizza-pasta establishments, a couple
of doubtful Chinese restaurants and fish and chip shops. If
you wanted good food you generally had to go inland.
Street is just
slightly outside the town centre, which isn't going to do much for
their passing trade. But then you wouldn't want most of the trade that
passes by in Blackpool.
been open a
while now, but I've only recently been. It's been converted, I think
from a cafe perhaps via something Italian. Not unpleasant to look at,
but distinctly cobbled together on a tight budget!
ridiculously cheap £4.95 two course table d'hote lunch (with
three or four choices, and all sounding interesting), but we plunged
into the a la carte.
rabbity (a terrine maybe) opposite me, while I had a tomato and cheese
tart, with superb pastry. I'd expected microwaved pastry, but it
wasn't. Beautiful. Both starters were garnished with an easter bunny
(for it was the Easter weekend) formed out of an olive!
were a slab of
halibut (£11.40) and a sort of seafood bollito misto
(£12.80), which had at least four types of fish, plus various
shellfish. All good quality, well cooked, well seasoned. Both dishes
came with a selection of vegetables on the plate, and some of the care
taken here was remarkable: a cube of swede, wrapped in leek and tied up
into a parcel with a chive bow; exquisitely cut vegetables, a good
gratin lyonnaise beneath the fish.
£3.50 were good, but overshadowed by their presentation: huge
showy spun sugar constructions, towering about 6 or 7 inches over the
plate. A remarkable degree of effort.
wine list has no
pretensions to being a wine list really. Just three or four anonymous
non-vintage reds and three or four anonymous non-vintage whites. We had
an anonymous, non-vintage, vaguely Australian sounding white for
£10.75 which was perfectly quaffable.
£3.00 and £2.80 for drinks before hand brought the
bill for two for lunch to £55.70, and it was well worth that.
one point a chef
type creature emerged from the kitchen and said that he remembered us
from Uplands (the Tovey offshoot near Cartmel). We didn't remember him,
and neither of us had been to Uplands for around 10 years. There is a
bit of a Tovey influence in the menu, but nowhere near as formulaic as
the Richard Dutton enterprises (New Inn, Yealand, Dutton Arms,
Burton-in-Kendal, Miller Howe Kaff at Lakeland Plastics). Probably
worth a 2. Maybe a 3 if the quality is kept up.
review was written I've been once or twice more. My father
goes at least once a week, but they don't open Saturday lunchtimes,
which are usually the only times I can make. I never quite
find it lives up to the initial promise. It is a strange,
rather bleak dining room, particularly when there are few in.
Service is not the most natural and can tend to hover and listen in
rather too much. The food, while having flashes of brilliance
and excellence, unfortunately tends most of the time to be a bit
un-focussed and often a bit muddy. Chef Marco can do it with
real style and expertise - it's just unfortunate that usually when I
go, he doesn't.
recently, I went
for Christmas Day lunch. This was really very good,
particularly at the exceptionally reasonable price.
Everything was good quality throughout, though the roast beef (the
alternative to turkey, to be ordered in advance) could have been better
hung. A busy atmosphere certainly helped, but the food was
undoubtedly better. Perhaps Marco Calatyud, the chef, is
better when under pressure catering for a full restaurant.
has been open a few years now (since Easter 2002) and serves the
well-heeled clientele of Lytham well. It is modern, bright
and cheerful decorated in tones of orange, with a bare wood
floor. It is saved from being too brash an environment by a
large central banquette unit that divides the restaurant into
two. The menu reads reasonably well, especially at dinner (a
shorter, lighter menu is served at lunch and dinner dishes are not
available at lunch): the style is modern with lots of
pan-Asian and other fusion touches. The kitchen is open to
the restaurant and provides a hint of theatre for those not people
watching. The upstairs has been completely revamped in the
last year: a very comfortable, almost souk-like bar, with dark wood and
dark leather seating occupies much of the space. The bar has
a number of lockers for customers to keep their prized bottles of
spirits safe until their next visit. Remarkably, these
lockers were oversubscribed from day one and there is now a waiting
list. The list of drinks (i.e. mainly spirits, but also ports
and champagnes) available by the bottle in this bar area is extremely
interesting though the cost is eye-watering on occasion. The
toilets, also upstairs, are similarly classy, especially the entrance,
which has the communal washing facilities in the form of a resurrected
(very resurrected: you'd not guess its origin!) pig trough found in a
terms of the food, Chicory comes more into the useful in the area
category than the worth a detour category. The transition
from menu page to plate just isn't as effective as it might be, and
occasionally it would seem the raw ingredients might be of a slightly
better quality. In general, the food lacks focus and
identity, as it ranges across the world.
one visit (February 2006), we started with "Crayfish tail quesadillas
with melted pepper jack cheese and chive sour cream" and "Eggs Benedict
on toasted homemade bread with spinach and smoked ham". The
Eggs Benedict were good, with a generous helping of hollandaise, though
oddly the ham element was finely chopped. The quesadillas had
a good filling of crayfish tails, salsa and Monterey Jack (with some
rather dull chive sour cream in a small pot on the side), and a small
slick of what seemed to be hoisin or similar sauce, that really lifted
the dish. Unfortunately, however, no attempt had been made to
toast or otherwise cook the tortillas themselves: I always think the
crisping up of the tortilla is, along with the cheese filling, a
defining characteristic of a quesadilla. This was just a
tasty filling wrapped in a soft tortilla that hadn't even been
warmed. But this isn't the first time the name of a dish has
not been respected: an earlier visit yielded a "veal saltimbocca" that
was a (very good) tournedos of veal, but with no sage or ham.
main courses on this occasion were "Fisherman’s pie, topped
with creamy mash potato with melted Gruyere cheese and a beetroot and
vodka salsa" and "Crispy duck leg on celeriac remoulade, warm beans and
five spice plum sauce ". The duck leg was an absolutely fine
example of confit - maybe not the greatest, but nothing at all to
complain about, and the remoulade and plum sauce worked well.
The fish pie, was a large portion, with a nicely browned mash potato
topping. As I would have expected, it was evidently a way of
using up fish trimmings and other leftovers of fish:
unfortunately, tuna does not really work in a traditional British fish
pie. Neither do lots of silverskin onions - and I mean lots
of them. Very odd. There were just one or two
traces of white fish, but no smoked haddock or prawns as you might
expect to find alongside the usual leftovers. A bit under
seasoned too. Again the basic problem is the translation from
menu to plate. If it had said "tuna and baby onions with a
creamy sauce and mashed potato topping" I'd have known not to have it -
or at least what to expect! The beetroot and vodka salsa was
absolutely fabulous: beautiful flavour and balance.
shared a dessert: a "milk chocolate mousse cup flavoured with rum,
topped with a Tiramisu cream and a pistachio and almond tuille [sic]":
this was not a chocolate cup filled with milk chocolate mousse, but a
large cappucino cup filled with a pretty good chocolate mousse, but
spoiled by being such a large portion (also far too big for its
£4.95 price tag): the two of us struggled with it, and ended
up keeping it to have as truffles with our (good) espresso.
The tiramisu cream lacked any real tiramisu flavour, but the tuile was
an excellent bottle of 2003
Barbera d'Asti La Caplana, water and armagnac the bill came
to £64. It's unfortunate that it just seems to
slightly miss the mark at virtually every stage. If they
could maintain the high spots throughout the meal, then this would
merit a score of 3/10. But as it is now, it's only worth 1,
older review (August 2004):
openness of the kitchen has mixed blessings. It is practical
in a small busy restaurant to have a large pass, rather than waiters
having to disappear into the kitchen and the chefs can keep an eye on
what is going on. Diners get a sense of theatre that an open
kitchen provides. A further benefit on the occasion of my
latest visit was that we got to see most of the kitchen tantrums, which
helped explain why we waited so long for our food:
no explanation or apology was forthcoming from the rather mixed waiting
staff, until we asked what the delay was. At one point -
which must have lasted 15 minutes - no table in the restaurant had any
food on it. I have to admit, however, that these delays were
unusual. At one meal I started with Thai fishcakes
and moved onto calves liver with a bacon and
potato-and-cheese-stuffed-mushroom; my companion started with a quail
and pork terrine (from the verbally recited specials list) and
continued with fish and chips. The Thai fish cakes were a
little workmanlike: rather large and a little dull; and totally
dominated by the extremely over-dressed salad that came with
them. The balance was totally misjudged. My calves
liver was overcooked, but fortunately not to the point of dryness: I
pointed this out when the inevitable "are you enjoying your meal"
question was asked, and to their credit they offered to start the dish
afresh. We had waited about 90 minutes by this stage, and so
I pointed out that I'd make do with it, as I had to be in work on
Monday morning. I think that was when the front of house
staff finally grasped that the delays really had been a little too
long. The dish was probably a bit over-salted for many
people's tastes. My companion's terrine was good, though the
rhubarb-based chutney that came with it was a bit over the top and a
complete wine killer. Fish and chips were good, though the
batter was perhaps on the heavy side: the batter was also a very dark
colour, though not overcooked. The fish inside was an excellent
quality; chips and the little pot of tartare sauce were also
good. Once the kitchen got over its problems we were able to
watch desserts coming out, and they all look jolly
impressive. Not exactly matched on the plate
however. I had what was billed as a warm chocolate mousse
with espresso granita. It wasn't by any stretch of the
imagination a mousse, but rather one of those chocolate nemesis
imitations that are increasingly common. This one was a
slightly too large a portion (served in a large cappucino cup, with a
tasteless white froth on top), and not as good as the little
Gü pots available in many supermarkets. The espresso
granita was excellent, though difficult to eat as it was served
separately in a shot glass, which was too small to get the provided
teaspoon into. With a couple of espressos, which took them a
couple of goes to get right, the bill for two was just under
£40 (the dessert was on the house).
this showing not rated, but overall, taking into account previous
new venture round the corner in Dicconson Terrace is Sweet
Chicory. This is a creperie cum coffee lounge cum patisserie
cum delicatessen. Everything appears high quality and like
the main Chicory restaurant, is very very busy. Interestingly
they have the sole UK right to sell the rather fabulous Yves
Thuriès chocolates, but make virtually nothing of
it. (They don't sell these now - Feb 2006). It
would I think be fair to say that Sweet Chicory has taken management's
attention a little too much away from the original Chicory restaurant.
Restaurant, Boar Lane, Leeds
Latest report: May 2009
I find it a bit irritating that they always try to hold you upstairs
for 10 minutes before letting you at your table, even when it's a
single diner. Selling drinks, I suppose, and helping the place to look
busy from the street. Even more irritating is that when having ordered
food, they take the wine/beer order, and then open it and bring it to
you *upstairs*. Grrr.
The dining room, when they finally let you into it, is pretty much
unchanged from day one, and seems to be due a bit of redecoration just
to spruce it up a bit. Although a slightly odd shape, I find the dining
room is calm and comfortable. Service is better here than at other
outlets in the group, though when Olga isn't present (as today), you do
notice her absence.
The set lunch is good value at £24 for three courses, but I
the whole hog and had the tasting menu at £60 for seven
(Exceptionally good value, given that portion sizes and composition of
dishes matched the à la carte that other tables were having,
that's £42 for three courses.)
An amuse bouche of brown shrimps with a fine brunoise of pear and
pumpkin seed dressing was fine, but not the most alchemical sort of
dish you expect from Anthony's. I'm pretty sure they weren't Morecambe
Bay shrimps, as they didn't have as much flavour as Morecambe Bay
shrimps usually have. I noticed that half way through the lunch
service, the amuse bouche changed. Unless there was a remarkable
coincidence that everyone starting their meal after 1pm was allergic to
The first proper course was the signature onion risotto with parmesan
air and espresso - I believe this is the only dish that has been on the
menu from the day the restaurant opened. This was a better example than
previously, with more onion flavour than when I've had it before. A big
portion for a tasting menu - as with all courses, exactly the same size
as the à la carte versions. The risotto was nicely cooked,
parmesan air was remarkably parmesany and the espresso really adds a
touch that works well.
Next was smoked beef carpaccio with pomelo, smoked feta and shredded
fennel - excellent, balanced dish.
Next was a scallop (actually not quite as good as the night before at
Anthony's at the Piazza), which was served on a very delicately
flavoured garlic mousse (I wondered if it was actually a garlic and
almond mousse, but the waitress said just garlic, which I didn't quite
believe.) Also on the plate was a jolly good little goats cheese
shredded wheat (like a mini shredded wheat, cut in half and filled with
a goats cheese mousse), shredded jabuga ham, a caperberry beignet and,
poured over at the table, "Iberico cream" - a savoury, hammy cream,
apparently made by boiling Spanish ham bones in cream.
Two fair sized pieces of lovely thick John Dory were beautifully cooked
and came with the usual Flinn selection of other stuff, all of which
worked very well with it: a cube of apple confit with a twin of apple
jelly, Bellota ham topped with pumpkin seeds and a single leaf of baby
spinach, a lovely avocado mousse sandwiched in some puff pasty (like a
sort of avocado vanilla slice), itself topped by a butter poached, tiny
The next course, the last of the savoury courses, was the weakest dish
of the meal: the main component wasn't ideally cooked and the various
accompaniments didn't really go with it. Belly pork was long and slow
cooked, but apparently had been divested of its fat, leaving it a bit
on the dry side and lacking unctuousness. Also on the plate was half a
pearl onion, some pine-nuts, some squid ink and tapioca "quavers" (my
description), themselves topped with delicious baby squid, and some
very odd, crispy black "spaghetti", which really was just like
deep-fried wool. There was just too much crunch on the plate.
Although I asked for a slight break before the dessert courses, it
ended up a very long break - getting on for half an hour.
There are two desserts on the tasting menu, and I think they should
have reversed the order of the two they gave me. I started with kaffir
lime leaf and mango canneloni (the mango thinly sliced and forming the
'pasta'), which was utterly gorgeous, served with a coconut sauce,
coconut brittle and an amazing rum jelly. The second dessert was much
more savoury than the first and would have made a better bridge between
the savoury and dessert courses: beetroot arctic roll with licorice
espuma and bulgar pudding. If you ignore what it actually is, this is a
mighty good dish - the beetroot element being somewhere between sorbet
and parfait, the bulgar pudding, like a very loose rice pudding, but
with (unsurprisingly) a sweetish wheaty flavour, while the licorice
espuma is much more phlegm like in texture than foam or air, and
actually like a very, very, very light licorice flavoured Angel
Delight. The flavours worked superbly together.
This was probably the best meal I've had at Anthony's in about 30
months. Superb espresso afterwards, with very nice chocolates (from the
Anthony's chocolatier at the Piazza, I understand). The Anthony group
espresso must be about the best I've come across in the UK. It also
comes, slightly ridiculously, with four different types of sugar.
Bread is excellent - a white loaf per table (one big advantage of
eating alone here!) with the usual three butters: toast-flavoured,
parmesan-flavoured and plain salted. It's really nice for once to have
butter in a restaurant that isn't fridge hard. Thinking about it, the
bread and butter is, like the white onion risotto, unchanged from the
day Anthony's opened.
7.5/10 (May 2009)
of a mixed experience recently, which I post to balance the usual (my
usual) adulatory praise.
The usual warm welcome from Olga, who took me downstairs, straight to
my table, rather than trying to get an extra drinks purchase upstairs
in the bar. The à la carte is now quite short, and initially
I was tempted by the £60 tasting menu, but satsifyingly for
the wallet, the lunch table d’hote (two courses for under
£20; three courses for £23.95) offered some of the
dishes that most interested me. The 2-2-2 table
d’hôte really does offer superb value for a kitchen
of this quality. On the other hand, a tdh lunch also traditionally
gives kitchens a chance to experiment and try out new dishes on
customers, which means there can occasionally be an occasional miss.
Unfortunately, this was one of the occasions.
But all started well. The amuse bouche was an interesting prawn peach
ravioli with a carrot foam. This was one of Anthony Flinn’s
trademark raviolis which involve no pasta: the
“pasta” here was a micro-thin slice of peach,
wrapped round some lovely fresh tasting sweet prawns; the carrot foam
tasted of fresh carrots. The whole was more than a little odd, but far
from unpleasant, with a lovely fresh clarity, that actually made it
quite mouth cleansing.
My first substantive dish was an extra starter off the carte: a piece
of braised pig’s cheek, rich and succulent, served with
pressed chitterlings. Yay! Chitterlings. Last had them in a Chinese
restaurant on Lisle Street in about 1987. The chitterlings had been
very firmly compressed in a terrine and were served as wafer thin
slices shaped into domino sized rectangles. They had a real meaty
taste, with a good, interesting texture to match. The slices of pressed
chitterlings were interleaved with similarly thin, identically sized
rectangles of avocado. A really good dish.
My next dish was the starter off the lunch menu: roast john dory with a
crispy pig’s ear salad. The john dory came as two small
lozenges of very gently cooked very firm fish. The pig’s ear
added both texture and a nice piggy, crackling flavour. By the ears
were not Ste Menhoud style, but I would assume just roast after being
finely sliced. The pig’s ears were mixed in with a lightly
dressed salad of baby leaves and another larger green leaf which had me
completely perplexed: the stems had the crunch of cucumber, but more of
the texture of cactus, and the leaves were similarly succulent, though
neither leaf nor stem had any noticeable flavour. Close examination
revealed tiny globules on the stems, which didn’t shake off
or even come off when rubbed with the finger: very strange! The
part-explanation came back from the kitchen that these were
“iced leaves”. My guess is that these were
mache/corn salad, which had been sprayed with water and then blast
frozen, perhaps with liquid nitrogen. This was another dish that worked
really well, and – “iced leaves”
notwithstanding – it wasn’t quite as intellectually
challenging as some of Anthony Flinn’s dishes.
It was with the next dish that we hit a problem: my main course off the
lunch menu was braised belly pork with pea nut scallop ravioli. The
space between pea and nut was there on the menu. The ravioli
(naturally) involved no pasta, its place being taken by ultra thin
slices of scallop; the filling was a sort vaguely nutty hummus that was
a little odd, and not at all a brilliant partner for scallops. A
passion fruit sauce sat very oddly with this, and equally so with the
main element of the dish, a fairly large slab of very lean belly pork,
probably just under A7 size and getting on for an inch thick.
Unfortunately the crackling on top was very hard and too thick and
there was no way whatsoever (I tried!) that I could get knife through
it. I even tried again, having sliced the crackling off the meat, and
only after really quite violent stabbing could I get a shard to break
off: it was however inedible, and not worth the effort I’d
had to put in (or the inconvenience to the other diners!). As if that
wasn’t bad enough, the meat itself was a little hard and
dried out around the edges and stringier than it should have been
throughout. Scallops and belly pork are a fairly classic combination,
but this wasn’t balance, with far too little scallop to
balance the slab of belly pork. The passion fruit sauce just added a
rather unpleasant jarring note. All in all, a poorly conceived dish,
poorly executed. I almost sent it back, but in my book it wasn't
sufficiently badly executed to warrant that. Though I did think about
Incidentally, the next table also had the pork belly dish, about 15
minutes after I'd asked the waiter to draw the kitchen's attention to
the problems with it. Their piece of pork appeared to have been better
trimmed after reheating, and they could get their knife to pierce the
crackling. Maybe mine was a rogue bit.
Things were redeemed by the dessert, a rhubarb pistachio crumble with
smoked chocolate sorbet. The rhubarb was very lightly cooked, retaining
quite a texture, and served cold. This was topped with a warm pistachio
fine crumble. The smoked chocolate sorbet was exemplary, almost with
the consistency and feel of a ganache. But I couldn’t help
wondering what the point of smoking chocolate is. It tasted of smoke
and of chocolate, but I couldn’t see what the smoke added to
the dish that a pure chocolate sorbet couldn’t have managed
on its own.
Espresso is an excellent example, but served in a cup that is all style
of over practicality. Five types of sugar come with the coffee and are
almost enough to make me want to take sugar in my coffee! The
accompanying petits fours are superb: a spiced fudge, a fruit jelly,
soft, supple and fruity, and a white chocolate filled with a pumpkin
seed truffle mix: all utterly delicious. With a bottle of water and
another of Anchor Steam Lager from the useful and intelligent beer
list, the bill was £44.25.
6/10 on the evidence of this visit.
went on Saturday 24th July 2004 for lunch. Chance - not booked, but
they only had 8 in all lunchtime. By contrast, they tell me
that they are booked up for a couple of months for Saturday
evenings. Why don't people, other than Fay Maschler, share my
joy of eating out on Saturday lunchtimes?
only opened in March but has been written up, and received great praise
from many of the newspaper critics. The eponymous Anthony Flinn is a
mere 24, but has already has a career encompassing Michelin starred
restaurants like Lords of the Manor, Abak and, most famously, paid work
at the legendary El Bulli restaurant in Catalonia. A number
of British chefs - and those of other nationalities - have worked at El
Bulli, but on stages (stints, unpaid or where you
actually pay for the privilege of working with a great chef).
I believe that Anthony Flinn is currently the only British chef to have
been paid to work at El bulli by Ferrán Adrià!
The restaurant has a tiny frontage on Boar Lane - the entrance is just
round the corner. Apparently the premises used to be a club
owned by Vinnie Jones. I'm sure it's much nicer now! On the
ground floor there is a small bar with comfy seating, to which they can
relegate smokers. The bar is well stocked and has a notable
selection of bottled beers: there is even a separate beer
list. The restaurant itself is downstairs. It is a
light airy room, decorated in a minimalist style, with cream walls,
dark wood flooring and recessed display shelves, either minimistically
empty or with a magnum of Amarone or similar. The chairs are very
comfortable dark brown leather, the accents in the room are the
well-lit tables, impeccably set with good quality white cloths and
large square plates. Glassware is from Riedel and is changed
to match the wines ordered.
A bargain-priced table d'hote is available, but I chose from the a la
Ordering from the carte, you get a succession of appetiser/amuses
before you even get to the starter. First was a raspberry gimlet (a
sort of raspberry slush, in which I couldn't detect any gin, topped
with a pink foam - a common sound from the kitchen is of the electric
whisk/stick blender!), next was a paprika wafer (a crumpled sheet of
rice paper, deep fried and then sprinkled with smoked paprika), then a
rather bizarre little dish of peas and a summer fruit sorbet. Well it
looked bizarre, but turned out to be a highlight. The peas were a
wonderful exercise in umami, alongside their own sweetness.
Then the bread came. Individual loaves (sliced). Fantastic bread.
Really alive. I'd guess at a very, very slow rise. A quenelle of
parmesan butter, made by melting parmesan in water and skimming off the
why to be whipped into the butter, as well as being dusted with
powdered parmesan, and a quenelle of unsalted butter (oddly with a
sprinkling of salt on top, which seemed to defeat the object ...)
Starter was a breast of Anjou squab. The meat had merely been shown
where the oven was, but despite being extremely rare, was beautifully
tender. Served with a "pickled garlic ravioli", which was a blob of
mashed potato with roasted garlic, which had then been covered,
petal-fashion, with ultra-thin slices of picked garlic. There's a heck
of a lot of kitchen work involved in that - as indeed in everything
here. The pigeon was on a bit of chard and had a couple of
shards of honey roast parsnip on top. And a sprinkling of what appeared
to be small pieces of bread crust, which worked really well.
Main course was duck with chocolate bons bons. Again, a very rare
breast, on top of spinach, which itself was on top of some slice of
roast peach and some roast salsify. Two baby fondant potatoes, the size
of the end joint of your little finger and the chocolate bon bon, which
you are informed that the chef recommends that you break with the side
of the fork and then let the contents sauce the meat. Well the bon bon
was a bit small in relation to the Yorkshire-portion size of the duck
breast, but it was jolly good - a mix of olive oil, chocolate and
coffee I think, which worked well on its own with the duck and also
with the meat jus that was already on the plate. The meat jus could
have been doing with being a little stronger flavoured I thought.
A pre-dessert that I've entirely forgotten was followed by
Reconstructed Tarte Tatin with vanilla parfait. Which was actually a
deconstructed tarte tatin. The vanilla parfait was superb, but the dish
didn't quite work for me. What was on the plate was a disc of grated
apple bound by a very sweet caramel that overpowered the apple, more
caramel splashes on the plate and some shards of pastry. It was all too
sweet and the balance between apple, caramel and pastry was completely
wrong. Disappointing end to the meal.
Absolutely superb, I'd say Spanish-style, espresso with an individually
wrapped (in Anthony's branded cellophane) bar of chocolate ganache,
which had been rolled in crushed, roasted sweetcorn. Fabulous.
Bottle of water and a half of Masi Valpolicella. The bill was a few
pence under £50, which seemed remarkably good value to me
given the quality of the food and the amount of kitchen work involved.
The table d'hote was, I think £22.95 for three courses, and
laudably they didn't blink an eye when another diner asked for one
course off the lunch menu and another off the carte: she didn't get the
full range of amuses, though, I noticed.
I'll definitely be back. (I was back two Saturdays
later. If anything the food was even better and the bill for
two with a full bottle of wine was just under £100.
On this occasion, I had a langoustine starter of some complexity, but
was stood out were the clean fresh taste of everything in dish, the
utterly impeccable langoustine and the way it all knitted
perfectly. Main course was a slab of fantastic with a
cannelloni of belly pork and mushrooms: it was only on the second taste
that I realised what was odd about the pasta; it wasn't pasta, it was
very thinly (horizontally) sliced belly pork meat. In
contrast to L'Enclume (see below), all the amuses were different this
time, though I noticed other tables got some of the amuses I had had
two weeks earlier: either they keep records, or the amuses vary
according to what you choose off the menu.
How can Anthony's be so good, and Anthony's at Flannels so bad?
Anthony's was full when I called in on chance, and Olga suggested I try
Anthony's at Flannels. There's never been any reason why I've
tried it before, other than that if I'm in Leeds, why would I want to
go anywhere else but Anthony's proper? So this was a good
It's occupies the fourth floor of a clothes shop (Flannels), but looks
so very temporary. Apart from some large light fittings, the
looks undecorated and unfinished, as though they've cleared the racks
of clothes away and put a few tables and chairs in for the
Bare walls and a painted concrete floor. The welcome is an unstaffed
"please wait here to be seated" sign, and while a couple of staff
looked at me waiting there, they didn't acknowledge me, let alone stop
their glass washing (or whatever they were doing). But after
few moments, someone did come and offered me my choice of tables (they
had a few in, but weren't exactly marshalling the crowds).
The menu covers a number of bases, from brunch to afternoon, by way of
a table d'hote lunch and a small à la carte, which deals in
pasta, salads, sandwiches etc. The table d'hôte
lunch is no
bargain at £15.50 for two courses and £18.25 for
courses - £4 more gets you the set lunch at Anthony's
proper. You can have the set lunch at Northcote for
for two courses (just £2 more than Flannels) Set
the excellent dining room at Rawtenstall is £14.95 for two
courses and £16.95 for three courses.
In comparison to those others local(ish) set menus, Anthony's at
Flannels is top money, and when you actually see what you get, it's
extortionately poor value.
The table d'hôte lunch offers standard gastro-pub fare (on
day I visited soup, leek & bacon quiche, pigeon breast and
pudding, smoked trout paté for starters; pumpkin risotto,
stew, rack of mutton with pearl barley for mains). This is
food that we're now all pretty much familiar with and needs to be well
executed to impress. It wasn't and it didn't.
My starter was "Wood pigeon breast with apple puree and black
pudding". The pigeon (just the one, small breast) was nicely
but had a very hard, tough skin and extremities which once cut off made
it even smaller, but the black pudding was very good indeed. The apple
purée was completely overshadowed by the pigeon and the
pudding - the dish needed an apple chutney and or a bit of stock-based
sauce. The pigeon was a little heavily salted. Not a
dish, but pretty boring and saved only by the black pudding.
My main course was "Rib of Beef with Dark Ale Stew, Pearl
Shallots and Buttered Puff Pastry". I had assumed that this
wouldn't be rib of beef, but rather beef ribs - a subtle difference in
the words, which makes a big difference to what's on the plate, and I
was right. The meat off the rib was nicely cooked and juicy,
there was another cut of meat in there, cut into small cubes, which was
just hard and dried out. This was all in a very rich
sauce, with diced root vegetables, bacon and the advertised
shallots. Unfortunately, the bacon and an extremely heavy
with the salt meant that it was far, far too salty. And I
bit of salt. The puff pastry disc I could see looked
and it was to the point of extinction and inedibility.
Really I should have refused the dish and sent it back, but apart from
the pastry it wasn't totally inedible - and I was hungry and
sufficiently short of time that I didn't want to wait another 10+
minutes while an alternative was produced. A side order of
cut chips" had been amateurishly prepared, in that black eyes remained
in them. They were cooked through properly, and nice and
(not as common as it should be), but they were very blonde and not at
all crisped. As if someone had forgotten to give them their
Service was a little variable, possibly showing inexperience.
was asked if I wanted a drink when given the menu, but not asked when
the order was taken. I was going to have a glass or two of
but in the absence of even being asked, I stuck with my bottle of
water. Another waitress was doing a remarkable impression of
labrador that's been chastised in all her mannerisms as she went around
the room. When she came to bring me my starter, she
the table with the dish in her hands (that always looks amateurish when
they carry a plate holding on to the rim with both hands), and then
stood there hesitating for about 30 seconds, even starting to go away
at one point, until I said, "yes, pigeon, for me." Maybe she
confused by a lone diner, as it meant she couldn't ask that dreadful
question "Who's having the ... ?" Another waiter, who brought
bread (pretty good actually, and served with the same excellent
parmesan butter that you get at Anthony's) explained what the three
varieties were and proffered the serving plate under my nose.
went to pick one up and was told - halfway between being snapped at and
being shouted at - not to touch, as he whisked the plate away saying "I
have to serve other people". Fair enough, if the policy is
to serve the bread to the customer, but in that case for heaven's sake
don't push it under their noses!
Desserts on other tables looked nice, though I also noticed that the
waiting staff didn't seem to know what they were, but I really couldn't
face any more at that point and just asked for my bill, paid and left.
0/10 and not recommended.
Cavendish Street, Cartmel
A new review of L'Enclume,
following a meal in June 2009.
preferred it when they had tablecloths, and not bare black tables and
black corduroy placemats, but it is still a lovely dining room, in an
old smithy (whence the name, L'Enclume, which is French for anvil)
in a really nice setting, on a small stream, looking out onto Cartmel's
priory. Since I last went, they have extended the conservatory and
thereby made room for probably five more tables. However, it's rather
upset the balance of the garden: the apple tree that used to be at the
centre is now right next to the corner of the conservatory, and
somehow, with less lawn outside leading to the stream, it just doesn't
feel as tranquil as it did. They've also done away with the paintings
for sale by local artist Anne-Marie Foster, and the walls now have
rather drab brown canvases
on them. Presumably the chef-owner, Simon Rogan, thought the more
colourful art of the past detracted from his food too much - that at
least was the excuse for getting rid of tablecloths!
found the staff at L'Enclume to be very good, though often very French,
and they tend not to be able to hang on to the better ones for long. It
was a good welcome, and interesting to see the return of a restaurant
manager who I'd last seen there about three years ago, when he'd
recently arrived from Michel Roux's White Hart in Suffolk. As they've
lost the conservatory for pre-repast drinks, it was straight to the
table and a very acceptable glass of Deutz NV to accompany some
interesting spiced popcorn, while perusing the wine list and quickly
scanning the three menus available at lunchtime (£25 set
lunch; £55 8
course; £75 12 course; a longer extravaganza is available in
evening). The set lunch, unfortunately for the wallet, didn't appeal
for some reason I
can't remember now. Much of the 12 course I remembered having before.
Much of the 8 course sounded new and interesting. So the 8-course "Menu
1" it was.
I didn't remember I had my camera with me until we were a few courses
in, so the memory's a little hazy on the first few courses.
The first course was a cocktail. Tamarillo martini
fizz. A smallish martini glass was half filled with a tamarillo
juice/purée and there was an "olive" of tamarillo jelly
what looked like one of my grandmother's hat pins across the top of the
glass. Then at the table, from a soda siphon, they squirt in a gin fizz
that floats on top of the tamarillo juice and fills the glass. I really
liked this. Good theatre and very nice, clean, mouth cleansing flavours.
next dish I (vaguely) remember was a mallow soup. Bright, livid green.
Excellent texture. Served cold and very refreshing. There were various
things in it/on it, I think, but what I remember are some delicious
Morecambe Bay shrimps, which really worked well with the soup.
was a fair-sized portion of the central part of two fillets of
Esthwaite trout that had been cured (somehow) and were remarkably
dense-fleshed, but not heavy. This was served with some trout caviar,
and on top of a pistou sauce. On top of the trout were some leaves that
were remarkably bitter (but worked well as part of the dish), together
with what looked like some form of succulent plant. Despite asking the
waiter three times I still couldn't recognise what he was saying they
were, other than that they were all off the same plant, what I'd taken
to be a succulent, being its unopened flowers. Then, on top of all
this, was some elderflower foam. But not foam as we know and hate it.
Oh no. This foam had been "cooked" in liquid nitrogen, which meant it
had all the airiness of a foam, but without the sputum texture. Jolly
good dish and good theatre as it comes to the table surrounded in fog.
was followed by a lovely dish. Completely non-weird, non-wacky, no
jokes or puns, just a stunning piece of lemon sole served with broad
beans, broad bean purée and a lemon balm beurre blanc.
fish was beautifully cooked, perhaps a little over-seasoned if you ate
it on its own, but combined with other elements of the dish, the
seasoning was spot on. Personally, another 15 seconds cooking for the
broad beans would have suited me. The beurre blanc was excellent. Nice
to see they can turn out some really good, classic cooking when they
to the sole. Fantastic. Very thick. So thick, I peered intently at it
prodded and dissected it, to see if he'd glued two fillets together,
but, like Ernie Wise's wig, you couldn't see the join.
Here you are - marvel at the thickness of that sole:
far I'd been drinking the Deutz and then a glass of 2007 Eroica
Riesling, which worked very well with the first few dishes, combining
limey new-world-ness with a delicious minerality.
Now I moved
onto a glass of 2005 Côte du Rhône blanc from
choice (the sommelier's - I just told him to bring me three glasses of
anything that'd work) with steak tartare and braised lamb, but these
were lighter versions, and the choice worked decently, and certainly
suited me on a hot sunny day.
The next dish was (together with the one following it) what initially
caught my eye on the eight-course menu:
a veal tartare, classically prepared, though more coarsely cut than
many steaks tartares. English rose veal: it didn't say on the menu, but
I checked, as if it wasn't obvious from the colour of the meat. The
herb is, I believe, oxalis (wood sorrel), and the sort of
grey-ey-greeny shards are slivers of dried artichoke.
Obvious when I asked that were. Either side of the tartare are two
lovely treats, which both worked brilliantly with the veal. To the left
are blobs of oyster sauce; to the right the white powder you might just
be able to see is dried white truffle powder, that perfumed the table
as they dish was set down.
And then, to round off the main
courses (and this post - the remaining dishes will be covered in the
next post to get round the per-post limit on images) was a braised
shoulder of suckling lamb with sweetbreads:
can't remember what the green sauce was; the brown was an intense stock
reduction that managed not to be sticky. Of course, the problem with
suckling lamb is that it doesn't really taste of a great deal, and this
was no exception to that rule. Delicately flavoured. The two white
blobs on the far side of the lamb were (presumably a pun on the
suckling lamb) an emulsion of ewes' milk. All in all, a remarkably
delicate dish for braised shoulder of lamb: I'd certainly have been
looking for a lightish red to go with it, so I'm glad I left the choice
to the sommelier, as the Guigal was an excellent choice.
lamb, a short pause and then a suggestion of some cheese before moving
on to the dessert dishes. That seemed a reasonable idea. This was an
extra £15. Ouch. But no, it was worth it. A very good
cheeses, all (on the evidence of my sample) in absolutely tip-top
condition. Indeed a couple of them, notably the Brie was so
that there was a strong risk it might not make it to the dinner
service. With the sole exception of the local ewes' milk, rind-washed St
James all French.
Clockwise from top right:
Cows' milk from the Basque Country (the odd shape
is because I'd had a nibble before taking the photograph)
Corsican thing, the name of which I forget - fleur
de brébis or something??
Brie de Moulin (which was superb)
a blue cheese, again from the Basque Country
St James from the Holker estate
little bowl has some delicious grape chutney and a slightly too sweet
red onion marmelade.
Nice glass of Côteaux du Layon with the cheese. No idea what
it was onto the dessert courses, both of which were characterised for
me by having as much of a savoury edge and a sweet edge.
The first was a rather visually unappealing malt sponge cake
came with an incredibly silky, very beery beer ice cream (I think the
menu said what the beer was, but I can't remember) and blackberry
Possibly the least successful dish of the meal, but nowhere
near as unsuccessful as some of the misses I've had here and at
Anthony's in Leeds before now. Might have been interesting to try a
small glass of a kriek or framboise beer with it. As a whole I think it
just edged onto the umami savoury side of the sweet-savoury divide. As
such it's probably quite a good intermediate in the progression from
savoury to dessert, and might actually work better in the context of
the menu had I not had cheese, which itself forms a bridge between
savoury courses and dessert.
Then it was onto something more recognisably sweet:
even this had a bit of a savoury edge: the white quenelle is a
(sweetened?) goats' cheese mousse, and it sits on some half crunchy,
half not sponge-cum biscuit (you'll have worked out I can't remember
what it was), so the whole ends up forming a slightly and gently
deconstructed cheesecake (though it very definitely wasn't called that
on the menu). The yellow liquid is a tropical fruit soup, and the
vertical disks stuck in the goats cheese mousse are a blond caramel.
Very good dish.
That leaves only coffee and petits fours.
the petits fours have had a bit of a rethink, which they were probably
due, as they'd changed little from the early days of L'Enclume. Instead
of all being on lollipop sticks, they're now served on what I'm pretty
sure are the old menu covers.
Clockwise from top right:
this was a sort of mint cream in a thin cigar of
chocolate(?) brandy snap cum caramel.
(slightly hidden) a little chocolate and cassis
macaroon with cherry jam
olive oil Turkish delight
white chocolate lollipop filled with a sensual,
very fragrant lemongrass ice cream.
in all, a very successful lunch. I staggered out about 4pm feeling
9/10 (June 2009)
was undoubtedly the north of England opening in
Getting the non-food stuff out of the way first: the setting is quite
splendid. A converted smithy (hence the name, I understand), with
cooling whitewashed walls. White table cloths, good cutlery, good
glasses. Even the lighting is good. A conservatory that's not too
conservatory-like and a lovely garden with a stream running through,
all nestling below Cartmel Priory. On a warm day, it's very difficult
not to linger - even to the point of having a cafetiere rather than an
espresso after the meal. Cartmel is not exactly a busy metropolis, but
Enclume and particularly its garden provide a complete oasis from the
I've been several times now, and the standard of cooking has been
consistently high and innovative. First impressions of the menu are of
a Blumenthal/Fat Duck type striving for effect. But while Blumenthal is
more about technique, Enclume is about tastes and textures, underpinned
by a strong classical technique. Particularly looking at the menu, but
also at the food when it arrives on the plate, it is easy to get the
impression that there is a striving for effect. That may well be - and
I suppose in the crowded market of the Lake District you perhaps need a
USP - but the key is that it all works, and often better than it
sounds. Menu descriptions tend to the listing every ingredient in a
dish variety, which can make you slightly nervous when it comes to
something like a "calamint, bark and blossom infusion", but the weirder
sounding stuff stands out far more on the page than it does on the
plate. Unusually for a lake district kitchen, there is no sticky toffee
pudding (thank goodness) - anyone with withdrawal symptoms can pick up
the famous (but not that good, in my view), Rick Stein Food Hero
version, from the village shop just
down the road.
There are, I believe, 5 menus - a TDH at about £20, the
carte, and three "Taste and Texture" menus: a seven course
"Introduction" at £50; a twelve course "Intermediate" at
£75 and a 19 course "gourmand" menu at £95. With
the carte at least comes the freebie appetisers and
pre-desserts. The wine list is very well chosen.
I have been for lunch on several occasions, and so far always opted for
the carte. The first time was a standard 3 course affair that I now
can't remember in its entirety. A dish of turbot and oxtail gayette was
quite superb: not at all surf and turf - all elements were perfectly
executed and worked harmoniously. This was followed by a Monkfish 'cinq
saveurs' that I can't remember much more about than a spicy crust and
enjoying enormously. My companion's starter was a "foie gras hors
d'oeuvres", comprising I think 4 little foie gras goodies - terrine,
pate, fried and a Marc Meneau style cromesqui. Personally I think the
foie gras cromesquis, which seem to be becoming more common, are better
as a tie-ruining (for the uninitiated) appetiser, than as a substantive
element of a dish.
One visit was on 5th June 2003 - a gorgeous boiling hot day, with the
sun beating down, while the ducks played amorously in the stream.
Indoors was cool, pleasant and welcoming. So I sat outside in the sun
(!) with a glass of very good citron pressé (which had to be
made in the kitchen for some reason) while I read the menu. Rather than
a starter-main course meal, I chose three starters, and asked for a
glass of appropriate wine with each. It is a mark of the high standard
of the staff that they are unphased by such requests (and indeed hadn't
responded "yer wot?" to the request for a citron pressé).
Things got underway with a slab of slate bearing three "freebie"
A shot glass of superb asparagus velouté - quite excellent -
beautiful colour and an excellent intense flavour.
Dauphinoise potato with leek - not so good. A bit underseasoned and
undercooked. I like the cream for my dauphinoise to have been cooked
for a while. This was like a warm vichyssoise before processing. Which
now I write that, I realise was exactly what it was! The description
was wrong, maybe.
Last of the appetisers was a red pepper bavarois. Again in a shot
glass. A quite exquisite texture and hugely intense flavour. Superb.
Excellent bread, including a saffron bread, and a sea lettuce bread
among about 5 varieties with Echiré butter.
My first course was a sweet woodruff jelly, pickled cucumber, flaky
crab, oscietra caviar and "nearly-caramelised baby squid" Each element
was superb in itself. Sweet woodruff has a refreshing taste all of its
own (and is representative of a number of less common herbs that appear
on the menu - maybe chef Simon Rogan is a bit of a forager?), the
pickled cucumber was 'spaghetti'd' and slightly sweet, slightly sour ,
the flaky crab was very fresh tasting white meat that had somehow been
fluffed up (you might even imagine that each 'grain' had been separated
by hand) and then loosely formed into a neat quenelle. The squid was
excellent - tiniest squid imaginable and, as the tin said, nearly
caramelised. Everything on its own was quite perfect, but the
combination of tastes and textures was simply exquisite. The only
drawback might have been that the third of a coffee spoon of oscietra
was not quite enough to stretch beyond more than two mouthful
combinations (if you see what I mean). They selected a glass of Mosel
Riesling Kabinett to go with this, which it did - rather well in fact.
Next up was a nage of langoustines with green vegetables (i.e. peas,
beans and broad beans) cooked in a calamint, bark and blossom infusion.
Quite exceptional langoustines, perfectly cooked. Stunning colours and
flavours on the plate. Presentation of all the dishes is very good
indeed. This was matched well by a glass of good, if rather warm
Third came Lozenges of quail, roast ramsons (bit late in the season for
ramsons, isn't it?), bergamot salsa and a smoked papaya vinaigrette.
Another splendid dish, again each component well done (though I'd not
have guessed at smoked papaya in the sauce if it had been served blind)
and the whole managing to be greater than the sum of its parts. I find
it very interesting the way that all components of a dish are excellent
in themselves, and thoroughly enjoyable on their own, but when you put
it all together on the fork it takes it to a different level. There is
a very assured hand at work in the kitchen. The quail breasts were
perfectly cooked and served on the finest of finely chopped brunoise of
apple and carrot - certainly no more than a sixteenth of an inch
perfect cubes. I have to pity the poor person who'd chopped them.
A glass of surprisingly good chardonnay from the Veneto came with this,
again a touch on the warm side unfortunately.
Then there were the pre-desserts, which I have forgotten entirely,
though I'm pretty sure shot glasses came into it again.
Dessert proper was an upside down coconut soufflé with roast
pineapple and a mango chutney ice-cream. The plate arrived, bereft of
any sign of souffle, but with a palm tree painstakingly constructed of
tuile biscuits glued together with caramel and a slice of highly spiced
roast pineapple topped with the equally heavily flavoured mango chutney
ice-cream. Seconds later a teacup containing a souffle appeared and was
ceremoniously up-ended onto my plate. Well, yes, it was now an upside
down souffle. The coconut souffle itself was - I'm sorry, I'm going to
use the e word again - excellent. No trace of egginess, no trace of the
dreaded dessicated coconut, but just an elegantly perfumed textbook
souffle. Excellent. I have to say I found the mango chutney ice cream a
little on the overpowering side.
As if you might not have had enough puddings, coffee comes with a shot
glass of very good, spongeless tiramisu and a chocolate filled doughnut.
The only weak points in the whole meal were the over-flavoured mango
chutney ice-cream and the chocolate donut petit four, which was a
Everything else was characterised by the innovation of the
combinations, the use of unfamiliar ingredients and the intense, very
I have no reservation in saying that this should get a very very high
8/10. Properly chilled wines by the glass, a little more flavour and
seasoning in the vichyssoise cum dauphinoise pre-starter and a milder
mango chutney ice-cream would make it an easy 9/10.
I really hope L'Enclume proves a commercial success, as it is a much
needed injection of style and skill into the North Lancashire dining
scene. (Any Lancastrian will tell you that Cartmel really is part of
Lancashire, whatever the 1974 boundary changes said ...)
My last visit to L'Enclume was not the best experience, particularly
front of house, that I had started to think it perhaps wasn't worth and
was coming to the conclusion that there was more than a bit of the
emperor's new clothes about Simon Rogan's cooking. But I happened to be
in Grange-over-Sands on 15th October and was about to chomp on a
sausage roll from the excellent Higginson's butchers, when I thought
I'd give it one last go.
To my mind it's one of the most attractive dining rooms in the north of
England, in a fantastic setting with a lovely view of Cartmel Priory.
They don't really like chance diners, but once I was in everything was
proper and the welcome and service much warmer than my previous visit.
Some time ago, Simon Rogan clearly decided to get rid of the English
staff he had front of house, and the last time I went there was a new
largely French team, most of whom left something to be desired, and I
regretted the departure of Jamie Slee-Smith.
Now it is all change again, with a new front of house general manager
who has come from Michel Roux's White Hart at Nayland in Suffolk. I
think called Frank, he is French, and shows the signs of the Roux
front-of-house pedigree: a warm welcome, an interested and happy,
almost jovial appearance, yet with the ability to keep things carefully
under control and running just right. I hope he stays, as he should be
good for L'Enclume. There were two other staff serving on this Saturday
lunchtime: a young English woman, whose main role was as a commis,
though she is the person who tells you what your petit fours are; and a
rather more sullen, snooty Frenchman (with more than a passing
resemblance to the actor who plays Pascoe in Dalziel & Pascoe).
It was noticeable that this latter waiter never missed a trick though:
as soon as anything needed changing or whatever on any table he was
there. For example, I was mopping up the sauce on my main course with
the last of my bread, and he immediately appeared offering more bread.
Walking along the road to L'Enclume, I had already convinced myself
that I wasn't going to have the tasting menu (even though the lunchtime
tasting menu is good value at £50), and was thinking to have
perhaps just two or three starters - an approach that had paid off
handsomely in earlier visits, probably in the first 18 months of
L'Enclume's existence. Reading the menu, I'd almost come to the
decision, when I flicked back to the table d'hôte.
£25 for three courses, no choice, and it all sounded exactly
what I wanted, so I went with that.
For a £25 TDH lunch, I was surprised to receive an appetiser:
a beautiful jerusalem artichoke velouté, with an excellent
texture and depth of flavour, and even more surprising was that at the
base of the cup was a dice of scallops, the sweetness of which worked
excellently with the jerusalem artichoke. A very generous and totally
delicious start! At least four sorts of bread, one of which seems
always to be sea lettuce, all of which are jolly good - a good texture,
presumably from a good slow rise. Three sorts of butter: on this
occasion including nasturtium flower.
The starter was a guinea fowl and foie gras terrine: two slices of a
baby terrine (2 inches by 1 inch), one rolled in chopped pistachio
nuts, which gave an interesting contrast in texture as well as lending
a certain sweetness that worked well, as did that provided by a very
light quince purée. Wafer thin discs of beetroot and some
heavily reduced cabernet sauvignon vinegar were the other main
ingredients of this dish that worked well both in its parts and as a
whole. Like all the dishes that come out of the kitchen here, it looked
The main course were two collops of good (if not as stunning as at
Gamba in Glasgow a couple of days previousy) monkfish with some
remarkably sweet lobster (again notable generosity on a £25
TDH, particularly when you think that most of the à la carte
main courses are £25+). This was served with a bay leaf
sauce, some reduced meat juices, a sloosh of fine parsnip
purée, some very delicate parsnip crisps, half a small
potato (a cross between roast and fondant), and probably a few other
things I've forgotten. Once again all the components were accurately
cooked and ate well on their own and then as a whole also.
Dessert was a tall, thin column of peanut butter parfait (I don't like
peanut butter, but this was great), an excellent hot walnut brownie, a
very wobbly, soft set, very green, very cucumbery cucumber jelly and a
fourth component that I can't remember now.
Espresso was a good example (but in the most dreadful cups on the
planet - style way above practicality) with the standard Enclume petits
fours of turkish delight, chocolate filled cinammon doughnut and shot
glass of tiramisu. The tiramisu was particularly good this time. Timing
of the arrival of the petits fours could be improved.
I drank a pleasant glass of Jurancon moelleux as an aperitif and a half
bottle of Pouilly Fumé.
has taken over from
an old established, old-style Italian on Kendal's main street,
Highgate, in a location just outside the main shopping area. Even from
the outside it now looks cleaner, brighter and more appealing.
it is cool and
achieves a real genuine Spanish feel without straining to touristy
artefacts. The restaurant is long and thin, with tiled floors and
rendered walls, with the odd bit of Spanish proverb written on them,
helpfully translated. Around 8 sherries by the glass and two PXs from
Montilla, reinforces the impression that this place has got it right.
Statements on the menu about sourcing help too.
menu deals in tapas,
with a minor foray into three paellas (meat, fish, veg) and a grilled
Cumbrian Fell-bred rib eye for unreconstructed carnivores.
amongst the more obvious,
more common tapas dishes such as calamares and patatas bravas, there
are a few less common examples. A dish of Spanish green lentils cooked
with chorizo and morcilla had a good, rich depth of flavour, good
balance and well-cooked lentils. Instead of a straightforward tortilla,
I had a tortilla de habas - with broad beans and piquillo peppers.
Calamares were very good examples, apparently done in an almond batter:
crisp and dry, tasting very clean and certainly very tender. The
saffron aioli with the squid was jolly good too. Buñuelos de
bacalao were small salt cod fishcakes, perhaps a little heavy on the
potato, but very light and airy and with a good flavour. A good
sourdough bread comes at a price (£1.60), but there's good
olive oil and PX vinegar on the tables.
are plenty more tapas
dishes I want to go back and try.
all sounded good. I
asked if the churros were any good. "Yes, we think so". Nice and light?
"Oh, very". Not like many I've had in Spain, then, and it seemed worth
a go. They were superb - feathery light, just fried with a nice
cinammony taste: they were accompanied by a very good dark chocolate
mousse that could have benefited from being just a little more softly
Café Solo was excellent. Mineral water is Spanish.
welcome addition to the
less than inspiring collection of eateries in Kendal. This is proper
tapas and it's so good to see a restaurant in the north that starts out
with tapas as its focus, rather than introducing them in an attempt to
jump on a bandwagon.
Punch Bowl Inn, Crosthwaite, near Kendal
read a quick, more recent note at the end of
a good number of years the Punch Bowl at Crosthwaite in the Lake
District's Lyth Valley (where the damsons come from) won numerous
plaudits under the stewardship of Steven and Marjory Doherty.
Steven Doherty, holder of the prestigious MOGB (Meilleur Ouvrier de
Grand Bretagne) award, was a former head chef at the renowned Le
Gavroche restaurant in London, under Albert Roux. He withdrew
from the London ratrace to take over the Brown Horse at Winster (also
in the Lyth Valley), but shortly afterwards, and building on the
success of the Brown Horse, they bought the Punch Bowl at Crosthwaite
and turned it into a foodie destination. Latterly, standards
had started to slip, particularly front of house, as the Doherty's
spent more of their time running the café-restaurant in
Lakeland Ltd (aka Lakeland Plastics) in Windermere. In 2005,
the Punchbowl was sold to a consortium of four, including the owners of
the Drunken Duck near Ambleside (see below). An enormous
revamp ensued - the building was completely gutted: I remember driving
past once during the building work and there were just about the
external walls standing and nothing else.
result is quite spectacular, and, once through the door, completely
unrecognisable from the previous layout. They were lucky that
there were no planning restrictions whatsoever, and the interior of the
building has been completely remodelled. There is now a clear
distinction between bar and restaurant. It's unfortunate that
the bar area, and the informal eating areas are all a bit dark and
gloomy: so much so that candles are provided on the tables, even at
lunchtime, yet it's still quite difficult to see to read the newspapers
they thoughtfully provide. Lots of heavy dark wood furniture
does not lighten things. As the interior is so completely
different, it is also very clear that all the olde worlde features
(beams and fireplaces) are modern imports, although the slate floor
laid in the bar and bar eating areas was apparently discovered
underneath the floor in what is now the dining room.
for my lunch in the bar area, initially, was somewhat
brusque. "Find yourself a table, then that's the menu on the
blackboard and you order at the bar." I wasn't given the
option of the restaurant (with its higher prices and markedly more
ambitious food), and when I inquired later, was told that I would have
had to have booked for the restaurant. I could only see two
or three tables occupied though. Once you fit in with how
they do things, staff are pleasant and friendly. In the bar,
starters range from £5-7 and mains from £10-15; and
the only menus are the two blackboards, so you need to avoid sitting
too near the blackboards or you'll have people standing on top of you
while they read the blackboards. Having done as instructed
and found a table and read the blackboard, I returned to the bar to
order. Somewhat unusually, you have not only to have a credit
card if you want to run a bill, but you also have to leave it with
them: they have a credit card safe system in which to retain your
card. Two older ladies seemed to me to be a little distressed
when they were told they had to leave a credit card behind the bar:
they wanted to pay cash, but pay at the end. That wasn't
possible. I too couldn't see the point in traipsing back to
the table to get my wallet to get a card just to leave it behind the
bar (the legality, or certainly the advisability of which practice is
questionable), so I paid for what I ordered, as I ordered it.
Paying in advance is not conducive to tipping, so I hope the staff are
all being paid properly.
started with Cottage pie in miniature with carrots and fine beans
(£4.95). This was presented in a small, oval
ramekin with three cubes of carrots and a stack of accurately cooked
green beans on the side, with a small slick of stock
reduction. The pie had a notably good quality mince, though
the sauce was a little too thin, meaning it sat at the bottom of the
ramekin, leaving some dryish meat below the mash topping. It
was almost impossible to eat with the knife and fork provided, which
was acknowledged by a passing waitress, who brought me a
teaspoon. If they know, why don't they lay a spoon with the
other cutlery? I have to say it all had a really good
flavour, though needed a bit of a stir-up with the spoon.
main course was
Seared calves liver, mustard mash, crispy bacon, onion rings
and beer sauce (£12.75) Good liver,
though it was very unevenly sliced, which meant it was a bit unevenly
cooked. To be critical: the bacon was more hard than crispy
and the batter on the onion rings could have been better - lighter and
crisper. The mash was excellent, with just the right balance
of mustard, as was the beer/stock reduction sauce.
seemed fairly standard stuff, though it all looked well (and in large
portions) as it came out. A rather unusual entry among the
desserts was Black Forest Gateau. This
was an excellent reinterpretation of the much maligned 1970s classic
(which even in its traditional form, is a great gateau when properly
and freshly made). Two discs of thin lightly-chocolate'd
sponge were layered with a lightly whipped cream into which some
excellent cherries and some shards of chocolate had been
folded. On the side was a good little tuile basket, filled
with kirsch soaked cherries. Quite a lot of work in that for
its £5.95 price tag.
was good, though a little on the cool side, presumably because the cup
they sort out their silly policy of not being able to run a bill
without depositing a credit card, and perhaps introduce some at-table
ordering of desserts to save the walk/queue to the bar, I'd be much
happier. But there seems anyway to be plenty to recommend the
Punchbowl. I would have to say that the food is probably
better than in the last days of the Doherty regime. I'll be
back, and I also want to try the restaurant. The food in the
restaurant clearly moves up several gears to look at the menu, and I
look forward to finding out if they can pull that off.
new chef is a the helm at the Punch Bowl and is making himself felt on
the menu. Now the restaurant and bar share a menu (though with lighter
snacks and sandwiches only being available in the bar). One
welcome new arrival on the menu is a very good Soufflé
Suissesse, though called a Cumbrian Cheddar Cheese soufflé
with cream sauce: light yet rich and everything a suissesse should be,
though I didn't think the bed of spinach on which it came added
A fillet of sea bass was very accurately cooked and served with a
mashed potato flavoured with crab, and gives a flavour of the standard
modern British menu.
A ginger creme brulée was one of the best textured
crème brulées I've had in a long time, gently but
obviously flavoured with stem ginger and served with two delicious
light thin shortbread biscuits.
this occasion, service was better, and in the restaurant at least it's
no longer pay-as-you-go.
Drunken Duck Inn and Restaurant, Barngates, near Ambleside
old inn, still with rooms and now with an
on-site brewery producing ales named after family pets. It
apparently gets its name from when a Victorian landlady found her ducks
lying out on the road. Presuming that they were dead she started to
pluck them, but soon realised that they were not dead. Apparently down
in the cellar a barrel had slipped its hoops and the beer had seeped
into the ducks customary feeding ditch. The ducks had made all too good
use of their unexpected opportunity and consequently found themselves
plucked and half way to the oven when they came to!
Although officially still called "Inn and Restaurant", the pub side is
minimalised now, with only the bar in the entrance. It does
sell the - rather good - home-brewed ales of course, but it's dominated
by wines, and really the bar area seems to serve mainly as a waiting
area for the two rooms that make up the restaurant, and indeed, when I
left, some of the bar tables were being laid with tablecloths etc in
preparation for the evening service. That said, there is a
bar menu at lunch at least, so you needn't go the whole hog of the
The two rooms of the restaurant are quite cosy, but decorated in a
modern neutral style. There is good white napery, good
glasses and heavy cutlery on the tables; the chairs are high backed
dark brown leather.
There was very good chewy bread provided throughout the meal.
The menu is a mix of modern British classics (including the omnipresent
fish and chips, which here looked an unnecessarily large portion: I
don't think I saw anyone who ordered it manage to eat it
all). I started with a licorice marinated pigeon on a prune
and parmesan risotto, one of the more outré
dishes. The risotto was well cooked but unfortunately had a
bit of a raw wine taste to it; the pigeon breast was not the most
tender and not the most flavourful, and still had the remains of a
couple feathers attached: something that shouldn't happen in any
restaurant. Unless it was a throwback to the origin of the
My main course was roasted diver-picked king scallops with black pepper
soufflé beignets and a chilli jam salad. The
scallops were excellent and expertly cooked, if a little small and,
particularly in comparison to the fish and chips, the portion size was
a little mean for the £17.95 charged. The black pepper
beignets were a good idea, poorly executed: they were a bit tough and
leathery. The salad element comprised rocket with sweet
chilli sauce and parmesan. Parmesan and sweet chilli sauce
don't really go together very well, and you had to be careful what you
put on your fork, as the chilli dominated everything else in the mouth.
Vegetables are extra and I didn't partake. One of the listed
vegetable extras was "Gratin Potatoes": I noticed on other tables that
this wasn't, as you would expect, a gratin dauphinois or similar, but
rather boiled new potatoes with cheese melted on top: raclette potatoes
would certainly have been a far more accurate description.
Desserts were the occasion for mmmm-ing and ahhhhh-ing both from me and
other diners. I went for a melting chocolate pudding with a
white chocolate pannacotta and a chocolate and orange parfait, all of
which were really well made. Very good espresso afterwards.
find it difficult to decide what I think about the Drunken Duck, and
intend to go again, lest I chose poorly for starter and main
course. There is some good cooking going on here, though I
don't think I got the best of it on this visit.
also not a particularly cheap option: my three-course lunch, with a
pint of Cat-Nap bitter and a bottle of water came to £37.
Restaurant Bar and Grill, 14 John Dalton Street, Manchester
Restaurant Bar & Grill strives and largely succeeds to be
stylish. Downstairs, in what was once Habitat's and more recently Lloyd
Davies' ground floor (Lloyd Davies have withdrawn to the basement only
now) is the bar, where food is also served. Upstairs, in what I'm
certain was once the Goethe Institut, is the restaurant. Very smart,
very stylish. Vast room, with a glass wall overlooking John Dalton St
at one end and an open kitchen at the other. Disconcertingly the
toilets are right next to the open kitchen.
The food is probably best described as River Cafe meets Vong.
Char-grilled chilli squid (£4.75) was splendid - light, very
fresh, slightly crisped with extremely well judged chilli input. Our
other starter was a special of the day combining taleggio cheese with
prosciutto and olive oil, which was reportedly very good. For main
courses, we strayed from the Italo-Thai theme, which was a bit of a
mistake. A hamburger at £7.95 is made from good meat, perhaps
slightly overcooked, and comes with chips and a sesame seed bun that's
about as good as they get. Fillet Rossini (£14.75) was a
fairly good piece of meat, though far from the best flavoured with a
slightly overcooked escalope of foie gras on top and the requisite
croute underneath. The accompanying sauce was rather dilute and tasted
a little of raw demi-glace.
Apart from chips with the hamburger, vegetables are extra: excellent
chips £1.95 and textbook peas french style (aka petit pois a
la francaise) £2.50. The peas were as good a vegetable dish
as I've had in ages, showing that the classics still have plenty to
A rich and luscious calvados ice-cream was £3.50 and had a
good taste of apple with just the right amount of kick of the calvados.
From the daily specials menu a mocha tart was an oversized slice of
With sparkling water, a glass of rioja, a beer and coffee the bill for
two came to a good value £57.60.
I think everything I saw come from the kitchen looked interesting, and
we'll definitely have to return, but will stick to the more obviously
Italian or Thai or Italo-Thai dishes next time.
Baslow Hall, Baslow, Derbyshire
19th century stone built pile, pretending to be
several hundred years older, at the top of a steep drive that could do
with a little attention to pot holes. Judging by the number of log
piles scattered around the extensive, if in places precipitous grounds,
they must have a sideline in the logging industry.
On a cold November day, it was much improved when they got round to
putting some of those logs to use by lighting the open fire in the
hall. The atmosphere is comfortable and homely, which is no surprise as
it is home to the Fischers. Max Fischer stays in the kitchen while his
wife sees to front of house with an excellent, largely female and
all-English staff. Guests are cosseted from arrival to departure, but
the attentiveness is not excessive. The bedroom and bathroom were well
appointed and very comfortable. Everything is to a high standard. The
floors creak, but not so much as you worry about disturbing those below
you - more of a comforting, lived in creaking!
The food certainly doesn't creak. Cooking is up to the minute, executed
with great skill and with just enough panache to be impressive without
Pre-dinner drinks are served from a table in the hall and come with
good, if not thrilling titbits, carefully explained. "Here you have a
red onion tart, a haddock beignet, a cheese tart, a ... oh... err...,
that looks the same as the onion, doesn't it? Umm. And those [pointing
to a bowl of olives] are olives." The one that looked the same as the
red onion tart was a Heathcote-ian baby shepherd's pie. All were good,
with notably good pastry.
The menu is not one for vegetarians, and fish-lovers are not
well-catered for (scallops as a starter, and a fish special of the
day). Meat is where Max Fischer's heart evidently is, and to make sure
we understand that most main courses have at least two cuts of the same
animal - one prime, one less so. So there were on the menu on the night
I went fillet of beef & shin of beef;pork tenderloin, honey
glazed belly & stuffed trotter; saddle of lamb &
charlotte of lamb shank. Only a duck breast appeared to have just the
one bit of the animal (I'm not counting the roast partridge with
choucroute, which was a special for the day, attracting a £5
supplement). It was exceedingly difficult to make a choice: there was
nothing on the menu that did not appeal immensely.
Having been seated, an excellent example of the white bean cappucino
with truffle oil (and a slice of summer truffle for good measure) was
served. Very light and frothy and with notably less of the graininess
of the beans than I've experienced elsewhere.
Starters, or at least their menu descriptions, are simpler, though I
went for the only one that reached two lines: "A composition of warm
guinea fowl in filo, foie gras terrine, chicken livers &
This was complex and involved. The core was a filo patty-shaped parcel
of chopped guinea fowl served, like most of the other elements of the
dish lukewarm (tiede in menuspeak). Two discs of single sheets of filo
then turned the dish into what would normally be described as a
millefeuille (deux feuille to be pedantic). On top of the first filo
disc was a slice of a fine foie gras terrine, and on the second, a well
dresssed salad. At first sight the foie gras seemed otiose,
particularly given the large, perfectly cooked chicken livers (also
tiede) around the plate, and in general the dish reads over-complex.
When I mention that everything was liberally scattered with slices of
summer truffle, then it also seems that a little lily-gilding had been
going on. But all elements, beside being of the finest quality and
perfectly prepared/cooked, had a point. And they also had a
counterpoint, which when you compare the theme and variation of the
main courses, would seem to be something Max Fischer enjoys. All in
all, it was a splendidly conceived and executed dish.
Main course was "Forest of Dean wild venison saddle, venison osso
bucco, game pepper sauce". Both meat elements were perfectly cooked,
the meat itself being of singularly high quality. Perhaps the fillet
could have done with a few moments longer resting. The osso bucco was
an unusual (to me) cut of venison, which deserves to be seen more: the
deep mahogany colour contrasted with the pink fillet and while both
almost melted in the mouth, the texture of the two meats also worked
well together. The pepper sauce was a most remarkable delight: rich and
gamey, the amount of pepper being quite perfectly judged. Various
incidentals which unfortunately, apart from a tiny tatin of chicory, I
can't remember rounded off an excellent dish.
Desserts have much of interest, though I fear those with lighter
appetites might be beginning to flag. Portions are hearty, verging on
the substantial. Baslow is at the heart of good walking territory
A granita of grapefruit and (I think - didn't write it down) cinnamon
came as a pre-dessert, and was welcome.
Cheeses looked (when served to an adjacent table) an interesting
selection, primarily from the UK and Eire with a few French smellies.
I had a fig platter, which comprised whole roast fig stuffed (after it
had come out of the oven!) with icecream; a fig tarte tatin and a
beignet of rice pudding with fig sauce. Again, each element
irreproachable and working well together.
Coffee (included in the fixed price £48 for 3 courses) was
good and came with a selection of home-made, largely chocolate-based
Bread was very good and appeared home-made.
A bottle of water (not local, oddly) was £3 and a Crozes
Hermitage from Belle £21. The wine list is thoroughly
multi-national and contains some interesting bottles, but it is a
little odd in the price range of wines offered, but perhaps reflects
what their clientele want: either cheap or ostentatiously expensive. My
Crozes was one of the few in the £15 - £40 range.
There were plenty at well under £15, but the list leaps
alarmingly quickly to £50+. The list has, for examples, three
Argentinians. One at £10 ish (so at the level of supermarket
plonk), the other two hovering around the £60 mark. There are
plenty of wines that could come between those extremes, which is what
leads me to believe that the bulk of the clientele either want
something cheap or something that they can show off with. And it would
be wrong to criticise Fischer's for responding to customer demand.
I would give it a score of 8/10.
Breakfasts are also good, but much more straightforward: full English
for £8.50; smoked salmon & scrambled eggs
£7.50 (cereals, fruit salad, excellent croissants, oddly dry
brioches, good toast from excellent bread, etc are included in the room
rate). Bacon is local, scrambled eggs arrive in the centre of the plate
shaped into a huge dome.
Monsal Head Hotel, near Bakewell, Derbyshire
The view outside is stunning. But indoors, this is a rather
cramped stables conversion, apparently with only an open fire for
heating (meaning if you're at the extremities of the room and not
wearing your hiking gear (which to be fair all the other customers this
lunchtime were) it can be a bit chilly in cold weather). The main
business seems to be drinks as a meeting point for those going walking,
with food a little secondary. The menu is a combination of traditional
pub fare and some other rather old fashioned dinner party dishes. The
fact that salt and pepper comes, along with vinegar, in a wicker
basket, filled with sachets of various sauces (ketchup, tartare, etc),
seemed to me to speak volumes as to the low aspirations here. Nothing
wrong with that, provided they can do it well. But they didn't really
pull it off, and my overall impression was that the kitchen was not
quite up to the job, and that the food and cooking was nowhere need as
good as they thought it was.
I ordered the Lamb, Lentil, Vegetable and Ale Pie and was told that it
would take about half an hour, as it's made and cooked to order, which
sounded good. But that sort of wait meant I needed a starter to keep me
going. Probably the most modern sounding dish on the menu are the
crispy pork spring rolls, so I ordered these as something to play with
until my pie was ready. According to the menu these were made from
shredded spiced slow roasted Pork Belly - all that I could find were a
few bits of unspiced chewy pork and lots of vegetables, though the
spring rolls themselves were nicely crisp and clean tasting. As a dish
it really needed the smear of hoi-sin sauce that was on the plate to
liven it up, but it never got beyond the pedestrian.
Eventually, the pie came, and I'd like to say it was worth the wait,
but, while it looked good (a dome of thin pastry, if slightly
undercooked pastry), it failed to deliver on flavour and showed some
laziness in the gristly meat it contained and the unfortunate lack of
any real depth of flavour. Accompanying chips appeared frozen.
The dining room upstairs is bright and airy with bare wooden floors and
bare dark wood tables. Colour is provided in various shades of
aubergine-purple, including from the napkins and the seat cushions on
some of the chairs. It's a bit odd that some of the blonde wood chairs
have upholstered seat and back cushions, but some don't. Presumably the
"bright idea" of a designer, without thinking about all the "who wants
the comfy seat" debates that presumably result. The menu has no real
surprises, but plenty of interest. At lunch, a number of dishes are
available in large or small portions, plus a small selection of more
obviously main, main courses. One neat little twist at lunch here is a
"chef's pie of the day"
started with the "Seafood Bouillabaisse". I'm not sure what other sort
of bouillabaisse there is, and this wasn't really a bouillabaisse
either (salmon? cockles?). What it was, however, was a really good
tomatoey fish soup with lots of fish, though the couple of squid rings
(nicely cooked, by the way) weren't easy to eat with a spoon. It came
with a toasted wedge of good bread and a bowl of slightly underpowered
of the day was meat and potato and came with a thin suet crust, that
was just a bit too thin and crispy for the most part. The meat in the
pie was notably good (no scraps, no gristle), the potato cooked just
right and the gravy reasonably tasty, if a bit thin. Other tables
around me were having fish and chips (the standard on all modern
British brasserie menus) and a notably good looking rump steak and
chips. The chips looked so good, that I asked if the pie came with
chips. No it didn't, but they could arrange that. It was a pleasant
surprise to see that a good portion of very good chips was charged at
only £1.50. The pie came with some extraordinarily good thin,
squeak-free French beans - I'm not sure what had been done to make them
so good, as they seemed absolutely plain, and there was no tell-tale
pool of butter in the bottom of the bowl in which they were served, but
there really stood out as some of the best I've had in a long
dessert I had a very well conceived, and perfectly executed rhubarb and
custard millefeuille with a delicious star anise ice-cream. One of the
best desserts I've had in a long time. Even espresso was jolly good: a
double espresso had a deep crema, that's remarkably rare on a double
espresso. With a couple of glasses of good wines and a bottle of water,
the bill for one came to £38.05 exc service.
another occasion, pumpkin and root vegetable salad made a nice light
starter: roast pumpkin, roast carrots and parnsips, all served hot,
blend with nicely dressed salad leaves. Mussels and tagliatelle came
with an excellent saffrom sauce, though I thought it rather a shame
that the mussels were still in the shells: by the time you've removed
them from the shells, the tagliatelle has started to go cold.
pleasant stop off, perhaps not worth the detour, but worth stopping for
if you're passing.
I had two meals at Braidwoods on the same day. I was dropping
bottle of wine off for the evening event, and as it was lunchtime,
thought it rude not to have a light lunch while I was there.
For a bargain price, I had a superb Arbroath smokie hot mousse (almost
a soufflé) to start with, which retained a real depth of the
smoked haddock flavour.
Then a medley of fish in a shellfish nage. It was a Friday, and this
was very far from the "let's use up all the scraps of old fish and call
it a medley" that is too often found. Each piece of fish was top
quality and perfectly cooked - salmon, monkfish, haddock, turbot I
think, each would easily have been a main course portion in some London
With a glass of wine, bottle of water, and coffee with excellent
chocolates (home-made presumably?), the bill was
Then returning as one of a party of ten in the evening (we had arranged
BYO and a set menu, and had taken along a stellar collection of wine
(81 Cristal, 92 Chablis Blanchot from Raveneau, 66 Meursault from
Potinet-Ampeau, 86 Corton from Remoissenet, 93 Cros Parentoux, a 78
Gevrey from Pernot Fourrier, 64 Ch. Corton, 85 VCC, 73 Unico, the 97
bottling of Unico Reserva Especial, and 90 Coutet)
Canapés were delightfully light little puff pastry pies
with mushroom and bacon (vol au vent really doesn't do them justice,
and they weren't that shape).
First course was Seared,
hand-dived Wester Ross scallops on a bed of leek, beurre blanc and
crispy Parma Ham
Huge, meaty scallops. The
best scallops I've had for years - huge beasts, perfectly cooked. The
leeks were exceptionally good too. All
nicely cooked - a very good dish.
Warm tart of Parmesan on a rockette salad with red pepper
Fabulous, really fabulous tart. Extremely
light, parmesan custard filling - so
light it was only just able to maintain its shape in the slices on our
- crisp yet probably only the thickness
of two sheets of filo. A technical tour de force of the tart world.
The red pepper coulis, while in itself
superbly done, didn't really work that well for me. I thought tomato
would have worked better, or even something that you might more
associate with parmesan, say some diced pear. But I think I was in the
Roast loin of highland red deer with a Jersusalem artichoke
puree, baby spinach and wild mushroom jus
deer, perfectly cooked and rested.
The artichoke purée was stunningly
good too, and the un-advertised gratin dauphinoise spot on.
There was a flavour in the spinach that I
couldn't quite identify - it felt slightly fishy, but the only texture
I could identify (other than the spinach itself) appeared to be bacon.
Overall though, a superb, beautifully balanced dish.
A small taste of three British cheeses from Iain Mellis
printed menu showed that dessert was a choice between
Chilled caramelised rice pudding with warm Agen prunes in
Dark chocolate truffle cake with an espresso anglaise and maple syrup
After representations, and weeping and imploring from some of the
party, the "or" was replaced by an "and" ...
anyone had a better rice pudding? God, it was good. The chocolate
truffle cake was so light, it was remarkable. I particularly liked the
espresso anglaise too, and wished there had been more of that. The
cream was beautifully made, but I'd have preferred more of that custard.
Service was as excellent as the food throughout. All the above, plus
coffee and more of the excellent chocolates, came to £100 a
including corkage, service, umpteen bottles of mineral water. A lot of
money, but very good value.
9/10 (March 2009) The
Champany Inn, Linlithgow
small huddle of buildings around a small
courtyard houses the Chop House (for more informal eating), the
Restaurant (for formal eating) and some accommodation (for collapsing
in as you've eaten so much you can't move any further). I had
lunch in the Restaurant on Friday 18th March 2005, and I was their only
The bar area is comfortable and has a small pond and waterfall, which
initially I thought rather chi-chi, but then I looked in it, and
realised it was their holding tank for oysters and lobsters.
Sitting in the comfy sofas in the bar you can look up at what I
understand is but part of the wine cellar. Upstairs and open
plan in a restaurant wouldn't have struck me as the best place for a
fine wine cellar, and to make matters worse they also have tables up
there. A bit strange.
strikes you immediately about the menu (apart from its enormous size)
is its simplicity and its prices. Good grief! The
prices! This is getting close to big city prices.
Starters were around £10 and for a steak you wouldn't get
much change, if any, from £30. And then on top of
that vegetables are extra (£2.75 a pop). By
contrast, the wine list is a haven of relatively sensible markups
(perhaps there's a connection ...). It's a truly astonishing
list with breadth and depth in many regions: it seemed to me (having
skipped Bordeaux and Burgundy entirely) to have particular strengths in
Spain and above all South Africa (reflecting the owner's
origin). All the top South African wines seemed to be there,
and most unusually on either a restaurant or a merchant's list, there
were plenty of mature South African wines, which immediately drew my
attention. With the help of the wine waiter, I settled on a 1989
Nederberg, Cabernet Sauvignon, Private Bin R161, Auction Selection,
Paarl, South Africa
An interesting nose, with a touch of cassis, and quite cedary with a
lot of truffley mushrooms. Very soft on the attack. Lovely, elegant
restrained fruit. A moderately old feel to it, with elegant softened
tannins. Really well integrated. A mature elegant lady. Lovely earthy
finish with magnificent length that goes on forever.
After time a touch of soapiness appears on the nose and a hint of
violets. Also with time, it is slightly more drying on the palate.
I took just over a half of the bottle away with me, and finished the
bottle at about 9.30 that night. No further development (despite having
been on the long drive home) and it wasn't showing any signs of fading.
dining room is a curious round building (apparently an old horse-driven
mill) with a very Scottish baronial feel: all very dark, polished
wooden tables, heavy cutlery, good quality glasses, copper cruet,
copper water jugs. The jarring note were the modern perspex
salt and pepper mills - all the more jarring as they were identical to
the ones on the refectory tables in the University of Stirling, where I
had been at a conference, and from where I was now on my way
home. Good bread.
cooking is as simple as the prices are high.
a starter, I just managed to avoid the Loch Gruinart oysters (a name
uncomfortably close to Gruinard) and instead had what was billed on the
menu as hot smoked salmon. I expected a small piece of
hot-smoked salmon, as you often find in delicatessens, some salad and
whatever. No. It was a huge (big even for a main
course) portion of salmon, that was both hot and hot-smoked, served on
a plain hollandaise. The fish was perfectly cooked - still
just translucent in the middle, and with an extremely well-judged level
of smoking, with a nice hint of mesquite. Apparently the
range in the kitchen incorporates a smoke pot. Very good
fish, perfectly cooked, perfectly smoked, but too big a portion.
main course, I'd ordered a rib eye steak, some dauphinois potatoes and
some french-fried onion rings. The steak was £29.50
and when it came, it was easy to see why. I don't think I've
ever seen such a huge hunk of cow on a plate in front of me.
There was nothing else on the plate, just what looked like about 24 oz
of cow. It was quite perfectly cooked: charred on the
outside, rare on the inside. And the quality of the meat was
quite simply astounding. Without a doubt, this is the best
ever steak/beef that I have ever had. Quite superb, quite
astoundingly good. But the size?!?! I can
understand that it's easier to cook a bigger piece of meat more
accurately, but this was too big. It almost defeated me, and
but for the nagging thought that clearly a noble beast had died to
provide this, it would have defeated me - assuming my portion was a
normal portion. And that's what I don't get. They
clearly have a great understanding and respect for the beef they serve,
but unless their entire customer base have gargantuan appetites, there
must be a lot of wastage from what's returned on the plates
uneaten. Also if they cut the portion size down by a third,
or even a half, nobody is going to go away hungry, and they could
reduce the prices accordingly, yet still maintain (probably even
increase) their gross profit.
The gratin dauphinois was poor - very dry and a bit
tasteless. Onion rings were good, though I think they would
have benefited from slightly fresher oil.
this point I was completely beefed out and needed something refreshing,
so just had a bit of ice-cream. Again, far too large a
portion, served in slightly heavy tuile which to make the dish heavier
still had been dipped in chocolate. The ice-creams (a mixture
of praline and vanilla), while well-flavoured, were rather coarsely
made with a somewhat grainy texture. They were also served
too cold. Decent, if not terribly wonderful, espresso came
with what looked like shortbread and something dipped in chocolate: but
I couldn't face eating them.
find it difficult to decide what I make of the Champany Inn.
There is no doubting the sheer excellence of the quality of the beef,
the à point timing of the cooking and the breathtaking wine
list. But the cooking is very simple: meat is grilled full
stop. And there is far too much food. This is also
I think about the first restaurant in many years where a fine mature
wine has cost less than a simply cooked steak.
would give this a score of 2/10 at most. It is tempting to
give a higher score on the basis of the amazing wine list and the
simply astounding quality of the meat, but I always try to weight my
scores based on the skill of the kitchen, and all things considered
this is only really a steak and chips establishment. Bearing
that in mind, 2/10 is probably a bit generous.
Plumed Horse, Crossmichael,
now closed, and re-opened in Leith,
Edinburgh - comments from people whose judgement I trust make it sound
like the following review is still relatively accurate)
Crossmichael is a couple of miles north of Castle Douglas, which is
billing itself as the food capital of Scotland. It's got a
way to go yet, although it really is a gloriously "proper" high street,
with lots of privately-owned shops, including a few decent looking
butchers. Crossmichael is quite the opposite. It's
a one street linear settlement with absolutely nothing going
on. If you're travelling north (coming from Castle Douglas),
the Plumed Horse is remarkably easy to miss, as the sign is visible
only when you're southbound. The Plumed Horse is next to (and
at right angles to) the pub. A small, unremarkable
whitewashed building that looks like it might have been stables for the
pub or a smithy cum mechanic (a sign on the exterior south wall refers
to a switch for isolating petrol pumps of which there is no
trace). Going in the small front door (there is also a larger
glass door, but that's not an entrance), the kitchen is on the left,
the dining room on the right. I had booked for lunch and one
the only diner; Tony Borthwick, chef-owner, fulfilled all the front of
house functions as well as working in the kitchen. The dining
room is small (probably only about 15 covers max) and feels quite
formal, all in bright yellow and white, with large tables, crisp
tablecloths and serious stemware.
chose a langoustine bisque, a dish off the very reasonably priced table
d'hote to start with: light and frothy with an intense
flavour. In the centre a mousse of langoustine topped with
caviar (Avruga, actually, I think), and surprisingly also stuffed with
caviar. Clever and very well executed. Quite a dish
to have on a bargain TDH!
to the carte, next up was a Ballotine of Young Grouse & Foie
Gras with Madeira & Sauternes Raisins, truffled Leaves and
Cumberland sauce. An excellent ballotine with clear, clean,
well-defined flavours. The delicately dressed baby salad
leaves came in a very fine pastry cup. All jolly good.
course was a Roast Loin of Pork, with a piece of braised rolled belly
stuffed with Prunes soaked in Armagnac on top of it.
Excellent meat (both of them), accurately cooked (both of them); served
with some mashed Potatoes, and a superb beetroot & red cabbage
was a touch disappointing: billed as a trifle, it was served in a
champagne flute: some nice red fruits in an excellent sherry jelly at
the bottom, but then rather than a light crème anglaise and
a bit of cream, the custard element was also quite firmly
set. After first saying that the last time his assistant had
made it, the custard had been too loose, Tony Borthwick came back from
the kitchen saying that it wasn't an anglaise but a vanilla bavarois
and that's how it was meant to be. Well, yes. And
on its own it would be a singularly good vanilla bavarois, but it
rather missed the mark as a dessert: jelly with jelly.
Excellent coffee and a decent glass of house red (there are no halves)
brought the final cost, with service, to £47.50.
House Hotel, Newton Stewart
The hotel building is an imposing white rendered pile, clearly designed
by somebody who liked bays, set in grounds that aren’t quite
as large as they seem at the end of a long drive clearly signposted
from the A75. The main lounge has a modernised baronial feel, with log
fires and comfortable furniture for post-prandial snoozing. My bedroom
was extremely comfortable and huge – I mean massive: it must
have been 30 x 20 feet, excluding the ubiquitous bay, with a four
poster bed and an en-suite the size of most hotel bedrooms. The
standard of hotel-keeping is very high indeed, with great attention to
detail throughout. Unfortunately the food needs a bit more attention to
match the hotel-keeping standards.
Orders are taken in the main lounge before you are taken through to the
rather cold, slightly institutional, utterly soulless big-hotel dining
room. Lots of big curtains, a dried flower display in the fireplace,
fresh flowers on the table, monogrammed (“KH”)
cutlery. The food is rather anaemic and forgettable. My main course was
a rather pedestrian, ungenerous piece of salmon, adequately cooked with
a bland basil sauce and a very smooth saffron mash, that somebody had
unfortunately forgotten to put the saffron in until the last minute.
This meant that the flavour and the colour of the saffron had not had
any chance to develop: instead there were just occasional, rather
off-putting blobs of yellow. The starter I have forgotten completely.
Perhaps the most memorable dish was the amuse gueule, which was
unfortunately memorable only for its awfulness: it was billed on the
menu as something like a red pepper roulade. Well, that sounds ok, but
what arrived was a thankfully small slice of a rolled up slice of
flabby Mother’s Pride style white bread with a filling
apparently of cream cheese and a sparse scattering of diced raw pepper.
Eurgh. Maybe Abigail at her Party might have been impressed, but I
can’t believe anyone would be nowadays.
The bread roll offered with the meal was also not terribly good, with a
very hard bottom suggesting it might have been in the warmer a few
times too many; and despite having been in the warmer, it was unevenly
warm. Similarly the turnips (small turned white turnip) accompanying
the main course were unevenly heated. Service was very uneven: a male
waiter in black tie, who also worked the lounge (and carried bags at
other times of day) was very good; two females who did most of the
service in the dining room really didn’t do much more than
carry the food to the table. When one of them came to brush away crumbs
before dessert, she managed to miss most of the crumbs! Desserts were
straightforward classics of the ilk of crèpes Suzette and
crème caramel with cheese as an alternative. Cheeses came
ready plated: four well kept Scottish cheeses, served a bit cold but
otherwise the highlight of the meal. The meal was over in just over an
hour and for once I was glad to escape the soullessness of the
restaurant and the Agatha Christie style supporting cast of my fellow
diners (two maiden aunts and a Yorkshire magnate and his bored wife)
and return with my coffee and a glass of port to the luxury of my
Breakfast was also a little uninspired: decent if unexceptional
porridge; a competent fry up of a full Scottish, but with a remarkably
poor quality sausage.
The price for dinner, bed and breakfast was £113.50. A bottle
of 2001 Knight Granite Hills Riesling from Central Victoria was
£18.75 from a not terribly distinguished and not terribly
good value list, though a glass of 1985 Noval was a relative bargain at
Lodge Hotel, Portpatrick
in Portpatrick itself, but two bays south in Port of Spittal Bay,
at the end of a long track, part of which seems quite likely not to
have been repaired since Churchill met Eisenhower here during the
Second World War. Knockinaam Lodge is a grey stone building (partly
white rendered on the north side), set in extensive grounds (with room
to land your helicopter) leading down to a black sandy beach in a
relatively sheltered cove. At night the lights of Belfast harbour are
just about visible directly opposite.
The feeling is of complete isolation, but definitely without any
privations that you might associate with isolation. There is a warm
welcome, log fires burn in the public rooms. A clubby bar with an
impressive selection of single malts; a comfortable lounge with a
highly ornate cornice and somebody could clearly go in for the cushion
plumping world championship. Staff are friendly and efficient, though
well able to leave one well alone when that’s what you want,
even without them being told. Even the two gorgeous black labradors
(never seen in the hotel building) are welcoming and the male, Jack,
came bounding up when I went for a walk round the grounds after
breakfast on the first morning to insist that I follow him down to his
private playground, the beach. 2009 report: I stayed for two nights at Knockinaam this time.
DB&B rate for an enormous room, complete with a bathroom from
tub of which you could watch the sunset was £150 a night - I
think there were two cheaper rooms available. But £150 a
was pretty good value I thought, when you bear in mind that a room only
overnight stay in London can easily be over £100.
disappointment was that the bed appeared to be two singles (or at least
two single mattresses) pushed together and made up as a double, rather
than a true double (well, queen/king - I'm not expert on bed sizes!).
Breakfasts are excellent, with a huge choice - the only fault I could
find with breakfast is that the home-made croissants were a bit heavy.
Everything else in the bread basket was superb though, including the
large warm muffin.
The evening meal is a set affair four course (five if you include the
tweely named chef's surprise) with the only choice being between
dessert and cheese. The first night, the running order was: Large
olives and home made crisps with drinks, quickly accompanied by
canapés: a very nice grilled fig with blue cheese and
ham, and a rather dull mini baked potato with not very spicy spicy
At the table we were presented with an appetiser of aubergine caviar
with parmesan crisp. Very smooth with a nice balance of flavour, but it
was served a bit too chilled.
Grilled salt cod with chive hollandaise followed: very precisely cooked
fish, in quite a large portion. Excellent hollandaise. The chef's good
at hollandaise here - it's excellent at breakfast too!
Next was a celeriac and parsley soup with truffle oil. This was fairly
light but with good depth of flavour, and for once the truffle oil
worked well and integrated in flavour with the celeriac and parsely,
rather than sitting slightly apart from the main flavours of a dish,
which it often can.
Roe deer with mash, haggis beignet and very good stock sauce formed the
main course. The deer was beautifully cooked, extremely tender, very
flavourful meat. The haggis beignet was a bit otiose and didn't, I
thought, really contribute that much to the dish other than a strained
"this is Scotland" note.
The cheese selection comprised Cheshire, Pont
Epoisses, and Stilton. All in remarkably good condition. Oddly served
with half a pickled onion, alongside more normal couple of grapes,
celery and a slightly musty tasting apple.
Passion fruit soufflé with its sorbet – the sorbet
orange, I’m sure. Beautifully risen soufflé, but a
the sweet side, and could have done with a bit more passion fruit
The next night brought: Olives and crisps again. Canapés:
of sole with tartare sauce; quail egg on black pudding. Both spot on,
though the quail egg and black pudding impressed me most.
Appetiser: oyster beignet with shallot & rice wine vinegar.
This was superb and I could have eaten it all night.
Sea bass with citrus segments and beure blanc. Pretty good, but lacked
the precision of yesterday’s cod.
Turnip & thyme cappuccino with truffle oil. Again pretty good,
not a patch on yesterday’s soup. This time the truffle was a
too dominant over the rather slight flavour – the only other
taste was some thyme.
Canon of lamb with herb crust, puy lentils and white pudding was the
main course. The textures of the herb crust and the white pudding were
a bit too close and sticky-claggy. The stock based sauce lacked flavour
and any of the depth that yesterday’s sauce had.
Tonight's dessert of gooey chocolate pudding with sour cherry ice
cream. was a very good chocolate fondant, with the ice cream a good
counterbalance, but a bit too hard and too frozen.
At both the starter and the soup course, the waiter asked how it was,
and I said truthfully, "very good indeed, but not quite as good as
yesterday". When it came to the main course, he asked "if I asked how
it was, were you about to say 'not quite as good as yesterday'?" Well,
yes, if I had to tell the truth, that's exactly how it was. "Hmm, " he
said, "there aren't many guests who can tell when it's chef's night
off!". I felt quite pleased with myself!
It wasn't quite as good on chef's night off, but it was still very good
indeed. The last time I went to Knockinaam (4 years ago?), the wine
list had lots of really interesting, very reasonably priced bins, most
of which, it transpired, had been in the cellar when the current owners
bought the hotel. Unfortunately, there are now fewer of those bins (but
still a couple that kept me very happy - some otherwise unknown Italian
wine from 1985 for £30 and Guigal La Turque 1986 for
but the wine list continues to be intelligently put together, with
plenty of choice at the lower reaches of the price scale. It's
unfortunate that they didn't have the foresight to continue buying and
laying down wine while they used up the previous owners' cellar to give
the cellar the real depth that it had previously. The staff are very
well trained and very able - surprisingly so since they are drawn from
the local, sparse populace. If I had one fault to find with the staff,
it would be with the owners, who are noticeable by their absence: David
Ibbotson appears in the bar at dinner to take wine orders and greet new
residents, but immediately disappears once he's done his perfunctory
duty. You couldn't really call him a host.
7.5/10 (March 2009)
My bedroom was one of the smaller rooms, but immaculate, everything of
the highest quality, including cotton sheets of the finest quality
I’ve yet come across. There is not the standard hotel welcome
folder, rather a personal letter with all the usual information. A nice
Dinner is a four course affair, with the only choice being between
dessert and cheese. Sitting in the lounge with an aperitif (the well
stocked bar extends beyond whisky to less unusual drinks in this part
of the world such as Punt e Mes, served as is everything in a generous
measure), I was struck by the quality of the wine list: this is a real
enthusiast’s and collector’s list (indeed David
Ibbotson is buying en primeur for the future) with good breadth and
depth. Current and recent vintages are at standard to occasionally
hefty markups, although there is plenty under £20. There are,
however, plenty of bargains in the wide range of mature wines: there
are sizeable quantities of 1980s claret and Italians at good prices. I
had a 1983 Coltassala, Castello di Volpaia, Vino da Tavola di Toscana,
13%, a blend of sangiovese and mammolo and, according to the bottle
‘specially selected for the Opimiam Society,
Canada’. This was one of a number of wines sourced from
brokers such as Fine and Rare: interestingly the wine list shows
merchants, which in itself reveals some very intelligent purchasing.
Pol Roger Winston Churchill is appropriately on the list (in two
vintage: the 93 at £154 and the 85 at £160).
Incidentals are good: good bread, nice canapés and petits
fours. On my first night canapés were a half inch square of
excellent melba toast topped with a stunningly good mango salsa; and a
confit baby potato. On the second night there was a very fine (fine as
in delicate and fine as in very thin) cheese straw and a bite-sized
chunk of delicately flavoured oriental spiced salmon. This is in
addition to the home made crisps and giant olives that come with the
The dining room is comfortable, with another log fire burning; white
tablecloths (pink tablecloths at breakfast), decent glasses. Though
some of the tables are a bit dark. Service is enthusiastic, able and
attentive without omnipresent lurking.
My first meal began with an excellent amuse gueule of wild mushrooms on
toasted brioche. First course was a spot on piece of roast salmon
(beautifully cooked – completely à point) with a
pesto dressing, followed by a grilled goats’ cheese salad:
the goats cheese in and on partly hollowed out new potatoes; some
intensely flavoured cheeks of confit plum tomato, apricot chutney, some
green beans and a few salad leaves. Sounds more complicated than it
was. Main course was a paupiette of wonderful tasting chicken, wrapped
in an air dried ham and with a small dimple of Kiev style butter in the
top. A light perfect haggis beignet was a show-off for the chef, but,
while it didn’t jar in any way with the rest of the dish, it
didn’t really do anything for the dish. Excellent fondant
potato; fine beans and baby carrots and an excellent stock based sauce
with chanterelles completed a lovely dish. Pre-dessert was an utterly
inspired miniature champagne flute of freshly crushed pineapple juice
– hardly a big cheffy show-off (and so on that basis, I can
excuse the haggis beignet) but a truly wonderful component of the meal,
showing the chef’s excellent feel for menu construction.
Dessert was an expertly executed (if a little large) pear tarte tatin
with “double vanilla” ice-cream.
Dinner on the second night began with a nice little amuse of a cube of
ham hock terrine with a light picallili. First course was a quite
beautiful rich, deeply flavoured, just lip-smacking beef
consommé with a very light boudin blanc style mushroom
sausage. Next came a bundle of lightly char-grilled asparagus wrapped
in some very good smoked salmon and served with a truly expert light
frothy hollandaise. Main course was monkfish, two slices off a large
tail: again very precise cooking with a crisp rim and pearly white
interior retaining moistness and freshness – impeccable
quality fish. This came with a mid-weight chicken jus, lovely soft
creamy mash, green beans and baby fennel. Another perfectly balanced
dish, but where on earth do they get baby fennel in such an isolated
location? A minor criticism might be the slight similarity between the
hint of lip smackingness in the consommé and the stock-based
sauce with the monkfish. Pre-dessert was a nougatine glacé
and the desert proper was a stunningly good crème de menthe
soufflé, with great depth of delicate minty flavour (if
that’s not a contradiction in terms) and a chocolate ripple.
The no-choice meals are extremely well constructed and have a lovely
balance and looking back, it is clear that one outstanding feature was
the notably excellent precise seasoning: over two meals (four including
breakfast) nothing needed any salt or pepper at all.
Country House Hotel, Moffat
short drive off the main street of Moffat, the last few hundred yards
along an unmade road, brings you to a substantial stone property, with
a slightly incongruous conservatory extension on one side. To the
front, there are fantastic views across the Annan valley and down onto
Moffat. To the rear of the hotel is a beech wood and rising beyond it,
offering a gentle afternoon stroll and excellent views, Gallows Hill.
Public rooms are high-ceilinged and very comfortable, with lots of
knick knacks giving an impression of a family home (which it is: the
conservatory houses the Michaelides’ private living quarters
and office). My bedroom was a good size, comfortably furnished with a
mixture of hotel furniture and Ikea furniture and every little extra I
could think of.
Stavros Michaelides’ welcome is warm and he works front of
house well. There is, however, a hint of Fawlty about him, as for
instance when before dinner he spilled some mixed nuts he had taken to
one of the tables in the bar: the spilled nuts were wiped straight back
into the bowl, which was then put on the table. Other minuses are:
• the strong smell of animals that greet you as soon as you go
through the front door, though probably only non pet owners will notice
it. The problem is that the dog’s and the cat’s
bowls and beds are under the reception table.
• The open fires are not lit till 6pm
• Sitting in the lounge, enjoying the peaceful location is
rather spoiled by the loud music coming from the kitchen.
• The kitchen’s loud music starts again quite early
in the morning.
The dining room is well proportioned, high-ceilinged and lit primarily
by candles. I started with a game terrine with a light apricot chutney,
the terrine marbled with various game meats. What was particularly
notable about the terrine was that it was served at the merest fraction
above room temperature which brought all the flavours out beautifully.
Unfortunately, two small pieces of fowl rib cage had escaped detection
and made it onto my plate – a fairly elementary error.
An extremely good, very creamy mushroom soup with an exceptionally good
Main course was a navarin of venison with soft potato gnocchi.
Initially it appeared a rather mean portion with only four or five
small cubes of venison, but as a dish in its entirety and as part of
the meal it worked very well. The venison had been long cooked, the
gnocchi were well made and well cooked and the sauce had a great depth
Desert was a caramelised (i.e. bruléed) fig with a fig
compote and cinnamon yoghurt. Perhaps a tribute to Stavros’
background, but a well balanced, well executed dessert.
The next morning, breakfast was exceptionally good. Excellent porridge,
a superb full Scottish that remarkably left virtually no trace of
grease on the plate at all: really good bacon, meaty Cumberland
sausage, haggis, etc. And seriously good toast made with real bread and
a nice freshly baked buttery croissant.
With a bottle of Haras 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon (£19) off a
decent broad-based list the price for Dinner, bed and breakfast was
Overheard on the next table: “Do you have English
cheeses?” “No, they’re all
Scottish” “As long as they’re not that
soft French muck.”
Chardon d’Or, Glasgow
was slightly wrong
footed from the beginning, as when I was entering the restaurant (which
is up half a dozen steps from the street), I was in the vestibule space
between the outer and inner doors, when the maitre d' rushed forward to
open the inner door for me - unfortunately it opens outwards, and to
avoid getting smacked by the door, I had to take a quick step
backwards. Inside, it's a very smart dining room, which at
first I thought looked bigger than it was ... until I realised that it
wasn't a mirror down what wasn't a wall! Very comfortable
dark brown leather chairs, white tablecloths, good cutlery, good
glasses - all what you expect. Huge flower displays,
including on our table a huge vase full of gigantic lilies, which
prevented you from looking directly across the table. We ate
à la carte, from an interesting menu.
with tempura squid with avocado and red onion. This had
merely acceptable squid, which retained more chewiness than you might
expect in such an establishment, and was in a batter which was a bit
more English (well, Scottish) batter than tempura. A rather
messy plate (other dishes shared this visual confusion on the plate),
the squid, which could certainly have been in a crisper batter, sat on
top of a curiously large mound of what was really only an average
guacamole (adding its own greasiness), on an over-dressed, over-oily
(and hence clashing with the deep-fried squid) salad with mounds of
really rather uninteresting chopped red onion.
fillet with roast parsnips and wild mushrooms was good, though not
exceptional beef, very accurately cooked with a few chanterelles and a
very good stock sauce. Excellent
roast parsnips and a very good, generous circle of an interesting cross
between pommes Anna and gratin Dauphinois.
My dessert was a cranachan parfait with stewed raspberries
and strawberries. When it was put in front of me, I viewed
the cooked fruit with doubt, but they were very accurately poached and
worked very well with the parfait. Maybe some form of
biscuit/tuile would have provided the texture needed to lift the dish
to that extra level.
no incidentals (no appetisers, pre-desserts etc), other than some
rather tired bread. Service was unobtrusive –
almost to an extreme, as empty plates were left for quite some time,
especially after the main course. To their credit, all plates
got to the right recipient. Of course, that should always be
the case in an establishment of this calibre and these pretensions, but
is worthy of note given that we were a party of ten. The bill
for ten was just short of £700, which worked out at something
like £44 a head without wine (we had arranged BYO and were
charged a steep £13.50 a bottle corkage). We had no
wine service whatsoever from the restaurant, other than the provision
of a large ice bucket and a decanter; we had to rinse out our glasses
with mineral water (for which we were naturally charged), and when we
asked for some fresh glasses, we were told they didn't have enough: yet
the same percentage service charge was applied to the £270
corkage charge, which at best ranked as very cheeky. When we
remonstrated, £120 was immediately knocked off the bill.
room, reached down some steepish steps that the sign warns are slippy
when wet (it was and they were).
walls are painted
in terracotta tones, and the tiled floor gives it a bustling, vaguely
Italianate feel. Furnishings and table settings are good, and a little
higher standard than the decoration would have you think. It seems to
hit the balance between a relaxed, informal atmosphere and doing things
"properly" just right. Against one wall is some curiously oversize blue
banquette sort of seating that seems out of place and probably wouldn't
suit the claustrophobic.
started with fish
soup with crabmeat and prawn dumplings. There was a really good depth
of flavour to the soup with lots of crab meat adding another flavour
and texture, along with some pools of great, fresh tasting coriander
oil floating on top. The prawn dumplings, while very light,
didn’t really add anything and just introduced an unnecessary
complication to the eating process. Nice to see them recommending
sherry with this, and it worked very well.
main course was a
roast monkfish with pea and shrimp curry. Actually, not really a curry
by any stretch of the imagination: more of a very very mildly spiced
tomato based goo with large shrimps and peas, neither of which were
overcooked, so had presumably been added late in the cooking process.
The pea and shrimp goo balanced very well the huge portion of
spankingly fresh, very precisely monkfish. Stunningly good chips.
pistachio cheesecake with fresh raspberries was the lightest sounding
dessert on the menu, which seemed to major a little too strongly on
chocolate. I was looking for something lighter for dessert, but this
triangular cheesecake was jolly good.
coffee was a
touch thin with an indifferent crema.
are very good.
The dining room is non-smoking until 2pm at lunch and until 10 pm at
In the Italian Centre in Glasgow’s merchant quarter, but
without any discernable Italian connection, this large multi-level
establishment owes just a little to Livebait for its style, though here
the tiles are black and white.
Fish soup was very good (as it should be in a primarily fish
restaurant), with a great gingery undertone, and the fresh-tasting
basil oil pooled on top worked very well. In the soup was a very light
and largely tasteless prawn dumpling that did nothing for the soup at
For a main course I had a smoked salmon omelette: a good light-textured
omelette with plenty of good quality smoked salmon and a light mornay
sauce. Served with decent chips, perhaps slightly underdone maybe.
A straightforward wine list that matches the food well.
With a small bottle of sparkling water, a glass of Australian (?) pinot
gris and a particularly good espresso the bill for one came to
22nd October 2004
This was a dinner for which a small group of six wine, with a vague
theme of mature wine for which we had arranged BYO and the restaurant
had proposed the following menu, at a (bargain!) price of £55
per head including corkage. They had originally proposed the
two starters the other way round, but asked them to reverse the order
to suit the wines. We were in a semi private room,
separated from the restaurant by some heavy leather covered screens.
The restaurant is stylishly decorated with top quality tableware and
notably comfortable seats.
As an aperitif: Krug 1985
As we were finishing this we were brought an amuse gueule of a
velouté of pumpkin with ceps and truffle oil: a light,
frothy soup with a good pumpkin flavour, big chunks of ceps and just
enough truffle oil that you knew it was there but without overwhelming.
Moving onto the first starter, poached turbot and oyster served with
wilted spinach and a champagne velouté, we opened two 1993
1993 Chevalier-Montrachet Les Demoiselles, Louis Jadot and 1993
The turbot was a very nice generous bit of fish, well cooked; the
oysters too were perfectly timed. A nice light sauce completed a very
nice light dish.
The second starter was a terrine of foie gras with fig jam and celeriac
remoulade. The terrine was well made, nicely seasoned allowing the
richness of the liver to show through, and presented as three thin
slices off a small (say 4cm) torchon. The slices of terrine were served
on a rectangular smear of fig jam; the celeriac remoulade was
otiose. With the foie gras we had 1949 Vouvray Le Haut Lieu
The first main course was a very good if slightly uninspired roast
breast of mallard with creamed cabbage, braised white turnip and an
appropriately mild sauce Albert. Thus the menu. The real stars of the
first main course, however, were the little jugs of simply heavenly
bread sauce – easily worth eating directly from the jug
… With this, we had two superb 1991 burgundies: 1991 Clos de
la Roche, Lignier and 1991 Vosne Romanée Cros Parentoux,
The next main course was an excellent rolled tower of remarkably lean
slow cooked aromatic pork belly with cauliflower purée and
delightful light sage beignets, brought separately to the table to
avoid them becoming soggy. The wines we served were a 1961 Chateau
Ducru-Beaucaillou and a 1982 Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste
Next came a delicious dessert, described merely as a “Trio of
Apricots”. This was a very well conceived dessert perfectly
executed, with a good combination of textures and temperatures: a warm
apricot strudel, apricot ice-cream containing a chunk of apricot and
err … what was the third one? A sort of apricot cake?
After dessert we compared the remaining 1949 Huet with 1949 Moulin
Finally with coffee, and served blind was a half bottle of 1955
This was a marvellous evening with excellent food, splendid company and
some stunningly good wines – also surprisingly youthful
wines, with no real faults: we were very lucky (not to mention a little
surprised) indeed with the quality and vitality of all the bottles
opened. The only disappointment of the night was the Jadot
Chevalier-Montrachet, which was merely prematurely aged and still a
pleasant drink. Restaurant Rococo did us proud, not just in the
excellent quality of the menu: incidentals were great (I made a note
that the bread was seriously good); service was brilliant –
there when we needed them, not there when we didn’t;
they’d taken time to understand what wines we had brought and
which we were having when; and they kept up a constant supply of
decanters and quality glasses.
Jardin d'Ausone 10 Rue
Tel : 05 56 79 30 30
Fax : 05 56 44 75 02
I classed this restaurant, run by wine-nut Laurent Vialette, as a bit
of a find: it was certainly the most enjoyable, and probably the best
meal I had over a few days in Bordeaux. I happened to be walking down
the Rue Ausone and stopped to read the menu of this restaurant. The
menu was short and to the point and thoroughly ingredient-centred:
dishes are grouped under the main ingredient, with many dishes
available as a full portion or a half portion; so, when I went in
October 2005 the menu went as follows:
Les Saint Jacques Bretonnes
la plancha, émulsion de cèpes aux
éclats de noisettes torréfiées
speck, sur un risotto Arborio crémeux lié au
Parmigiano Régiano "22 mois d'affinage"
(€20/€14 for a half portion)
Le Foie gras de canard du Périgord Noir
Le juste équilibre entre l'arachide
grillée et la banane séchée pour ce
marbré (half portion, €16).
Terrine aux noix noires (un classique de la
maison) et son pain toasté (€20/€16)
Confit dans sa graisse, raviole aux
cèpes, émulsion parfumée à
l'huile de truffe (half portion €16)
Les Cèpes Français
En cassolette, poêlés aux
échalotes confites et persil plat (€18 for a full
portion, €11 as a side order)
En terrine de campagne au foie gras et son
pain bio toasté (€13 for a half portion)
En risotto Arborio lié au jus de
La Morue Salée de Bègles
Declinaison en 5 préparations "chaudes et
froides" (piquillos farci, à la plancha, en beignet, en
Parmentier, en salade) (€22)
Le Ris de Veau
Cuit au sautoir, Mozzi Rigatoni farcies d'une brunoise de
légumes, lié aus jus et au parmesan
Le Canard Challandais "Au Sang"
Poitrine frottée aux épices et sa
cuisse en galantine de foie gras. Servit pour 2 personnes (€23
Le Cochon du Cantal
Côte double rôtie, cèpes
poêlés aux échalotes confites et persil
In addition there are the normal handful of set menus, including a menu
autour de cèpes for what sounded like a bargain
€50, and a menu surprise.
menu stood out, head and shoulders above most
of the other restaurants I peered into in Bordeaux in having a real
integrity. And I really fancied that menu autour de cèpes ...
go up a few steps into a rough stone, vaulted
room that actually makes you feel a bit like you're dining in a
château. Apparently the buildings classed as some sort of
historic monument. Upstairs, there's apparently a champagne bar,
serving nothing but.
interior of the restaurant on the ground floor
is quite chic: Starck chairs, wooden floor, rough, lightly rendered
walls, with huge bleached wood beams above. Mirrors propped on the
floor against the wall. There is an ornate, very large carved wood bar
bristling with wines available by the glass. An unseemingly large
number of Mas Amiel 20th anniversary magnums serve as vases. Table
settings are very proper and the glasses from Spiegelau.
an aperitif, I had a glass of 1998 Ch.
Tour Faugas, AC Cadillac and enjoyed some rather different
nibbles while reading the menu: a mall dice of courgette with confit
lemon. One of the most unusual nibbles I've been given, but actually
Having ordered my menu autour de cèpes, the first thing to
arrive was the freebie appetiser: air dried ham and mi-cuit tomato on a
small croute. Very simple, but with nice ingredients.
The first wine was a 1997, called something like Mau
Chantré (I didn't quite catch what it was and
forgot to ask to see the bottle again.), which was a rather
undistinguished, basic, medium oak chardonnay. But it proved an
interesting match with the first course, a Terrine de
campagne aux cèpes et foie gras, pain bio
This was a rich, very moist pork/duck country terrine with chunks of
tasty fresh ceps and a torchon of foie gras through the centre. Served
with pain grillé, some very strongly flavoured baby cos
leaves and some very fragrant slices of raw ceps.
next wine was a 2001 "De La Salle",
Château de la Salle, AC Premières Côtes
de Blaye, an oaked sauvignon blanc that was a remarkably big
wine for the Côtes de Blaye. Big, round, expansive palate and
in quite a new world style. On the palate, one might quite easily
mistake this for a semillon, or even a chardonnay. Could this be a step
too far for Bordeaux sauvignon blanc? Though, I rather liked it and
found it a very satisfying wine.
This went with a superb scallop dish: Saint Jacques
à la plancha, émulsion de cèpes aux
éclats de noisettes torréfiées.
This was a beautifully rich cep velouté with top quality
scallops, cooked absolutely à point. Roast walnut pieces in
the veloute give it an air of walnut/pain
d’épices. Very high quality ingredients. There was
a lovely balance to the dish: elegant yet earthy.
Next appeared a glass of 2003 Ch. Canon Pécresse,
AC Canon-Fronsac that was warm and ripe on the palate, yet
quite restrained. It went well with the food, which it really needed -
Cochon du Cantal en côte épaisse,
rôtie, cèpes poêlés aux
échalotes confites: a plain roast 2 rib t-bone
pork chop, served off the bone, the loin sliced, the tenderloin and the
intercostal meat whole. Beautifully cooked, served with some fabulous
fried ceps and parsley, though it could have done with just a bit more
of the pan reduction sauce.
The cheese course was a Dégustation de trois
millésimes de Comtés affinés par
The 2001 Comté had an almost parmesan like texture, but with
the Comté/swiss cheese sort of flavour. Very interesting
The 2002 had a hint of granularity, but a much creamier feel.
The 2003 was much more like what we know as Comté in the UK.
This was probably one of the most interesting cheese courses I've ever
To accompany the cheese, Laurent Vialette insisted I had to try 2004
Domaine des Granges de Mirabel, Viognier de l'Ardèche, Vin
de Pays des Côteaux de l'Ardèche, M. Chapoutier,
which overall just seemed a bit blowsy to me, although it was good with
the 2002 and 2003 cheeses.
My essert was a stunningly good Millefeuille au chocolate
d’origine Saint Domingue, fréchinettes roties au
This had feather-light chocolate pastry, served warm. Roast baby
bananas on top, and a layer of unctuous cold chocolate mousse in the
middle of the pastry. Inordinately yummy.
With that came a glass of 2001 Coume del Mas Quintessence, AC
Banyuls, which was (rightly) served chilled. It was more or
less what you would expect of a grenache vin doux naturel: fairly
simple and didn’t stand up to the millefeuille.
Excellent coffee and cake.
Laurent Vialette also has a wine shop round the corner - not exactly
sure what it's called, but I think it's got Ausone in the name.
(October 2005) Update: I am
told that Laurent Vialette has now moved on, and the Jardin d'Ausone
has a new owner and chef.
Cinq Sens 26 rue du
Pas Saint Georges 33000 Bordeaux
Tel : 05 56 52 84 25
Fax : 05 56 51 93 25
small (28 covers) modern restaurant, very bright with lots of bright
white napery and gleaming glassware; and a bit of hushed
atmosphere. The cooking is essentially a modern take on
south-western cooking. I didn't take much in the way of notes
of this meal (too busy talking!), but my overall impression was that it
was absolutely fine, but not as good as it could be or as it thinks it
is. We ate a velouté of ceps, which was absolutely
fine, but with nothing to make it stand out from other similar cups of
soup. This was followed by a very rich dish that tasted
better than it looked: a foie gras custard with pumpkin.
Fortunately the main course was a lightish fish dish: grey mullet and
cuttlefish, simply cooked (a touch over-cooked actually) served with a
delicious langoustine bisque in a separate shot glass. The
fish was a bit average, though the langoustine bisque was fabulous: I
was so glad I ignored the instruction to pour it over the fish and was
able to drink it separately. Dessert was a cold chocolate
fondant that had been coated in a light ganache and was served with a
pistachio crème anglaise, again in a separate shot
glass. The fondant would have been infinitely better warm or
even hot, though I suppose they would have had difficulty getting the
ganache to stick to it, were it warm.
I'm afraid I have no note as to costs, as I was the guest of the
Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce for this meal.
Would I go again? Yes, I think so. But if you gave
me a choice between here and La Tupina, it would be a very difficult
choice. The food at Les Cinq Sens just seemed a bit dull,
lacking any particular spark.
Chapon Fin 5 rue
Tél. : 05 56 79 10 10
Fax. : 05 56 79 09 10
Chapon Fin is something of a Bordeaux
institution having first opened its doors in 1825. Fortunately
it’s not set in aspic, or whatever food was set in
The décor is, however, to say the least weird. You enter
from the street along a longish, rather anonymous corridor which opens
out into a large airy dining room with tables properly set. It takes a
moment for the brain to process just what is so weird and bizarre. The
room has the air of a belle époque conservatory –
but a fairground conservatory, with rows of small bulbs (thankfully not
flashing) on the trellis arches. But that’s not the weird
bit: one end of the room is subsumed by grotesque tufa outcrops, partly
forming a balcony for a few tables, partly forming caves for a few more
tables. Weird and not a little mad. Yet for all that it curiously lacks
a little in ambiance, though that might be because they were quite
quiet when I went on a Tuesday evening in October.
Service was excellent: attentive, yet discreet and reassuring polyglot
when my French started to show its seams.
We chose the Menu Dégustation at €76 together with
the Mexican sommelier’s selection of wines.
The first amuse was a shot glass, presented in an interesting glass
“frame”, of excellent crème
d’asperges with a strongly flavoured parmesan foam.
The second amuse was a dice of lobster and vegetables in a perfectly
balanced cream sauce, served with a poppy seed filo crisp.
The first wine was a 2002 Chantegrive Cuvée
Caroline, AC Graves Sec
A fairly dull nose that’s a little uninteresting. Nice
palate. Fresh with good body. Good depth of flavour. Nice finish with
The Chantegrive was served with Ravioles croustillantes de
canard, bouillon chaud de volaille parfumé à la
truffe, which was served on an interesting tear-drop shaped
black plate with a white bowl for the bouillon. The wine went
particularly well with the crispy ravioli of confit duck, less so with
the accompanying chicken bouillon, which contained a chicken quenelle
and cep dice, flavoured with rosemary.
The next dish was the intriguing sounding Longuets
toastés aux huîtres et farce
crépinette, un jus à la lie de vin. I
was expecting 'longuets' to be some local delicacy, maybe the local
name for razor clams or something, but they're not. What this dish
really was was a sort of posh oyster sandwich.
‘Longuets’ indicated the 15 cm by maybe 2 cm strips
of thin toast, which sandwiched a layer of veal farce, a layer of
oysters and another layer of veal farce. A small salad of
mâche, two drops of an indeterminate green foam and three
drops of a lovely, very concentrated veal stock sauce finished the
plate. Very good dish.
This was served with a 2003 Château Villa Bel-Air,
A delicate, lightly scented nose. Very crisp and clean. Very Good
Indeed. This made a lovely match with the oyster butty.
The next wine was a 2004 Château Brondelle, AC
A rather closed nose, with some floral notes just about detectable. A
fruity, open style. Very Good Indeed.
This accompanied a dish of Encornets frits et farcis, servis
avec un cappucino de fenouil. The encornets farcies were the
body of the squid stuffed with an utterly delicious filling mixing the
tentacles and dates; the frits element was one of the squids wings,
fried in a inordinately light, though somewhat salty, batter, presented
on a skewer vertically on the plate like a sail. The cappuccino of
fennel was a very light fennel mousse, that worked very well with the
squid, but there was really too much of the mousse.
Next came the one red wine served with the meal: 2002
Château Haut Cruzeau, AC Bordeaux Supérieur
A very floral nose. Soft an open with a gentle spicing. Good fruit.
Elegant and clean. Very Good Indeed.
This accompanied a Canon d’agneau à la
sauge, pulpe de topinambours aux noisettes
éclatéees. Another strikingly presented
dish, a boned and rolled triple chop of spring lamb cooked rare forming
the core of the dish, with puréed Jerusalem artichokes above
the lamb on the plate, the two circles square off by two long strips of
The pré-dessert was a very heavy chocolate rice pudding
which rather missed the mark, unfortunately.
But this was more than made up for by a lovely Pressé
de pain d’épices «Facon Tatin»
tuile aux sésames et glace cannelle.
For the first time ever, my pot of verveine was real verveine, not a
tea bag. Good petits fours, though curiously they were all of a crunchy
nature, which made the selection a bit unbalanced, apart from a couple
of the best cannelés eaten in Bordeaux.
Tupina 6, rue Porte de la Monnaie
Tel: +33 (0) 5 56 91 56 37
Fax: 33 (0) 5 56 31 92 11
Tupina deals in solid, south-western cooking of
the rustic variety. If you don't like duck and duck fat, or have any
concerns about cholesterol, don't go.
I went on a Sunday in October 2005 as part of a group over in Bordeaux
on a food/wine exporting event organised by the chamber of commerce. It
was heavingly busy, hot, stuffy and there was a thick fug of cigarette
smoke that really caught in my throat, and pretty much ruined the
evening for me.
When you go in, the first thing you see is a open range with a spit on
which chickens are roasting. Clearly, given the amount of chicken they
get through, though, this is only for show.
I started with boudin de canard poêlé et
pommes cuites. This was a thick slice of a CD sized black
pudding - I'm not sure whether it was duck blood or pig (maybe both),
but it also had loads of shredded confit of duck blended into it. Very
nice it was too. Other starters available were mignons de
canard, sauce echalotes and salade croquante aux
légumes de saison et blancs de volaille
Main courses were a choice of confit de canard, volaille
farcie rôtie, or morue de
Bègles, pommes de terre. I fell into the
advertising trap of the spit by the front door and had the chicken. The
stuffing was a slice of a chicken liver terrine. On the side was a soup
bowl, filled with around half a pint of chicken juice and fat, ladled
over a three-inch cube of bread. The chicken itself was a airly
unexceptional large breast of chicken; the stuffing utterly
unremarkable; the bowl of juice, fat and soggy bread utterly delicious,
moreish and largely fatal.
After a little while, some chips arrived. But these weren't (as
M&S might say) just chips. Oh no. These were hand-, irregularly
cut gloriously crisp chips that had been fried in duck fat. My arteries
are wincing at the memory. With every chip you ate, you could feel 12
hours dropping off your life. But boy was it worth it.
Dessert was either chocolate cake with custard (which admittedly sounds
better in French as gâteau au chocolate,
crème anglaise), or for the more virtuous, which
at this stage included me: sorbet aux fruits rouges &
I didn't see the wine list. We drank:
their house aperitif which came round by the decanterful - a blend of
white wine, armagnac and cassis. Not too unpleasant, but you wouldn't
go out of your way for it.
2002 Réserve du Château,
Château Clos de la Tour, AC Bordeaux Supérieur,
Vignobles Dourth, 14%
Very undistinguished. Very straightforward, modern, Rolland-style wine.
Fairly tannic. Very short. Its main distinguishing feature was a
whopping 14% alcohol, though I couldn't say it was a redeeming feature.
NV Vinihana Le Bousas, Vin de Table (from Gascony)
Dull and oversweet.
La Tupina was good, and its totally unreconstructed attitude to confit,
duck fat and other poultry grease is to be praised. I'd maybe go back
if I fancied the sort of rustic, life-sapping cooking it produces, and
perhaps also to check out the wider carte.
starring role in the film Sideways, I was a little wary of going to the
Hitching Post in Buellton, but locals assured me the quality of the
steaks makes a visit worthwhile. As it was 14th
February, I had made a reservation a few weeks beforehand, but still
had to wait about five minutes for a table. This gave me
chance to take stock of the surroundings: there are two dining rooms,
separated by a bar and the kitchen, with the big barbecue grill behind
a large glass window. The décor and atmosphere is
distinctly dated, with a real feel of a drab, provincial pub dining
room in the 1960s or early 1970s, an impression that’s
reinforced by the dated chintzy crockery. There are two
maîtresses d’, one of whom is so painfully thin
that she looks like she could do with a few steaks (or a cupful of
rice) to help her make it to the weekend.
point here is the steaks: “World’s Best BBQ
Steaks” is their proud boast. I couldn’t
vouch for that, but I left with a very favourable impression
overall. They know what they’re doing, and how they
want to do it. All the main courses include a tray of
crudités (though they just call it a fresh vegetable tray),
garlic bread, rice or baked potato or French fries, together with two
first courses selected from salad, soup and Bay shrimp cocktail.
the food comes exceptionally fast. My shrimp cocktail came
within seconds. This was a distinctly dull prawn cocktail
served with a very tomatoey, slightly spicy sauce, or rather ketchup:
pretty rubbish really. Then came a really good leaf
salad. From the rapidly recited list of specials of the day,
I couldn’t resist some scallops, simply grilled over the oak
fire. My $14 for the scallops bought me two huge scallops,
cut in half and grilled, served with a pot of clarified
(“drawn”) butter and a sweet potato mash.
The scallops had been grilled on a skewer with onions and red
pepper. Cooking the scallops perfectly had the side effect
that the onion and pepper were a bit underdone. There was
some spicing on the scallops which just stayed the right side of
overwhelming them. I thought the 2004 Highliner pinot noir
worked exceptionally well with the scallops: the sweet smokiness of the
scallops really brought something out in the wine.
course I had chosen the combination plate of grilled California quail
and 7 oz top sirloin. The steak really was very tender indeed
and had a beautiful flavour, though much of the flavour came from the
barbecue and the spice rub. The quail had been part boned
before grilling, and this had the unfortunate consequence of making it
look a bit like a frog with its legs akimbo. But more
importantly, it was very juicy, had a great flavour and was perfectly
cooked, though there was plenty of salt on it too. Some
exceptionally good, if rather salty, fries came with the
meat. As did a bowl of fiery salsa, which was a
surprise. The garlic bread, however, was undoubtedly one of
the poorest, dried out, most ungarlicky specimens it has been my
misfortune to encounter. Fortunately there was enough food to
make discarding it all after the first bite not a problem.
crème brûlée rounded off a surprisingly
good, enjoyable meal.
cost, including several glasses of their own wines, a bottle of
sparkling water, taxes and service was (in UK terms) a reasonably good
Lucy Mattei opened Mattei’s Tavern in 1886 at the time the
town of Los Olivos
was starting to develop: it became popular two years later when the
Coast Railroad reached its southern terminus in Los Olivos.In the 1930s it was a
popular stop for
Hollywood stars on their way to Hearst Castle.The Brothers are chefs Matt and Jeff Nichols, who took
Tavern in 2002.
Tavern is an agglomeration of white clapboard buildings: when you enter
is a busy bar with its own menu, but the main dining takes place in a
dining rooms and a conservatory extension.Like the surroundings, the menu is attractive, though to
European eyes perhaps a little old-fashioned.There is no doubting the quality of the food and the skill
with some nicely
flavoured Dungeness crab cakes and followed that with a stupendous veal
chop.This was a
bone in veal rib eye;
not the sort of veal chop we usually get in the UK, and much better for
it.As I was
learning is often the case in the
US, desserts were a little pedestrian. (February 2007)
sits a block away from the main square of Paso Robles.Like most of earthquake prone Paso Robles
(there are still gaps in the streets from the 6.5-magnitude quake that
in December 2003), it is a single storey building.The L-shaped corner site houses a popular bar
on the short side and the restaurant on the long side.Inside, the décor is modern, with earth tones
on the walls, and an open kitchen at the rear, which is just big enough
six chefs to stand side by side.The
menu is fairly standard stuff, but attractive, and were it in Britain,
be described as Modern British.The
list is good, and with the exception of two champagnes, all American.There are 23 wines by the
glass, 8 halves, 6
fizz, 17 whites, 2 rosés and 48 reds.
with some calamari served with a malt vinegar mayonnaise and a chipotle
calamari, which came in a
paper lined square bowl, were light, very tender and in a light, crispy
lots of them too.The
malt vinegar mayonnaise was excellent –
the vinegar was very mild, but detectable.The chipotle crème fraiche was more
decent wine, but not with which I was over
squid, I had a glass
of a viognier-marsanne blend, the 2003 Mer Soleil Vineyard White from
main course was a venison wellington.This was superb: there was nice light pastry, the venison
cooked, but the highlight was without a doubt the single best piece of
I have ever had.Meltingly
with an absolutely excellent flavour.I
asked where the venison came from, and was told the Central Valley in
venison came with some rather underdone
yellow carrots, which were a bit bland, particularly with the stock
sauce, some squeaky green beans and some baby white onions.A glass of 2003 French
Camp Vineyard Syrah
from Anglim, was a superb wine, which worked very well.
dessert menu read attractively and I was momentarily tempted by a
sundae with vanilla bean ice-cream, organic hot fudge, pistachio and
cherries, but I finally went for a trio of crème
brulée, one flavoured with
bourbon, one with butterscotch and the third with giandjua chocolate.The butterscotch one felt
a little too sweet
to me, the chocolate one a touch heavy, but the bourbon, while very
flavoured, was the highlight.
all, this was highly competent assured cooking and front of house the
a couple of bottles
of sparkling water and an espresso, the bill with service came to
drank two wines by the glass:
Soleil Vineyard White,
Treana, Paso Robles
A deep gold.There
are almond and apricots
on the nose.Very
full and really quite
concentrated on the palate.It
balance, but you can feel the alcohol level a bit on the finish and
after.This is a
decent wine, but I’m not
French Camp Vineyard,
A very, very dark appearance, but with a very young edge, though only
the rim.Quite a
black fruit nose, that’s very elegant and a touch
a real hit of chocolate and violet
creams on the nose too.Lovely
attack: it has a lovely freshness and balance, which persists
a good, rich, velvety feel,
manifesting itself in some crème de mûre and
Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz
Cruz, where weird is made a virtue of (I have the T-shirt to prove it),
did not appear over-populated with finer, lighter dining experiences.
I had just flown in from London, and driven straight to Santa
Cruz, and ended up in here, as it looked the least challenging
culturally of the small number of eateries in the (almost) one-road
downtown area. Aqua Bleue has a
large, very high ceilinged room that on a quiet Sunday in February
seemed a bit
cold and lacking in atmosphere.The
reveals a relatively adventurous, interesting Pacific Rim cuisine.I had only flown into San
Francisco a few
hours earlier, so was a little tired and not especially hungry, so I
do full justice to the menu, though, that said, I also found the menu
in terms of portion size.I
Aqua Bleu oysters to start with and was a bit surprised when it arrived
just a single oyster.Cooked
dishes aren’t normally my thing, but this was a very nice
combination, with the
oyster just about holding its own with the miso crab cream and tobiko
selection of sushi with a distinct Californian (maybe a Santa Cruz?)
tried to order a couple of items, but the waitress counselled against
saying that one would be enough.So,
with the starter oyster, I went for the dish bearing the
restaurant’s name, the
was a tempura prawn,
ungi (??) and cucumber maki roll, which had then been briefly pan-fried
being topped with snow crab in a creamy sauce before being
gratinéd, with some
tobiko (flying fish roe) sprinkled over before serving.This was the first time I’d had a sushi maki
roll that had then been cooked further (though not to the point that
was hot, merely aired), and furthermore the combination sounded daring.But they pulled it off,
and I rather enjoyed
this very tasty dish.It
was, however, a
whole thick maki roll and I’d regard it as a starter to share
rather than a
main course, which is how I ended up taking it.
glass of kiku masamune sake, the bill, including service came to a
$39 (which equated to a shade under £21 and feels a bit
pricey). (February 2007)
somewhat embarrassingly over-supplied with top
restaurants: besides Redd, there are Bistro Jeanty and no less than
three Thomas Keller establishments: the fabled French Laundry, Ad Hoc
and Bouchon. And that’s not counting
Keller’s Bouchon Bakery (though a quick look at that, I
couldn't see anything to fuss over - the bakery goods at Dean &
Deluca down the road in St Helena, looked more inspiring to me).
didn’t have a child to sell, so couldn’t get a
table at the French Laundry. Bouchon is a pretty
straightforward French brasserie in the Lyon mould: no doubt very good
at what it does, but, like Bistro Jeanty, a fairly classic French
bistro menu such as is available the world over; and if you really want
a bouchon meal, well, living in the UK, why not go to Lyon?
It was virtually impossible to find any information whatsoever about Ad
Hoc: in fact it all seemed a bit of a silly joke, although there is
actually a restaurant, serving a no choice 4-course meal for
$45. More to the point, the one bit of information I could
find was that no bookings were accepted. Thomas Keller food
at bargain prices, with no problem getting a table if I’m
there early? Sounds too good to be true. And on the
evening I went it was. They were closed for a charity event.
however, is Redd. Smooth, calm, sophisticated and airy during
the day when the large windows let the light flood in; in the evening,
it’s busy and buzzy, but, the white walls notwithstanding,
quite dark once the sun has set over the Mayacama mountains, with low
lighting levels combining with the sleek cherry wood ceiling, floor and
fixtures. There is a warm welcome from the reception staff,
and although they were very busy, I was immediately seated at a table
adjacent to the packed bar, where locals were drinking and eating from
the bar menu of light dishes. My table, at the far end of the
room had an advantage of offering a direct view onto the pass in the
kitchen where Richard Reddington was running the calm kitchen.
ten starters and eight main courses. Starters range from $12
to $17, mains from $20 to $29. In addition 5 and 9 course
tasting menus are available for $70 and $105 respectively (add $40 or
$65 respectively for wine pairings with each course). To get
a full picture of the kitchen’s capabilities I naturally went
for the nine-course option, though with only three glasses of wine (I
was driving), which I chose myself from the list. I couldn't
indulge in wine, but thought that their wine list looked impressive.
was a sashimi of hamachi, sticky rice, edamame, lime ginger
sauce. Nicely presented and with exceptionally
clean flavours: there’s a bit of spice from some chilli oil
and some sweetness, perhaps from mirin.
some caramelized diver scallops, cauliflower
purée, almonds, balsamic reduction. In
addition, some golden raisins, capers and cauliflower were included in
what is now a pretty classic dish. This example was very well
executed, with the exceptionally sweet scallop, cooked well, and
balanced by the savoury purée and other ingredients,
counterpointed by the balsamic and raisins.
was John Dory, creamy jasmine rice, mussels, chorizo, saffron
curry nage. The nage was a foam. Again,
there were nice fresh, clean flavours on the plate and it all worked
very well. A glass of Leitz Spätlese worked superbly
with the dish, although the waitress said it was a chardonnay that they
would normally serve with the dish.
was the most expensive of the starters on the à la carte,
the tasting of cold foie gras preparations, winter fruit,
pistachios, brioche. This comprised a quenelle of
foie gras mousse, served (unnecessarily) on a fleuron of puff pastry, a
slice of foie gras terrine, which seemed to me to have a slightly pasty
texture, and was served with an entirely appropriate concasse of cooked
apple. The final element of the dish was a slice of a torchon
of foie gras that had been rolled in pistachio and topped with a
crunchy roast pistachio nut. The torchon was a tiny bit
salty, but had a very good texture. A little well-dressed
curly endive finished the plate.
dish to arrive was a delightful butternut squash ravioli,
winter root vegetables, sage emulsion. The winter
root vegetables were some golden carrots. The dish also
included some well-flavoured chanterelles and a port reduction had been
drizzled on the sage foam to give a heart shaped red line.
The ravioli itself, served in a light, fragrant vegetable broth, was
made of some very good pasta: it was a very flat ravioli, and initially
I wondered whether there was going to be any noticeable
filling. But filling there was: a very smooth, almost liquid
purée of squash that burst with flavour in the
mouth. This was a really good dish.
dish, on the menu as a starter, of glazed pork belly, apple
purée, burdock, soy caramel. Though my
version came without the burdock and soy caramel, which were replaced
with some frisée and a Bordeaux red wine sauce.
The pork was well cooked, but seemed to me a slightly muddy, unfocussed
dish. There was also, as with the next two courses to follow,
little concession as regards portion size to this being part of a ten
followed by Liberty Farms duck breast, swiss chard crepe,
celery root, chocolate sauce. The duck was
beautifully cooked and very tender and served on a celeriac
purée and celeriac batons. The crepes had been
formed into small canneloni, stuffed with the chard, wild mushrooms and
confit leg meat. But the crepes didn’t entirely
convince me, partly maybe because they had been seared which gave them
a slightly odd flavour.
supposed to be the end of the main dishes, and the waitress laid out
the setting for the cheese course. But kitchen had other
ideas and sent out a bonus course of prime new york steak and
shortribs, potato purée, carrots, red wine jus.
The steak was nicely cooked and well flavoured; the ribs buttery soft
and tender. Some big chunks of black pepper on top provided a
perilous touch. The potatoes were a Robuchon style
mash. The carrots, however, proved the weak point, as they
were a bit too undercooked.
delayed cheese course came: pecorino cheese with comb honey,
sultanas, green salad, which proved curiously refreshing.
followed by the final dish, an apple beignet with cinnamon
toast ice-cream. The apple was in a very light
batter, and served on a gently spiced apple compote. The ice
cream was seriously good – totally smooth and full of flavour.
the case in America, I had to correct the assumption that I would want
a coffee with my dessert, but the espresso afterwards was a good one.
impression of Redd was that here was a kitchen that not only aspired
to, but could on occasion reach impressive heights, but that standard
was not maintained throughout. Some of the dishes,
particularly the meat dishes, lacked precision and focus and here and
there there were minor errors that marred the impact of the dish.
including, water and the three glasses of wine, taxes and tip came to
$204 (about £107), just a little cheaper than Cyrus, which I
thought was just better.
Crémant de Bourgogne, Simmonet-Febvre
A very, very slight nose. Crisp, clean palate. Nice
bubbles. Fairly innocuous. Good.
Rüdesheimer Magdalenenkreuz Riesling Spätlese,
Weingut Josef Leitz
Fresh creamy apples on the nose. Unfortunately served way too
cold, but once it warmed up, everything was in order and the palate as
you would expect. Very Good/Very Good Indeed.
Goldfield “Dutton Ranch” Pinot Noir, Russian River
Warm raspberry and cherry fruit on the nose. Warm fruit on
the palate, but it has a good restraint. Very Good+.
Bakery & Rosticceria
504 Bay Avenue, Capitola, CA 95010
driving between Santa Cruz and Monterey, it really is worth stopping
Capitola to call in at Gayle’s Bakery.As soon as you arrive, the full car park bodes well.When you go in chickens
and other meats are
roasting on the rotisserie, and a series of counter fridges open before
are some delicatessen products,
then some jolly good looking salads, before moving onto a counter
stuffed with well stuffed sandwiches and wraps.Then as you turn the corner of the bakery, you hit the
bakery, first a
display of high quality looking cakes and pastries, then some
to try most of the salads, most of the sandwiches and all of the cakes
roasted artichoke salad
(with orechiette, garlic, pistachios, basil, parmesan, paquillo peppers
lemon vinaigrette) was crying out to me, but then so (strangely) was
Asian noodle salad (udon noodles, grilled tofu, napa cabbage etc), but
Winter Vegetable salad with its cauliflower, Yukon potatoes, carrots
beetroot looked great too.The
sandwich, overladen with prosciutto, salami, mozzarella and rocket
then so did a spicy
grilled chicken breast, tomato, lettuce, blue cheese dressing and
how could I pass on the really flaky
looking croissant stuffed to overflowing with the albacore tuna,
onions, cornichons, mayonnaise and salad.God this was dreadful!
minute change of my order meant I walked out with a five spice chicken
grilled chicken, marinated daikon, carrots, Napa cabbage, spring
couple more snap
decisions led to a Bear Claw (a sort of overgrown almond
pastry thing for $2.50) and a stupendous looking
“Sinful Dessert Tray” for $60
will have to wait for another time.
light brunch/lunch “to go” and it sat in the
passenger side footwell,
desperately waiting for a suitable spot for lunch.That came a couple of miles into the 17 Mile
Drive near Monterey (definitely worth taking, if you’re
driving up or down
Highway 1, though I’d recommend just doing the coastal
section between Pacific
Grove and Carmel).First
to go was the
and flaky pastry,
sweet and almondy.Yum.Time to drive on to the
next bay, where, sat
on a rock overlooking the Pacific, the five spice chicken sandwich wrap
as delicious as it looked., with a remarkably nice balance of flavours
something as simple as a sandwich.The
éclair had looked stupendous and tasted better.Crisp choux pastry, a rich crème pat and
only a sandwich bar and cake shop, but I know if I’m in
again, I’ll be trying to work out how to fit in a detour to
Capitola. (February 2007)
Big Sky Café
1121 Broad Street, San Luis Obispo
winemaker’s recommendation for a place to stop for breakfast
and Salinas, led me to this small, insignificantly fronted single
building (complete with warnings about its unsafety in the event of an
earthquake) in the calm, cool, low-key small town of San Luis Obispo,
sign over the door
proclaims Modern Food, New American Cooking and Local Provisions.Inside, the
décor is a mixture of Cranks and
La Tasca, with bare wood tables and bare brick walls to the front of
and a more Spanish air to the rear.One
side is taken up by a long bar, where I took up a seat.I knew it couldn’t be a bad place when I saw
the bumper sticker by the wine racks: “Friends
don’t let friends drink white
breakfast menu had lots of interesting breakfast and brunch dishes, as
the standard American take on a fry-up and stacks of pancakes (which
great, if an enormous portion, on a nearby table).I went for the one that sounded most unusual:
a Mexican pozole with poached egg and pieces of fried pork.This was a very tasty
hominy broth with lots
of vegetables, herbs and seeds, with a nice light spicing.It was offered in a
non-vegetarian version: I went for the latter, which included pieces of
pork, which gave a good, additional texture, though not a lot in the
followed by an
assortment of beignets (the blackboard menu had a helpful pronunciation
presumably for those who never learned any French or hadn’t
been to New Orleans)
– one cinnamon, one strawberry and one chocolate.They were freshly fried
order), hot and light and airy: the cinnamon one, though, was my
the rich chocolate just made the chocolate beignet a bit heavier, and
strawberry compote made the strawberry one a bit sweet.But on their own, any of the three would have
a good fresh orange
juice and good coffee, the bill, including service, came to just
worked out at just over £12.
definitely stop here again, and would like to try it at lunchtime or in
evening, as there was some obvious care taken, even just at breakfast. (February 2007)
Front Street, Morro Bay
is a small fishmongers, with tanks outside for live crabs and lobsters,
end of what in Britain would be called the promenade, but here is the
Embarcadero at the fishing community of Morro Bay.Wet fish isn’t the only thing for sale here:
a large menu painted onto the wall offers all the sort of things you
expect of a California seafood shack, including (as every shack,
restaurant does) a prize-winning clam chowder.You order at a small window in the wall, and wait till
your number is
called before eating outdoors on the deck.The food was freshly prepared, and the chowder was pretty
tacos were ok, though the fish was a touch overcooked.This has no trace of ‘gourmet’ about
just simple, honest food, cooked in a somewhat rough and ready style,
queues testify to its popularity. (February 2007)
701 Lighthouse Avenue, Pacific Grove, Monterey
off, a warning.Passionfish
Lighthouse Avenue, Pacific Grove, not Lighthouse Avenue, Monterey.
corner property, elevated above the road, and very, very busy.It deals firmly in
sustainable seafood and is
involved in the TagAGiant charity which supports the bluefin tuna.The menu crosses the seas
of the world to
offer an inventive selection of dishes, with some combinations that
is “entrées from the waters”, but there
are also three meat and one vegetarian
“entrées from the land”.First courses
are, to European eyes, small portions: the intention is clearly to
several and share, while a separate section of the menu deals in some
interesting sounding salads (e.g. warm
brussel sprout salad with korobuta ham, grapes and ricotta salata
or Fried Oyster Salad with citrus dressed
arugula) to bridge the gap between starter and main course.
starter, I had one of the rapidly recited list of specials, a grilled
with tamarind jelly and avocado purée, which delivered the
followed by Hand-line Mahi with a black
pepper-rum sauce, cucumber salad &
green onion rice.The
accurately roasted and served with a delicious – and
surprising – light stock
sauce flavoured with black pepper and rum, and managing not to feel
too was splendid: a
cross between risotto and sushi with a light green colour and gently
with mud pie, which
was a below average, over frozen mint and chocolate ice cream bombe,
looked and tasted commercial.A
bottle of Anderson Valley gewurztraminer from Navarro was top stuff and
well with the food.Allow
upwards of $60
per head for a three course meal with wine. (February 2007)
Ferry Building, San Francisco
foodie paradise of the Ferry Building houses the latest incarnation of
Phan’s Vietnamese-Pacific Rim restaurant that is one of the
hottest tables in
busy and bustling,
with lots of hard surfaces (wooden floors, wooden tables and chairs,
picture windows) creating a big hubbub in the restaurant itself, which
open kitchen on the inland side.To
side is a long, trendy bar, where I sat, and I thought felt more
than the restaurant itself looked.Much
of the food seems to have its origins in Vietnamese street food, but is
well above that.I
grazed through the
menu, but could have done with an appetite three times reality to try
the dishes on the menu that I would have liked to try.So, unfortunately, I had to miss out on
signature dishes of cellophane noodles with dungeness crab and Meyer
shaking beef and loads more.I
with a couple of dishes from the “raw bar” section
of the menu: Hawaiian kampachi with fresh
ginger-scallion oil and live
Atlantic sea scallop and golden caviar with lime-cilantro vinaigrette.Both were bright,
ultra-fresh, clean, and
scallop was perhaps more
interesting, and at the same time maybe less successful, with the fresh
flavours of the green sauce sitting alongside the scallop rather than
necessarily complementing it.Another
section of the menu deals in “Rolls”: I tried a crispy vegetarian imperial roll with taro root,
cabbage, glass noodles
and peanuts and a shrimp and jicama
roll with thai basil and roasted peanuts, both of which
roasted Petrale sole with rice noodles, peanuts and scallion oil,
being listed under appetizers, was almost a meal in itself; as well as
nice fish, accurately cooked.A
of plates from the vegetables section rounded things off: Mariquita Farm organic rapini tips with garlic and
rice wine were
nicely cooked and had a lovely flavour.Spicy Catalan Farm broccoli with
mushrooms and pressed tofu was a little dull, with the
broccoli a touch too
underdone.Hodo Soy Beanery organic lemongrass tofu with fresh
onions and chilli sauce was absolutely delicious and without
doubt the best
tofu I’ve ever tasted; and as a whole it was an excellent
Xoi Nuonc finished off an interesting meal in an interesting
mung bean dumplings in a fragrant, sweet, spicy, refreshing ginger soup.Sounds odd, but it was an
excellent finish to
list majors on German riesling and Austrian Grüner Veltliner,
which is not only
unusual, but highly apt.I
had a 2004 Serriger Saarstein Riesling
Schloss Saarstein (AP Nr. 2 555 014 09 05, 8%) which worked
well with all
the dishes.It had
a creamy, lemon zesty
nose and zingy, fresh palate with lovely fruit.Very clean with a slight hint of sweetness on the finish.Very Good Indeed.
including service came to $133 (£70) (February 2007)
3665 Sacramento St, San Francisco
small neighbourhood Italian restaurant is quite difficult to find, set
from the street in a residential neighbourhood in Presidio Heights at
the end of a small, leafy
courtyard.It is a
light, cool, airy
dining room, despite some fairly dark wood fittings.The food was very good indeed – light, clean
wine list is
particularly interesting with some very unusual wines. The
friendly staff contribute to a relaxed atmosphere at lunchtime. (February 2007)
Gary Danko 800 North
Point at Hyde, San Francisco
Danko’s restaurant is set in a rather unprepossessing, not
looking corner building at the Fisherman’s Wharf End of the
façade is windowless, and
on the others the windows are obscured, almost giving it the appearance
sex shop or, rather, given the bouncers outside, some sort of Soho
the bouncers, it seems de rigueur that you have to join a small queue
just inside the door, while the greeters and waiters sort out your
table.This is a
bit off-putting and takes a bit too
you’re at your table, things
settle and calm, and you can take in the surroundings and the menu.The décor has a
warm, yet sharp feel with
various shades of brown and there’s a vaguely colonial
overtone from the wooden
blinds on the windows.The
staff are for
the most attentive, and smart, displaying their Relais et Chateaux
food reflects this
balance between calm smartness and a bit of show.In fact it’s hard to pin down the style of
the food: the menu ranges across the continents for inspiration, all
by a Michelin style.The
shares the format of Cyrus in Healdsburg (and other similar
restaurants): it is
divided into four sections, appetisers, fish and seafood, meat and
pricing and portion size
depends on the number of courses taken and the order in which you
curiously, there is also a
five course tasting menu that is priced the same as a five course
à la carte
meal, and the dishes are all taken from the carte.Some dishes are very refined (and in
remarkably small portions), while others are a bit over the top.The former would be
exemplified by the glazed oysters with osetra
and lettuce cream, which was one of the most refined dishes
I’d had in a
very long time, and at the same time was utterly delicious and
however, a minute
other hand Moroccan Spiced Squab with
Orange-Cumin Carrots was a stunning presentation: a whole
squab, boned and
reformed around an huge portion of Moroccan spiced couscous: the
delicious, but its amount was out of all proportion to the size of the
Wrapped Frogs Legs with Sunchoke Garlic Purée, Potato and
Lentils and other
dishes such as Risotto with Lobster,
Shrimp Winter Root Vegetables and Oregano Oil, or Beef Tenderloin with Potato, Leeks, Bacon and Black
Truffle tread a
middle path and fit best with the more European Michelin style.In this sort of company, a
dish of steamed
shellfish with Red Thai Curry seemed to me to sit somewhat awkwardly,
so that we eschewed it.Meyer Lemon Soufflé with Blackberry Sauce
was delicious and well executed; on the other hand, the signature Baked Chocolate Soufflé with Two Sauces
was well executed, but rather pedestrian, and the two sauces (anglaise
chocolate) made the light soufflé into quite a heavy dish.
list has lots of interest, including a number of reasonably priced
a commendable selection of half bottles.
are not cheap, but in terms of what you get and its quality represent
enjoyed my meals
here. (February 2007)
1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley
in this oddly ramshackle timber building on Shattuck Avenue is the holy
of California cuisine and the temple to and of Alice Waters, the
California cuisine: Chez Panisse.I had
asked my hotel in San Francisco to book me a table for dinner, but as I
driving past Berkeley on my way to San Francisco, I thought I might as
have a look at Chez Panisse in the daylight.And, of course, see if I could get lunch in the
had a quick peek behind the curtain that
separates the entrance way and staircase from the main restaurant: a
floor, white tablecloths and – if memory serves –
red banquette seating, with
chefs working on the evening’s prep to the rear of the room.But for now, I headed
upstairs to see if they
could squeeze one more in for lunch in the Chez Panisse Café.Fortunately, a couple of
tables were just
about to leave, and if I could come back in fifteen minutes,
they’d have a
table.I took a few
steps down the road
outside, saw a long queue at a pizza place opposite and a new (to me)
just a few doors down from Chez Panisse: a restaurant where the
all the cooking, following the instructions and guidance of the chefs.Hmm … mileage,
there I think.There
was now just time to cross the road to
take a photograph of Chez Panisse, and then back in.A brief wait and drink at the bar (strictly a
waiting area only: this isn’t one of those Californian
restaurant bars which
function as an extra table for use by singles and couples), and then it
my table.The Chez
Panisse Café is all
wood and feels organic rather than designed, and it reflects the
appearance of the exterior.
is brief and simple; the wine list is similar.Large hunks of sourdough bread come with good butter.I started with a pizzetta with new onions and capers.This had a base that you
really could not
imagine being more perfect: thin, nicely crisped, and remaining crispy
the entire base, with a few puffed up areas.The topping was spot on too: pizza bianca, without tomato,
just a good
layer of thinly sliced, strong yet sweet onions with some delicious
a delicate use of cheese.I
work out whether the onions were large spring onions or baby onions,
just a bit
bigger than silverskins.There
little heat in the pizzetta that probably came from the onions rather
a tiny splash of chilli oil.This
pretty damn near perfect pizza.All
more remarkable was the price: just $12, so say £6.
course, I had some wood Wood oven-roasted
squid with fennel, crisp flatbread and chickpea hummus ($18).The baby squid were tender
and evidently very
fresh indeed, with just a delicate flavouring from the oven, the
and carta de musica style bread forming well-matched accompaniments,
and make a
very good whole out of the parts.The
squid was superb, but paled into insignificance next to the pizzetta.The same went for the
excellent Pink Lady apple-currant tart with
ice cream ($9.50) for dessert, which had excellent pastry and
clean flavour filling from the Pink Lady apples.
bottle of sparkling water and a glass of sauvignon blanc, the bill,
service (and most unusually, 17% service was already included on the
though the credit card slip was left open) came to $67.44, which worked
£35.42 when the credit card bill came.
that evening, downstairs in Chez Panisse, was Fried vegetables and
anchovy vinaigrette, followed by risotto with English peas, butter
serrano ham, then grilled quail stuffed with chicken and winter green
followed by tangerine, blood orange and candied kumquat ice cream bombe.All for $65.On Fridays and Saturdays the price rises to $85, though
you get an
aperitif thrown in.Unfortunately,
hotel let me down big time and failed to make a reservation for the
it was lucky I decided to stop off for lunch.
933 Main Street, St. Helena
is housed in an unprepossessing roadside shack – well a
little more than a
shack: it’s a single storey building, harking back to the
1950s, housing the
kitchen and then outside seating, half covered, for customers.Creature comforts are
indeed on a rainy or cold day, or if you want a comfy seat,
you’ll probably be
eating in your car.You
order at a
window at the right end of the building and give your name, walk down
to the other
end of the building, collect your drinks and take a seat (or watch the
work) while you wait for your name to be called so that you can collect
covers all the bases
you’d expect, with a selection of burgers on a variety of
breads and buns, from
the lowly (but darn good) Hamburger at $5.75 to a Western Bacon Blue
$8.99, a selection of seafood and chicken options, some sandwiches and
selection of (to judge by the dressings, hardly low-calorie) salads.
ordinary hamburger on its toasted egg bun was a very fine example, but
Wisconsin Sourdough burger stole the show, laden with a surfeit of
mushrooms together with bacon and cheddar cheese.Onion rings were thick cut and came in a
rich, thick, crisp beer batter.Garlic
fries were chips that, after frying, had been tossed in garlic butter
parsley: delicious, but somehow lacking in moreishness and after the
handsful a bit blowsy.A
shake (a five dollar shake, literally and figuratively) was a thing of
it looks like a white vanilla shake, and initially that’s how
presumably made from a quality ice cream.But then you start to get some subtle, very natural
and when a pistachio nut makes its way up the straw you realise where
flavour comes from: there’s a half inch layer of pistachio
nuts at the
& White milk shake
is the same quality but lacks the impact, combining a plain vanilla
$15-$25 per person.
The Girl & The
110 West Spain Street, Sonoma
corner site facing the main square of historic Sonoma, the Girl and the
a light airy space, divided into a crisp, white-tableclothed restaurant
side and a long, impressive bar (at which you can also eat) and
with sofas, combined with the “Salon de Fromage”
and a small dry goods grocery.
the menu very attractive and difficult to choose just a light lunch.One third of the menu is
taken up by cheese
and charcuterie: the cheeses are mainly local, but with some intruders
elsewhere in California, France one from Vermont.Cheese and charcuterie selections come on
tiered stands and looked like they would be ideal for two.The rest of the menu is
starters, soup and salads, “petits plats”,
sandwiches and entrées.I forsook the entrées, thereby missing out on
such dishes as Provencal fish stew, a foraged mushroom risotto and a
pork chop with yam purée, brussel sprouts and pomegranate
with a salad and then moved onto a
Girl & the Fig, I
started with the fig and arugula salad,
which blended the main ingredients (dried, not fresh fig, though) with
cheese, pancetta and a fig and port vinaigrette to make a lovely light
with a well balanced and interesting combination of flavours and
main course, I chose crispy sweetbreads
from the starter
section of the menu, along with some of their signature matchstick
sweetbreads were nicely cooked, and duly crispy, and served with a wild
mushroom and cannellini bean ragout that worked very well, as well as
its own inherent merit.The
(apparently made from Kennebec potatoes) came with a very good tarragon
but I was less than convinced by the fries themselves, which to my mind
too fine: they were half the thickness of a matchstick and completely
that they couldn’t be picked up with a fork – you
had to use fingers.They
had a good taste, but I didn’t find them
the Fig has an interesting wine list, with the exception of sparkling
comprised solely of Rhone varieties from California and France, all at
seemed very fair prices.Corkage
a bottle, but in a very strange twist given that the wine list is
Rhone varieties, if you bring a wine made from a Rhone variety, corkage
lunch, and as I was
driving, I just had a bottle of a refreshing Lorina French lemon soda.I was thinking of a
dessert, but after the
sweetbreads arrived, I was a bit ignored by the staff, which meant I
ran out of
including service came
to $47 (=just under £25). Another place I'd like to
go back to explore the menu further.
Main Street, Mendocino
From Santa Rosa I drove up to the charming small town of Mendocino,
on a small promontory with the waves of the Pacific crashing in on
sides.I looked for
somewhere for a
light brunch and stumbled across the greenery-filled conservatory-style
restaurant built onto the side of the Mendocino hotel.It was busy, but there were a couple of small
waited by the door for a
few minutes to be seated, but evidently I was in the wrong place, as I
where I should go to be greeted (deep inside the restaurant.I was told it was a few
minutes, but I could
wait in the hotel lounge bar.I
for a few moments before returning as instructed.I was then shown to one of the empty tables I
had seen about ten minutes earlier.What
a pathetic attitude!Not
prolong exposure to such rubbish staff, I ordered a Dungeness crab eggs
benedict, which I’d have to say was pretty good, though not
with the crab.With
an ice tea, the bill
came to $22 (about £11.50) (February 2007)
Historical notes on
restaurants that have since closed or sufficiently changed to negate
the review completely:
Grado, Manchester Having
shown how rubbish
Italian pizza-pasta places in the UK are with his Olive Press chain,
Paul Heathcote has turned his attention to the proliferation of
generally execrable tapas joints that have sprung up on high streets
across the country.
Grado, which has been open two months now, is rather anonymous from the
outside (lacks street presence I think is the phrase), but is sleek and
modern inside, but not unwelcomingly so. It reminds me of a
smartened up Moro, down to the open kitchen at the rear.
Try not to let them sit you on the banquette tables on the left of the
lower level - there's a perishing wind blows through the coat rack and
onto those tables.
Lots of sherries, served at the right temperatures, kicks off an
all-Spanish wine list, that has some interesting bottles, but really
needs a sommelier to sell them. At the top end
mark-ups on the big names and old vintages seemed not
unreasonable. The food is a bit Moro-like too, and for the
part quite simple.
Good quality clams came in a slightly too salty broth. Smoked
anchovies with beetroot and shredded calçots was a super
dish - not a lot of kitchen skill, if any at all, but a lovely
combination of flavours that worked superbly. Portion size of
starters was a bit mean - they were tapas size portions, but were not
tapas: they were starters off an à la carte menu, and priced
accordingly. A bit disappointing, but in a way redeemed by
next dish: off the tapas menu (and from a separate tapas kitchen,
behind the bar, which means the staff have to tell you that dishes
ordered off the tapas menu can't be coordinated with dishes ordered
from the main menu - although they managed to come together after all),
came an utterly delicious and remarkably succulent char-grilled quail
with a chilli and honey coating that was spot on. The
accompanying shredded fennel had somehow had the taste removed from it.
A platter of jamon, chorizo and lomo offered remarkably sweet ham,
delicious lomo, but rather dull chorizo. A rabbit main course
came as the leg braised (apparently), the fillet wrapped in very good
bacon and roast, and then served with prunes and some excellent
rice. Looking at the menu, I see the rabbit is supposed to
been braised in Rioja: I didn't detect that at all, and it was a tiny
bit on the dry side, so maybe it's braised in Rioja the region and
shipped over? Sorry, cheap jibe. Milk roast pork
lovely couple of generous slices of pork, served with spinach, pine
nuts and a slick of what we presumed was a rather thin apple
sauce. Very nice, but really could have been
warmer. A side
order of chips were excellent excellent examples, though the brava
sauce (thankfully separate) did nothing for them.
The cheese selection was a really good selection of presumably all
Spanish (unfortunately they weren't named on the menu or by the
waitress) cheeses, all in tip-top condition and making a nice
combination. Served with excellent membrillo and a nice if
filling-threatening fig cakey-panfortey-thing, and nasty British oat
crisps. The latter were replaced with bread, not so much with a smile
as a beaming grin, by the Spanish waitress. A glorious
Tart was a not too sweet orange-citrus, Moorish and moreish concoction,
served with a scoop of fab almond ice-cream. Coffee (pretty
café solo, though lacking the body of good café
Spain) came with some delicious petits fours: a sort of deep fried cube
of custard, some nougat and what seemed to be some form of heavy syrup
If they sort out the sizing and pricing of the starters, do something
about getting the food to the table a bit hotter and sort out some of
the minor consistency issues, plus getting someone to sell the wine,
this could be really impressive. Of course, none of this
particularly cheap (though the tapas menu is reasonably
but it's gratifying to see a pretty top class restaurant in Manchester
city centre once again.
A few weeks after the visit just described, I popped in for a leisurely
spot of tapas while I waited for the Manchester rush hour to
subside. While the food was nothing outstanding (unless you
compare it with other so-called tapas joints, in which case it is
outstanding), it is an ideal - if expensive - way to wait until the
trains (or trams if you're more local than I am) are likely to be
After a day's wine-tasting, I needed a drink, so started with one of
their cocktails - a Gypsy Lemonade combining, if I remember correctly,
manzanilla sherry, Majorcan gin and Fentimans lemonade.
gin isn't exactly something I'd normally seek out, and the combination
of gin and sherry sounded a bit challenging to me, but I have to say it
worked well and was a nice refreshing drink.
Pimientos de padron were exactly what they should be: small green
peppers, some hotter than others, fried in a hot pan with just a touch
of oil, so they had some nice charred bits, and sprinkled with a good
dose of salt (probably too much for the salt police).
with a fried duck egg and sherry vinegar was some very good morcilla,
unfortunately a little tepid, with a very nicely fried duck egg and pan
juices deglazed with the vinegar and with a bit of added
I'm not sure how the morcilla came to be not warm enough: I was sat at
the bar and watched the tapas chef in his kitchenette behind the bar:
he cooked the (lengthways) slices of morcilla on the stove for a few
minutes and then put them in the oven. Maybe I didn't notice
take them out and leave them on the side while he did the duck
Salt cod fritters were acceptable, though not the lightest - but that
might be because there seemed to be a healthy amount of salt cod in
them. The accompanying smoked anchovy mayonnaise was superb.
The grilled quail was again superb and again the accompanying white
vegetable shavings (fennel I was told on a previous visit) were utterly
Santiago tart wasn't quite as good as last time, but still excellent.
Coffee (cafe solo), however, was better, though at the bar, you don't
get the petits fours.
The main problem with Grado is the cost. With a glass of La
Gitana Manzanilla the above managed to mount up to
For £71 a head, we had had the full 10 course tasting menu
bottle of wine, couple of bottles of water and coffee with petits fours
at L'Enclume just a few days earlier. No question that
is way ahead in the value stakes.
And I've just this moment noticed that Grado forgot to put the coffee
on my bill.
So in summary, Grado is probably at the top of Manchester's tree at the
moment, it's very useful next to a main transport interchange and on
the way to both Piccadilly and Oxford Road stations, it's very useful
being able just to have a snack and a drink, but all of that comes at a
6/10 (January 2008)
Sparling, Barton, near
Preston As of May 2010, the
Sparling appears to have ceased trading.
all appearances (apart from the truly hideous sign on the A6 - how on
earth did they get planning permission for that?), this seems to be a
blatant rip off of Nigel Haworth's Three Fishes/Highwayman concept,
even down to the less than subtle name of the holding company, Wyre
Valley Inns (compare Ribble Valley Inns!). But I was
very pleasantly surprised: the menu and general concept
are similar, but the leather chairs, Villeroy & Boch
table settings, the service (yes, unlike Ribble Valley Inns, there is
service) and above all the chef, Warwick Dodd's food demonstrate this
is a rather classier place all round. It's nice and bright,
with attractive photographs of the region on the walls, though I have
say that had I been paying whoever fitted the floor and skirting
boards, my snagging list would have been rather longer than theirs
evidently was. But
who goes to restaurants to look at ill fitting floors and unfinished
The menu is fairly standard gastropub fare with the emphasis on local
producers, several of whom are named on the menu, though without the
anal retentiveness of some places. There were just two extras
for the day: some scallops to start with and a plain roast monkfish
main course, recited by the French waiter, though he seemed a bit
uncertain how they were prepared.
The scallops were a bit on the small side, but nicely cooked, though
would have been much better without the sesame seed crust, which jarred
slightly with the chive-laden beurre blanc cum velouté
sauce. Our other starter was a slice of confit belly pork,
nicely cooked though mad hot from the honey glaze. The belly
pork was served with some excellent, ultra smooth puréed
sweet potato, some fine strips of apple (which worked remarkably well)
and an unfortunately undressed small handful of salad leaves.
A peppered steak pie was a huge (8" diameter) earthenware dish with a
puff pastry top and holding a good steak pie mix with notably good
meat, though perhaps not as peppery as the peppered description might
lead you to believe. The pie came with some of the best chips
encountered in a long time.
Lasagna (sic) is far removed from the heavy meaty version found in
Italian restaurants. It's a mushroom (ceps and wild mushrooms
according to the menu) version, the non-vegetarian option having a very
parsimonious amount of parma ham in it, which definitely does not
justify the £2 premium on the vegetarian version.
The pasta in the lasagne was fine and delicate, though there was a
slightly mushy feel to the dish: a good one for if you've left your
dentures at home. If the vaguely bechamel-type sauce binding
the mushrooms together were a little lighter, this would make a good
starter. It's a bit insubstantial as a main course,
particularly when the vastness of the steak pie sits in front of the
person opposite. According to the menu, it is supposed to
come with a rocket salad. It was, however, the same small
selection of mixed salad leaves that had come earlier with the belly
pork, but at least this time, the salad leaves were dressed.
But it did have a very nice flavour, with a judicious use of truffle
A small selection of desserts include "Mrs Myers sticky toffee pudding"
and a "hand flamed vanilla & mascarpone crème
brulée"). Hand flamed?? Oh, come on
... Nice brûlée, but you wouldn't guess
it had mascarpone in it if you didn't know. A particularly
small portion, that would be a pre-dessert in restaurants that serve
pre-desserts. The sticky toffee pudding was a decent example,
apparently bought in from Mrs Myer (I didn't quite catch the full
explanation of who Mrs Meyer is - some kind of a friend of a relation
or vice versa of someone involved in The Sparling).
The wine list has a good selection of house wines at under
£15 a bottle - a remarkable achievement these days, but the
other wines seem to be not merely a bit dull, but quickly reach
significant amounts of money.
2/10 (February 2008)
St Alban, Lower Regent
rather anonymous from the outside, sitting on a corner site on Lower
Regent Street, which is one
of London's non-entity-of-a-street streets. Since the BBC
its Paris Studios (the home of much BBC Radio comedy for decades),
nothing much has gone on in Lower Regent Street, and it's just been the
northbound side of the Trafalgar Square to Piccadilly Circus one-way
system. Inside, St Alban is a large space, with generously
luxuriously padded tables. I'm not
sure if it was just because it was evening, but the lighting levels
overall were a bit gloomy, being very much focussed on the individual
tables. The decor is a little odd, with a strong 1960s-1970s
feel: you feel that if they'd found any old doors in the building,
they'd have nailed hardboard over them.
For me, the sourcing of ingredients really stood out, and I thought
there was good attention to detail throughout.
Bread was very good, and came in quite a variety including focaccia,
pane carauso, rather nice grissini, served with a good olive oil, and
alongside the bread, while we were reading the menu came some
excellent, really fleshy giant olives.
menu is attractive and un-fussy, drawing
largely from Italy and Spain and uses a charcoal grill for meat and
fish and a wood-fired oven for pizzas (and, presumably, other things).
Soft shell crab (served with a tarragon
mayonnaise) was one of the better examples I've had, though it's still
that I don't really get: it always seems to be more about the deep
fried exterior than any particular taste sensation - at least this was
a really nice, light, dry exterior.
pancetta and dandelion salad was a very nice dish drawing on a good
combination of the bitter leaves, the sweet quail flesh and the crispy
bacon. It was, however, remarkably light on dandelion, with
leaves being for the most part frisée.
A charcoal grilled veal
T-bone was heavy in weight and heavy on the char-grill, particularly on
the fillet side, which couldn't really stand up to the strong
char-grill flavours. However, the sirloin side was spot on; almost more
tender than the fillet, and certainly way better flavoured. T-bones are
always difficult: two entirely different muscles that require different
cooking. No doubting the quality of the meat, though it's a shame that
the menu doesn't say whether or not it was British rose veal.
with pancetta and apple salad, were excellent scallops, perfectly
cooked and the salad worked surprisingly well with them.
were obviously a table of strawberry lovers, as by far the most popular
dessert was the strawberry soup with mascarpone sorbet. This was a
large (possibly a bit too large) portion of well sieved strawberry
purée: nice and fresh and clean. My pistachio ice cream with
was very good too - pretty much what it said on the tin, though the
zabaglione was a dark colour that suggested maybe some chocolate in it,
though I couldn't particularly taste that. Very good espresso
Restaurant, Longridge, Lancashire (this is still open, still
owned by Paul Heathcote, but now in the hands of Chris and Kath Bell)
Longridge Restaurant" is the name for what was (is) Paul Heathcote's
original restaurant in Longridge, in Lancashire's Ribble Valley, near
Preston. While he was in the kitchen, he won one, then two Michelin
stars, then lost one, then revamped it as more casual dining, losing
the other in the process. Paul Heathcote is now rather more of a
businessman with several chains of restaurants, than a chef, and all
credit to him.
Anyway, I had a really very good meal indeed at The Longridge
Restaurant today. The restaurant's new look (well new to me - it was
redecorated in 2006 I understand) of modern shades of beige
and grey, and a
rather clever carpet that manages to look like stone flags at first
glance, I think really suits the row of cottages that make up restaurant
Naturally Paul has no involvement in the kitchen now, but somebody's
doing some good work. At lunch, a well-priced 3-3-3 table d'hote is
offered for £25 including a glass of wine. Unlike the Weavers
Shed at Golcar, the table d'hote here reflects the style of the
à la carte, which is also offered at lunchtime.
After devouring the superb little pear and cheese tartlets provided
with drinks, I started with a top notch terrine off the à la
carte, before moving onto the table d'hôte. There's not a
huge choice of half bottles, and the wines by the glass, while fine,
didn't leap out at me, which the manager seemed to realise and she
offered to open a bottle of anything off the list and I could just have
a glass or two of that, and they'd be able to sell on the rest later. I
didn't take up that offer, but thought it was an exceptionally good
An appetiser bowl (yes, not a coffee cup, but a rather attractive small
Villeroy & Boch bowl) of exquisite wild mushroom soup, with a
small morel floating in the middle, started the meal off. The couple of
tarragon leaves worked very well in the soup, adding a freshness and an
interesting hint of anise, that I must play with myself in combination
The terrine was of wild rabbit, foie gras and sweetbreads, all
perfectly (and gently) cooked. The menu says it's served with a tartare
sauce, which I have to admit concerned me slightly, but this was a
tartare sauce like no other: rich, eggy fresh mayonnaise with
well-drained and washed baby capers and similarly vinegar free
A glass of Selbach Oster Zeltinger Schlossberg Riesling
Spätlese (didn't catch the year) was recommended with this,
and worked very well, both with the terrine and the foregoing mushroom
The famous Paul Heathcote black pudding came next (without the
sweetbreads that it used to contain in Michelin-starred days, unless I
was just unlucky in the slice I got), here on top of some nicely cooked
and seasoned gently crushed potatoes (more just quartered new potatoes,
squashed into a ring), some caramelised apple slices and with a neatly
trimmed fried egg on top of the whole. A little white onion
purée smeared on the side of the plate added extra interest.
My main course was a fillet of notably good (and - very welcome -
carefully boned), very accurately cooked rainbow trout, served with a
delicious tomato butter sauce, sea kale and asparagus. It took a look
at the menu to choose dessert to work out what the sea kale was - some
pieces reminded me of celery, but it wasn't celery; others reminded me
of white asparagus, but it wasn't that either. It's been a long time
since I had trout - they can sometimes be a bit muddy and I don't like
messing with the bones, but this was a very good dish at that. They
chose to gild the lily, however, serving a small scallop and crab
mousseline alongside the fish: the texture of the mousseline was about
right, but it lacked much of the flavour of either of its named
ingredients. A glass of Crowded House Sauvignon Blanc from
Marlborough was served with this. 2006 I think she
Not entirely convinced by the match - while a good NZ sauvignon, it
seemed to jar a little with the sweetness of the fish and the sweetish
tomato butter sauce. Another glass of the riesling would have
If the black pudding is a signature dish of old, then so is the bread
and butter pudding. Heathcote's version of bread and butter pudding is
much lighter than most examples, being essentially a 2 inch high
lovely, wobbly vanilla-rich set custard, with a thin bread and butter
pudding topping. Great stuff. It was served with some apricot coulis
and pouring custard, and a quenelle of clotted cream. The apricot
(together with two halves of dried apricot) make a welcome addition,
though the clotted cream seemed once more perhaps to gild the lily a
Coffee was a bit of a let down - double espresso was crema-less and a
bit thin. Charitably, I put that down to it being a double, but the
later single espresso was even poorer. Good petits fours though: baby
madeleines straight from the oven, rich cylinders of chocolate ganache,
lemon and raspberry tartlets and ultra thin sugared shortbread
Very good bread came plentifully (I turned it away at least three
times) throughout the meal. Well not during dessert, just to forestall
7/10 (March 2008)
Freemasons' Arms, Wiswell, near Whalley
Ian Martin has retired as of Easter 2008 and the Freemason's Arms was
I'd passed the sign for Wiswell many times, I'd never paid any
attention and certainly hadn't heard of the Freemasons' Arms.
But recently a friend was recommended the Freemasons' Arms by
the brothers Byrne in Clitheroe, and having been, passed the
recommendation on. We 'phoned to book and had got directions,
but still managed to miss it twice. Wiswell is a tiny village in the
Ribble Valley, close to Whalley. It is reached along narrow
country lanes approaching from three directions which then encircle the
handful of buildings. Wiswell was basking in the sunlight,
the sun giving the stone buildings more than an air of a Cotswold
Village, an impression reinforced by the fact that the whole village
was eerily deserted. Not a soul to be seen.
though, there is no obvious pub building, or even any central
buildings, not even a church, despite the address being Vicarage
Lane. The Freemasons' Arms is a small mid-terrace property,
down a small ginnel which runs between Wiswell's two roads, with etched
windows advertising the long defunct Nuttall's ales.
list of wines by the glass and interesting bin ends are on blackboards
above the bar. There is a short printed menu with the like of rib eye
steak, steak and kidney pie, fish pie, fresh battered haddock
etc, and a blackboard with daily specials (and a healthy-looking amount
of rubbing out).
went for some scallops and a rib eye steak and a twice baked Mrs
Kirkham's Lancashire cheese soufflé and a dish of roast duck
breast with confit leg.
was noticeable throughout was how well judged the cooking times were.
Scallops were à point, the steak and the duck breast well
rested and beautifully tender; the confit leg had melting meat and a
gloriously crisp skin. Sauces and dressings complemented without
overpowering. Good skin-on chips. The Lancashire cheese
soufflé was half way to being a Roux style suissesse.
the scallop dish has changed and is now an utterly delicious
combination of good quality, accurately cooked scallops with meltingly
soft pork belly, which has been reheated by deep frying in panko
are somewhat unchanging standard fare (sticky toffee pudding etc,
though grilled figs often make an appearance).
menu has a short - interesting enough - wine list, but with a note
saying ask to see "our full wine list". Blimey. What a list. It makes
most serious restaurants look like they're just playing at it. There
are wines to make the heart beat faster and the wannatrythelot neurons
in the brain start racing around like demented furies on acid. The only
thing it doesn't do is make your eyes water at the price. You look at
some things and you can only assume that he's forgotten to put his
for such an enthusiast's list, no Alsace or Germans - not in any depth
anyway. The Rhone selection is quite short, but with some beauties at
went for a 1989 Sean Thackrey Orion at £65 (the 2001 is
£60 at Oddbins) which took a while to open up, but was soon
wine list, good technical skill in the kitchen producing unfusssy food.
Excellent prices. What more could you want?
how many pubs do you find not only with Moorhouse's and guest beers but
also two vintages of D'Yquem? And bottles of Ridge and
Planeta casually on the shelf behind the bar?
can't wait to get back.
for food. Much more for the wine list.
repeat visits confirm this. The quality of the meat is worthy
of special mention. Ian Martin's kitchen is as adept at
handling a plain sirloin steak (on one occasion from a Belgian Blue) or
spot-on steak and kidney pie with a Black Sheep gravy as it is with
roast figs, stuffed with gorgonzola and wrapped in pancetta or a very
fine, carefully made wild mushroom sauce with fillet steak; nor is the
kitchen afraid to resurrect such classics as calves liver with Dubonnet
and orange. All of which, by the way, have been
excellent. The precision of cooking times continues to shine
through. Figs are clearly a favourite ingredient and have
appeared at every course.
Restaurant, Spring Gardens, Manchester
closed: this was a very fine restaurant, and it's a shame that
Mancunians didn't see fit to support it properly, preferring to spend
£200 on a bottle of Cristal in a bling bar than
£120 on a superb meal for two.)
of us gathered at the Establishment Restaurant
in Spring Gardens in Manchester for a wine dinner with a theme of
Southern Rhône, with allowances for southern France generally.
We had a seven course meal, of a very high standard (details follow),
plus a constant supply of tap and sparkling water, followed by coffee
and generous petits fours, use of what seemed like several hundred
Riedel glasses and the entire output of a small bakery in excellent
bread rolls. All for £55 inc service and corkage for
seventeen bottles of wine.
Our canapés were some home-made grissini, and some olive
pastries with a delicious home-made taramasalata.
This was followed by a brilliant scallop dish: two slices of really
good scallop and an intensely flavoured langoustine sat on top of a
small square of (salt?) cod(?), served with a veal jus and fried,
turned cucumber. A jolly good dish.
Next up was a Ham hock and ox tongue terrine with sauce gribiche and
some toasted sourdough. The terrine had a very good balance of
flavours, with both the ham and the tongue flavours and textures
clearly identifiable; and the gribiche just gave it that little lift.
On the side was some sprouting salad stuffs and four or five perfect
little, lightly-battered crisp shallot rings.
Then, came an espresso cup filled with an excellent cappucino of wild
mushrooms. This had a lovely, rich, creamy earthiness: very
full-flavoured, but not at all over-concentrated - excellent balance
A few more wines were tasted, and then it was Whole Roasted Baby
Poussin with handmade pasta and a sauté of ceps. A whole
poussin per person, served off the carcase as two breasts and two legs
(which, as there were ladies present, saved any discussion of who was a
breast man and who was a leg man). This was served with a ravioli
filled with, I guessed, smoked chicken and truffle: marred slightly by
slightly thick pasta. The chicken was lightly cooked without being
underdone: the breast was very moist and juicy; the legs nice and
crispy, fully cooked and delicious. All really very accurately seasoned
too. The dish could just have done with a little bit more
jus/sauce/gravy from the goodness of the meat. The pasta was very fine
and perfectly cooked. The ceps were, perhaps a little powerful for a
wine dinner, but, heck, who's complaining?
The first dessert was a shot glass of crème de vanille
topped with a blueberry compote. Lush!
And then the main dessert: "prune and armagnac soufflé!"
(for some reason, the menu included the exclamation mark.) Very good
soufflé indeed, with a really good flavour, but also
Petits fours were mini lemon meringue tarts and fabulous profiteroles.
Service was excellent throughout and very obliging.
7/10 (January 2006)
another meal at Establishment in May 2006 see here.
Restaurant, Forton (Restaurant now closed: the
building now houses a café with a new cazy golf course built
next to it(!!), which I've not yet been to.)
curiously named Tapenada (surely destined to mis-pronounced,
mis-spelled and confused with both tapenade and tapas) has taken over
the premises of the very long-established El Nido on the A6 near the
village of Forton, just south of Junction 33 on the M6.
Twenty (thirty?) years ago, El Nido was a welcome addition to the North
Lancashire eating scene, being the first restaurant with a Spanish
flair, and for some time the food was good. There had been
several changes of ownership over the years and in the last 10 years or
so, it's been largely avoidable: not somewhere I ever went out of
personal choice. The decor was tired, heavy and
dark. The food was dull, uninspired and often seemed to have
been prepared a few days in advance. There wasn't really any
identifiable Spanish element at all.
has been a complete transformation. I went recently, just as
they were finishing their third week of business - good business as
well they said. Inside is now light and airy; fresh and
clean. Reasonably spaced tables are laid with good quality
white cloths and napkins, snazzy cutlery (that works) and Riedel
glasses. The interesting stained glass windows are exposed
and now let light flood in.
food too is in a different style. Ingredients are largely
local, and great care appears to be taken with regard to sourcing
(although as there apparently aren't huge storage facilities, they are
going to rely on suppliers to ensure meat and poultry is properly
hung) This isn't however one of those places (like the Three
Fishes - see below)
that labours the sourcing with anally retentive descriptions on the
menu: at the Three Fishes you get Wallings Farm rare breed Gloucester
Old Spot pork from Cockerham; here you get Gloucester Old Spot
pork. Similarly the menu credits vegetarians with more
intelligence than many: there are plenty of vegetarian options on the
evening carte, and it is nice to see them blended in seamlessly with
the rest of the dishes, rather than highlighted with big Vs
sign outside the restaurant proclaims "Mediterranean cuisine", though
the chef apparently hasn't seen that, as, when I spoke to him, he was
keen not to be so pigeon-holed: the style (as the restaurant name would
suggest) nods towards the Mediterranean, and (as the name wouldn't
suggest) Greece in particular. Curiously tapenade doesn't
feature anywhere on the menu! There is a lunch table d'hote
(£7.95 for 2 courses; £10.95 for 3 courses: 3
choices at each course) and a lunch à la carte, together
with a dinner à la carte. A bit more work needs
doing on the menu structures I think: the evening carte sounds much
more interesting than the lunch carte, and I can't see many going for
the lunch carte over the set lunch. It would do
them good, I think, to make more of the vegetarian options available at
lunch. I'd hope that once they're more settled in, they may
be able to just have one carte.
me, the lunch carte didn't have enough attraction on its own to make me
stray from the set lunch. I started with a good chicken
Caesar salad - a good selection of immaculately fresh leaves, nicely
dressed, with some balsamic and some pesto on the plate too, giving a
nice counterpoint to the richness of the Caesar dressing. The
croutons with the salad were notably good. My main course was
a medley of seafood with pappardelle pasta, which was actually
pappardelle with a seafood sauce. None of the seafood was
fresh - which is not a criticism as none of it was meant to be: there
was some uncoloured lightly smoked haddock, some (bottled?) octopus and
some of the crayfish tails that you see in fishmongers in large white
pots. These were bound in a very good sauce, that, while
rich, just about managed not to be too heavy: a sort of enriched
velouté with almost a hint of a hollandaise to it.
Good dish, and plenty of it.
on the recommendation of the waiter, was a croissant bread and butter
pudding. Unfortunately this was a little stodgy, perhaps
reheated a few seconds too long in the microwave? But it had
good flavours, though I'd have preferred a little more fruit.
Far too large a portion though.
wine list is short, and lacks vintages, but seemed to cover most of the
bases that it would need to and prices are with I think just one
exception (apart from champagne) under about £20.
all seemed rather promising to me. Undoubtedly they are still
settling in and there are a few aspects of the menu and the cooking
that need a bit of work: it will be interesting to see how this
1/10 (but please note this is at a very early stage of their operating
and based only on a very reasonably priced table d'hôte
lunch. If the evening carte delivers on the promise of its
menu descriptions, this could well be scoring higher.)
couple of subsequent meals have largely confirmed this: I think
unfortunately what I saw as settling in/needing to settle in was
actually showing the limitations of the kitchen and front of house:
nothing much has changed. Some dishes that have come out have
been very good indeed (they seem particularly strong on pork, which is
Gloucester Old Spot from Wallings Farm in Cockerham) and saucing can be
notably good. A terrine of something at one lunch was,
however, distinctly unmemorable and not really up to scratch.
42 The Calls, Leeds
now closed, with the retirement of Michael Gill. This review
dates from September 2005)
room is quiet and sedate (except when the doorway through into the
Brasserie 44 next door is open) and has quite a nautical feel to it
(although there is nothing overtly nautical): the room is ovoid and
overlooks the River Aire (there is even a balcony, presumably reserved
for warm nights!) and decorated with an understated opulence.
It is let down somewhat by the entrance, which could perhaps be a
little more distinguishable from the adjacent kitchen door.
Going in the entrance, there is an oddly long narrow, curving corridor
that really could do with being made a little more inviting.
On the tables everything is as good as you would expect: good glasses
and cutlery, white table cloths. At lunch, the room is bright
and airy; in the evening it is candlelit and - it has to be said - just
a little bit dark. You get the feeling this might be a good
place for a secret assignation.
food at Pool Court was well up to scratch, and, while there are some
vestiges of its heritage (e.g. crudités and huge parmesan
straws as nibbles), there are also some more modern touches (nodding to
Heston Blumenthal for savoury ice-creams!) over the last time I was
there about three or four years ago: they're not open weekends,
unfortunately. The modernity is perhaps a reaction to the opening of
Anthony's: maybe Pool Court's cooking isn't quite as exciting and novel
as Anthony's, but in terms of quality and ability it is up there with
them and I don't think it deserved to be as quiet as it was.
amuse was a quenelle of red onion ice cream on a basil leaf, served
with some whipped goats cheese. Very yummy.
started with - would you believe - cauliflower cheese! This was a
thoroughly impeccable of said dish, but topped with some (deeply
un-trendy, but this is Yorkshire) milk-fed veal which had been wrapped
in a Parma ham and roast till medium rare. The ubiquitous pea-shoot
salad was there too. My companion started with "Pool Court's
Study in Foie Gras", which comprised a terrine with chopped pistachios,
a chilled mousse with armagnac jelly and a warm sausage with sesame and
been toying between the cauliflower cheese and another starter, which
involved smoked Catalan anchovies, that I like the sound of. They
offered to bring some of the anchovies as a middle course, and it was a
bit of a surprise to find that this was an ice-cream too. This worked
very well, perhaps even better than the red onion ice cream.
main course was an excellent plainly roast partridge, the legs
confit'ed, served with a good bread pudding and an exceptional game
sauce enriched with foie gras.
puddings for me - I had to leave room for lunch at Anthony's the next
(Restaurant now closed
opened in St Leonardsgate in Lancaster a few years ago and has changed
hands a couple of times since then, but always remained virtually
identical - and the food has remained completely unchanged.
One reason, is that it seems to have been passed round a relatively
small number of local Italian chefs/restaurateurs/waiters, who clearly
share the same philosophy. The food is relatively simple
modern Italian, that would really benefit from a bit better sourcing of
ingredients, though they commendably buy locally. Fish dishes
are always reliable, and things like deep-fried baby squid or baby
octopus (that regularly feature as starters) are very well done: very
light, crisp batter and seemingly always fried in very fresh
oil. A recent visit yielded bianchetti fritti (whitebait),
which were excellent fish and beautifully cooked. Pastas and
risottos always show a delicate hand in the kitchen, in contrast to
meat dishes, which are sometimes a little "ordinary" on the plate,
despite the menu descriptions, and can be a touch overcooked on
occasion. Main courses are often let down by the vegetables
which are re-heated and always served in a pancake basket, that adds
just too much stodge. This all sounds a bit negative, but I
don't mean to be, as I genuinely enjoy Luna, and urge you to support
them. Desserts are all homemade and usually worth trying:
semifreddo is very reliable and I recently had a superb home-made
orange sorbet. At lunchtimes, they offer (in addition to the
full carte and the specials) an absolutely bargain lunch menu of a few
pastas, a few bruschettas and what are probably the best pizzas in the
north of England - for the princely sum of £3.95.
Although they're not a pizzeria and don't have a pizza oven, the Pizza
Napoli is a classic, with home made dough and good quality toppings,
baked in the regular oven on a stone: it's always much crisper across
the whole of the bottom than most Anglo-Italian pizzerias. An
absolute bargain, unbeatable at twice the price. Luna is
unlicensed and they have recently withdrawn the corkage charge (which
was a bargain £3 per table anyway).
that from 8th August 2005, Luna are set to move to the premises on Sun
Street, Lancaster, currently occupied by the Sun Street
Café. These premises are licensed and Luna will be
continuing that licence. So, all the people who complained
about the £3 a table corkage charge, will now, presumably
happily, pay a standard restaurant markup on the wines. Luna
tends to amble along in a slightly amateurish manner, so it might be
some time before it finds its feet in the new venue.
now closed, the great Nico Ladenis retired. This review dates
from July 2001)
seems to me to have changed since Nico handed back his stars. There is,
however, a certain unease about the dining room. Is it more relaxed
now? Certainly fewer ties and jackets. But there's still an air of
gastronomic temple. Conversations are hushed and service solicitous.
And it is ferociously expensive.
The large (in proportions) menu contains menu of the dishes that became
Nico signatures over the years - you could probably take the last 10
years' Good Food Guides and find that many if not all the dishes
mentioned are still on the menu. That, of course, was always part of
Nico's philosophy. This was never a kitchen governed by what was best
at the market that morning. But scallops, foie gras, dover sole,
morels, etc are probably easily enough obtainable at the sort of
quality levels we might expect.
Appetiser was a very dull piece of poultry terrine with a very good
Starter was a plainly cooked (fried) baby (definitely "baby") dover
sole which comes only with a particularly creamy tartare sauce. A
testament to the fish buying as much as the kitchen.
Main course was sweetbreads with morels. Excellent veal sweetbreads,
perfectly cooked. Morels, mousserons, baby carrot, baby onion and
asparagus tips accompanied the sweetbreads along with an
irreproachable, but rather unexceptional cream sauce.
Chestnut mousse with a vanilla syrup was simply sublime. The chestnut
mousse had an exceptional depth of flavour with no detectable gelatine
flavour/texture, although it must have had some in to keep its terrine
shape. The only fault was with the quantity. It was a very large
portion. Though on this occasion it would have been difficult to have
too much of a perfect thing.
With water and a half of Ch. Haut-Beausejour 1995 the bill came to
It is undoubtedly very good, but falls down on the value equation.
Cheese is available as an alternative to dessert, but attracts a
*supplement* of £8. Not the price, but a supplement (at John
Burton Race, I was charged £7.50 for cheese as an extra
course, £12 at Gordon Ramsay, £8 at Petrus. All of
which were remarkably good cheese selections, so I think Nico is being
merely greedy to charge an £8 supplement.
7 out of 10 would seem to me about right. I could easily see it being
Burton-Race at the Landmark
now closed, though
Burton-Race is now cooking at what used to be the Carved Angel in
Dartmouth. This review dates from January 2001)
last minute meeting in London led to me ringing round my list of London
restaurants to go to. Gordon Ramsay full, Pied a terre closed. John
B-R, yes that will be fine, we're very quiet tonight.
They were quiet as well. Apparently it was their first day opening
after Christmas (8th Jan 2001). Two fours and me (dining alone).
Fortunately, we weren't dispersed to 3 of the 4 corners. The next table
(comprised mainly of Americans) were, in the stillness of the room,
close enough for eavesdropping. After they had been discussing American
chablis, I thought it impressive that the sommelier could remember what
wine they had had on a previous visit to the Ortolan some years before
(several bottles of an Alsace Pinot Blanc).
Having arrived by taxi which delivered me to the rear of the hotel, I
set off on a long trek down the vast and very anonymous corridors of
the Landmark, eventually arriving at the series of side rooms that form
the JB-R. For an operation that has not been open that long, there is
something of an air of faded elegance about the large room which houses
the lounge/bar area and the restaurant, a partly mirrored dividing wall
between the two. There is very much a hotel-dining room feel to the
room, which feels rather sidelined within the hotel (though of course
JB-R is a separate business and so there's no requirement for a
connection). I think it would help if they'd had a door to the street
(as for example the Nico Central has in the Midland Hotel in
Enormous chandeliers hang from the ceiling, though with the combined
illumination of no more than a handful of 60 watt lightbulbs, the main
source of illumination being candles in chunky glass candelabras on
each table. Candles are only lit when the table is occupied, which
meant it was really a bit dark (and perhaps a bit chilly - in
temperature as well as atmosphere) too now I come to think of it). When
they weren't looking I surreptitiously edged my candles nearer my
plate. There are what appear to be speakers set into the ornate
ceiling, but thankfully nothing comes out of them.
Some rather good tidbits while perusing the menu, which is a prix fixe
of £70 for three courses. Utterly superb calamaris fried in a
tempura batter with a Chinese style sweet and sour sauce, a very good
lightly curried chunky lamb samosa with raita, a peerless shallot
tartlet topped with a fried quails egg and an adequate salmon mousse-y
type thing piped onto a tiny crust of bread. The tiny squid rings
(probably just under the size of a 10p piece) must I think be some of
the best I've ever had.
The menu itself has plenty of interest and laudably includes two veggie
mains (can't now think how many of the starters were vegetarian).
The wine list is such as to make it worthwhile arriving early and
snuggling into one of the capacious sofas in the bar/lounge area for a
good read. Many of the prices seemed to me to be exceptionally good,
and not just for London. I'd be pleased to see the same markups applied
round here in the frozen wastes of Lancashire (unless they have an
exceptionally cheap source!). Also a good selection of wines by the
glass: not "house wine" standard by any means. I couldn't quite see the
point of the seasonal selection of wine at the start of the list, given
that wine's not really dependent on the seasons in the same way as
asparagus or white truffles might be. I suppose it provides a changing
overview of the list for those who prefer not turn page after page ...
It's unfortunate that the decanters they use bear more than a passing
resemblance to what Jane Austen might have taken with her on a long
coach journey lest she be caught short, though they do pour well and
are left on the table, well within reach.
First course was a croustillant de foie gras et confit de dattes, sauce
de banyuls. Unfortunately they hadn't any Banyuls by the glass, but a
glass of Trimbach lieu dit Pinot Gris (but I've forgotten the lieu)
went well with it. The croustillant is a sort of single layer roesti,
spread with a little of the date confit and topped with a slice of
expertly fried foie gras. This was then repeated at least once, but I
rather think twice - i.e. three slices of foie gras. A Shinfield size
portion if ever I saw one, and in this context exceptionally generous.
The contrast of textures between the croustillant potato, the gooey
date and the creamy foie gras worked as well as the combination of
flavours (very well, that is). The Banyuls sauce had perhaps been
reduced a little too much, but added its own counterpoint. Looking and
tasting (well, not tasting very much at all) rather otiose on the plate
were some little quenelles of grated beetroot and parsnip. These were
very cold (perhaps intended to provide a temperature contrast, as well
as a texture contrast) and really rather tasteless: they needed
something, perhaps the merest hint of grated horseradish, to lift them
a little. The waiter asked for my comments on the dish and undertook to
pass on them and the suggestion, saying that this was a new dish and
they were looking for customer reaction. Oddly, I thought I'd read
about this very dish - quite possibly in the GFG - maybe the beetroot
& parsnip was a new addition.
Main course was an assiette de veau au deux sauces, described by the
French waiter who delivered it as "your plate of veal". Loses something
in the translation ... This comprised an exemplary roast fillet served
on some heavily truffled squeaky beans, a piece of veal kidney on a bed
of spinach served with a sweet and sour sauce and a piece of sweetbread
on a bed of noodles served with a truffle cream. At the point of
ordering, the sommelier and I had had a little discussion about what
wine might go with this (I'd taken myself down a pinot gris path at the
thought of sweet and sour), but eventually I went with his suggestion
of a half of Guigal Hermitage 1994. An excellent wine and perfect with
the veal fillet and kidney with its not really very sweet nor very sour
sauce, but a bit of a struggle with the truffle cream. It'd be a good
dish to ask those competing in sommeliers' competitions to match, as
it's really a bit of a chef's challenge to his sommelier! All of the
veal plate was perfectly cooked and again the portion was generous. It
was let down by a rather poorly trimmed piece of veal kidney, though it
is as much a mark of the overall standard that the amount of fat left
on the kidney could be said to let the dish down.
Finished the wine with some cheese, from an excellent selection (solely
French I believe) in tip-top condition. Probably matched in my
experience only by the Gavroche, though JB-R's selection is probably
only a third of the Gavroche's. Watching the cheese being served at the
next table, I could see how the diner's selection was continually
adjusted to ensure that they were presented in the correct order for
eating, the start and end point being indicated by the waiter. Being
told the best order in which to eat a selection of cheese is a practice
that deserves encouragement, particularly where the cheeses may be
unfamiliar. I took the cheese as an additional course and was amazed on
getting the bill to see it came at the knockdown bargain basement price
of £7.50 for an exceptionally generous selection. It came
with some so-so homemade crackers (three different ones, two of which
were a bit greasy) and some thinly sliced walnut bread and some
thinly-sliced sultana bread. The walnut bread tasted a little odd - bit
too much walnut maybe.
Ah, which brings me to the bread. A selection of three rolls were
offered at the start of the meal (white, brown and baguette - the
latter being a slightly streched white roll). It was mad hot (almost to
the point of being painful as you tore it open), and the beurre echire
was far too cold. Later in the meal, some more bread was offered, or
rather I was asked if I would like more bread - there was not actually
any bread in evidence. The bread then arrived some 10 minutes or so
later, again mad hot and presumably baked to order. I was assured that
they make all their bread themselves by a waiter who then felt obliged
to ramble on about them not making the butter themselves!
For dessert a selection of sorbets d'agrumes (lime, lemon, grapefruit
& orange), which were textbook sorbets - no better, no worse.
Presentation however requires some speed in eating them. A rectangular
plate has been filled with water and frozen until solid. The drawback
of this is that as time passes (and citrus sorbets are not really
something you want to wolf down) the bottom of the ice tray starts to
melt, eventually giving the I suppose rather entertaining experience of
trying to eat off something moving around just like the corridor
connections of a train or the oscillating floor of the former Fun House
at Blackpool's Pleasure Beach.
An infusion of verveine came with a slightly paltry selection of petits
fours, which had little of interest to non-chocoholics.
The waiting staff just managed to keep on the right side of paying
attention without being overly solicitous. They did seem a little bored
on occasion, which I suppose was hardly surprising as they weren't
The bill, gulp, excluding service, gulp, came to a rather hefty
£133 (water, glass of Hidalgo's Manzanilla Pastrada as an
aperitif, the Hermitage at £31, the glass of PG at
£10 and the tea at £4.50 bumping up the
£70 pre fixe). Large gulps, but fortunately no palpitations
at the price, but it took only a moment to realise that it was in fact
very good value: I had no sense whatsoever of paying over the top for
location, 2-star, 8/10 - no doubt aiming at 3 stars and 10/10 - status.
It's not cheap, but it is exceptionally good value.
Restaurant, The Bentley Kempinski, Harrington Gardens, Gloucester Rd.
Turner left the 1880 at the end of January
2006 to go to Pennyhill Park in Bagshot. I had a dreadful
meal at the 1880 towards the end of January 2006 at the end of Andrew
Turner's incumbency, so there's no doubt this should be moved to the
history section. For what it's worth, here is my review from
difficult to imagine a more different experience to my last visit. The
first immediate difference was that there was no doorman and no welcome
at the ground floor: if I hadn't been before, it would have taken some
time to work out how to get to the 1880 restaurant.
Having descended into the basement, we were greeted by a man with a
sommelier badge and asked if we wanted to go into the bar for a drink
first. We did, and the barman duly came to take our orders. We ordered
champagne cocktails. He didn't understand. He told us that there is a
drink made with champagne called a kir royale. Well, golly ... No, we'd
like two champagne cocktails please. The so-called barman (who was
presumably merely a hotel porter or similar) still didn't understand,
so we consulted the bar list, which included a champagne cocktail. We
pointed to it on the bar list and said two champagne cocktails, please
- two of these. "Would you like kir royale? It is a nice drink." No!
This one, we said again pointing to the bar's list of cocktails. He
shuffled off and promptly disappeared. After a while the sommelier came
through, presumably having detected that something was wrong, and asked
if his colleague had taken our order. We explained the apparent problem
(that the barman was - implicitly - utterly incompetent) and after a
while the cocktails appeared. They were ok, but nothing special, and
had all the hallmarks of being made by someone who was unfamiliar with
The various menus continue to read well, and we eventually chose the
Sommelier's Selection menu at £120 (a £20, 20%
increase since my last visit in May 2005). This was an 8 course menu
surprise with accompanying wines at each course: we highlighted a
couple of dishes from the various menus that had caught our eye,
suggesting that if possible, we would like these to be included.
After a while, we were led into the dining room and informed that we
were the only diners that evening. That was undoubtedly a major problem
throughout the evening: the barman clearly wasn't a barman; the pianist
in the bar left immediately we had gone through to the restaurant. We
were seated on a large table in the middle of the room, close to the
kitchen door. After only a couple of minutes, we asked to move to a
different table, which was handled well. While it's possible to
appreciate the problems faced by a restaurant when only two are booked
in all evening, I think it's worth really stressing here at the outset
that, while I understand the commercial pressures, it wasn't our fault
that we were the only two in, and there was no adjustment to the bill
(none was requested by us - by that time, we just wanted to get out).
The bread trolley is no more; and the cheese trolley is no more. A
The first dish was a mushroom velouté with a
Comté and chorizo samosa. The mushroom soup was well done,
but in the final analysis was merely a simple mushroom soup. The samosa
was, however, really good, with a well-judged filling. This was served
with a Puerto Fino from Lustau, lovely wine, though the combination
with the mushroom soup really only served to demonstrate how well a dry
sherry will match with most foods.
Our next dish was the best of the evening: an avocado and shellfish
cocktail, topped with a slice of lobster, some caviar (looked like
oscietra) and a small pile of baby (well, more like prenatal) salad
stuffs. This was a lovely dish, very fresh tasting and showcasing some
good ingredients. It was served with an excellent 2004 Menetou Salon
from Domaine de Chatenoy. A fantastic wine to go with a classic dish.
Next up was one of the dishes we had requested: a confit duck pudding
with crispy hen's egg and lie de vin sauce. The pudding was a baby suet
pudding, with a fairly thin suet crust and a densely packed, very salty
filling of confit duck; the egg, was a lightly cooked yolk that had
been breadcrumbed and deep fried: my egg was runny and unctious; my
guest's was almost cooked through, and lost the cromesqui-like delight
of the contrast of textures. Nice sauce, though again you'd certainly
not be wanting to add salt. This was served with an excellent 2000
The next dish was the second of our requests: Skate wing with belly
pork. This was a small piece of baby skate wing, accurately cooked. Not
my favourite fish by a very long stalk, but this was a very fine piece
of fish indeed. The belly pork was small, meaty cube: the pork had
evidently been cured and cooked with maple, but was over-salty and a
little dry and hard. This was when things started to go downhill.
Perhaps the kitchen was now rushing, with the prospect of getting off
home early looming. Again not our problem. A 1997 Marques de Murrieta
Ygay Gran Reserva Capellania, was lovely and worked well, particularly
with the skate, though it's sweet, slightly oxidative flavours also
balanced the pork well.
Unfortunately the next dish was one of the worst of the last 18 months
or more. It was essentially lamb with sweetbreads. But merely looking
at the dish, there was an immediately evident error in that the
sweetbreads were deep-fried, as were some small rectangles of lamb
breast. Two battered elements in one dish of this size is too much. The
lamb breast was also, in itself, really dreadful: hard and overcooked
and with no redeeming feature. The loin of lamb itself, while well
cooked, was utterly tasteless: it was wrapped in what we were told was
a parsley mousse. The parsley mousse was tasteless and comparable only
to a bright green India rubber. The sweetbread on top, battered and
deep fried, was the only enjoyable aspect of the dish and indeed really
the only truly edible part of this execrable dish.
The lamb was served with a 2000 Vieux Chateau Vachon from St Emilion.
These were the last two glasses out of a bottle, which had presumably
been open since at least Friday or Saturday: fortunately, it had
benefited hugely from this, and while it retained some young fruit
characteristics on the nose, it had a good, developed palate.
Cheese came next: good quality, though only the fourme d'Ambert really
stood out as beyond the ordinary. We had to specifically request the
house speciality of jellies to go with the cheese. With the cheese came
another sherry (well done, Mr Sommelier!), this time an Amontillado del
Puerto, again from Lustau.
The first dessert was a terrible creme brulée, the only
redeeming feature of which was a very, very thin crust. The custard
itself was heavy, a touch grainy-textured and utterly tasteless. The
Ch. de Sante Helene Sauternes that was served with this was
extraordinary only in its complete ordinariness.
The main dessert was described as a signature dish: banana creole with
coconut sorbet. Bananas in a caramel and rum sauce should win most
people over. The coconut sorbet was a great, refreshing counterpoint,
but there was far too much of it, and it unbalanced the dish. This came
with a glass of surprisingly good Lustau (yes, another sherry!) East
India Solera, that worked well with the dish, and knocked the Sauternes
utterly into touch.
So, there were two hits, two complete failures and the other four
dishes were ok, but not really up to the standard you'd expect. This
was a very disappointing meal and for me, personally, very
embarrassing, as I had been recommending 1880 to many people, and in
particular my guest. On this showing, neither of us would want to
return. We were embarrassed too for the sommelier, Andrew, who
performed valiantly in circumstances that must have been embarrassing
for him, though his level of eavesdropping could have been embarrassing
for us, if we'd anything to discuss.
This was all such a huge difference from my last visit and so contrary
to friends' experiences that I assumed it could only be down to them
being empty bar us and presumably a B team front of house and in the
kitchen. And a Z team in the bar. The one good difference from my last
visit is the much improved range of sherries: last time they could only
offer Tio Pepe!
Thinking about it the next day, they really should have rung us to say
there was a problem with the stove or something and that they couldn't
do us after all. That would have been much better. They were clearly on
a skeleton staff because we were the only table in, and most of the
problems (the idiot pretending to be a barman was the worst start
possible) were because they were short-staffed. But it wasn't our fault
we were the only ones there.
following review dates from May 2005, when
Andrew Turner was still there and firing on all cylinders.
Turner moved from the 1837 restaurant in the
historic Brown’s Hotel just off Picadilly to this new hotel
in the wild netherlands of Gloucester Road. The doorman leads
you down a swooping staircase into a slightly oppressive
basement. To left is a bar where a pianist beats out show
tunes that are entirely in keeping with the ever so slightly camp,
over-the-top decoration of the restaurant to the right at the base of
the stairs. The room is decorated in golds, blacks and olive
silk panels; lighting is verging on the crepuscular. But
before you go in, you are greeted by the maîtresse
d’, with what I soon realise is the trademark
handshake. When the sommelier, Deborah Kemp, arrives at my
table, she proffers her hand too. Yes, apart from one commis,
all the staff are female. That is until around 9 p.m. when a
maître d’ rolls up, makes a beeline for me to shake
my hand. Have they mistaken me for another even more famous
is an à la carte, but the main
feature here are the grazing menus, seven course (£48), eight
courses (£52), nine courses (£56) and ten courses
(£60), plus a Chef’s Surprise Menu (£70)
and a Sommelier’s Choice (£100). I went
for the Sommelier’s Choice, essentially an eight or
thereabouts course menu surprise, chosen by the sommelier in
consultation with you, with her selection of seven different
wines. Apparently they have around 200 wines by the glass,
though I didn’t see the wine list. Each of the
wines I had came from a freshly opened bottle. All the more
remarkable that the only glass of sherry they could offer me as an
aperitif was Tio Pepe.
first glass of wine was a
2002 Saumur Blanc, Domaine du Val Brun. A
creamy nose. Fresh, clean and vibrant. Very Good
was rapidly accompanied by a
velouté of rabbit, sprinkled with truffle powder, swirled
with truffle jus. The velouté was well flavoured,
fairly salty with a good earthy taste. Hidden in it was a
light rabbit ravioli. On the side was a confit pork, onion
and tarragon samosa: a very good filling with lots of texture, let down
by a slightly thick pastry on the samosa. With this came some
very good olive straws and cheese straws.
it was the turn of the bread trolley with
around half a dozen different loaves of very good bread indeed, though
the selection was missing a plain loaf.
up was a 2002 Semillon-Sauvignon,
Cullen, Margaret River, Western Australia. A
fragrant lightly oaked nose. Reminiscent of a decent standard
Graves on the palate; not earth shattering, but Very Good.
this came a lobster and asparagus
cocktail. Baby gem lettuce, topped with a lobster and white
asparagus dice in a very light marie rose sauce. A decent
slice of crisp, tender, very sweet lobster perched on top, its top
scalped to allow a small spoonful of oscietra caviar to be
inserted. Baby white asparagus spears and paprika pastry
spears stood guard around the outside, with rather otiose deep-fried
onion rings hanging off the pastry spears. The onion rings
notwithstanding, this was a great dish: delicate and fresh, with all
components clear and precise, all in a neat twist on an old classic.
next wine arrived soon after: a 1996
Riesling Spätlese from v. Kesselstatt.
A lovely, honeyed mineral nose. Very fresh on the palate,
with some sweetness but above all well-balanced. Sherbetty
notes on the finish.
was served to accompany a port-cured foie gras
served with a Tom Aikens style blackcurrant crisp, pools of lemon curd
and port curd, a sprinkling of sherbert, and some excellent paper-thin
parmesan and almond biscuits. A few leaves of baby curly
endive helped cut the richness of the liver. It all worked
well together as well as individually. The tranche of foie
gras was a very generous portion of absolutely top quality foie gras
that had been perfectly cured, with a deep flavoursome deep purple
exterior (the colour of which was picked up by the blackcurrant crisp,
and the flavour by the port curd). An excellent dish, but
that was not the totality of the dish. With it came a small
glass of apple granita, topped with an apple crisp, and left with
instructions to leave it until after the foie gras. It was
fresh, green and served as a perfect palate refresher. All in
all a really excellent dish.
glass of 2001 Cloudy Bay Te Koko
Sauvignon Blanc arrived next (as with all the wines, in an
appropriate Spiegelau glass). A mellow sauvignon blanc nose,
that develops more smoky, toasty notes as it warms up. Rich on the
attack, and I have to say it’s taken the oak well.
Not a wine I’d ever have chosen, but it works extremely well
with the scallop dish that arrived a few moments later.
was a roasted scallop, on an utterly smooth
cauliflower purée with a creamy white sultana sauce with
cèpes, carrots and cauliflower crisps. Another
excellent dish, lifted beyond the excellent conception and execution by
an utterly stunning scallop.
a bottle of 1994 La Rioja Alta 904
was produced, opened and decanted, before a glass was poured for me a
little while later. A gorgeous nose of sweet vanillin fruit
with a touch of volatile acidity. Sweet, spicy, gentle red
fruits on the palate. Completely integrated fruit, ripeness
and acidity; just waiting for the last of the spicy tannins to
was accompanied by a perfectly cooked spring
lamb cutlet, served with a ravioli of veal tongue and ham (an item
I’d noticed as a course on one of the other grazing menus and
asked if it could be worked in), a delicate spring roll of confit
breast of lamb, lamb sweetbreads, pommes noisettes and a lamb and
tarragon sauce. The ravioli was served on a bed of garlicky
spinach with horizontally sliced morels. Another excellent,
a pause, when the maître
d’ arrived and did all the handshaking and greeting stuff, he
wheeled round the cheese trolley. A smaller selection than in
many of the top London restaurants, but very well chosen, well kept and
well described. Cheese was served with some fabulous dried
baby figs that had been marinated in Chablis for a week (something I am
going to have to try myself) and two jellies: an apple jelly (intended
to match mild, creamy cheeses) and a pinot noir jelly (intended to
match strong cheeses) – both jellies served their intended
purpose exceedingly well.
the cheese came a
Aleatico di Puglia, Candido, Salice Salentino (fortified?)
negroamaro An elegant, slightly floral nose. Very
fresh and light textured with a nice sweetness, but also lovely
balance. If served this blind, I’d have guessed it
was a black muscat.
first dessert was a gingerbread trifle: a light
apple jelly, pain d’épices, crème
chantilly layered on top of each other and decorated with a gingerbread
biscuit and a caramel shape, probably best described as a hat pin.
second dessert was a beautiful, light, fresh,
satisfying way to finish the meal: a full-flavoured mango puree set
between sesame caramel wafers, with a pineapple sorbet on the
side. Underneath, covering the plate were the thinnest sheets
of pineapple carpaccio that had been marinated in a coconut
liqueur. All superb, but the sesame caramel wafers were
the desserts was served a 1995
Sämling 88 (??BA??) from Helmut Lang in Austria’s
Burgenland. A very, very delicate nose. Much bigger
and sweeter on the attack than the nose would have led you to
think. Big and round; really quite sweet, and it
doesn’t fully carry off its sweetness. A touch
simple, but it matches well and stands up well to the desserts,
especially the mango.
are not small (they are larger than some
à la carte portions I’ve had elsewhere), yet the
whole meal had a superb balance that left one comfortably contented
rather than overfull.
Mediterranean Restaurant, Lancaster
opened at 66 Penny Street, Lancaster in premises that previously were
an unexceptional tapas restaurant. Talking to the owner/manager/waiter,
he sees the plainly grilled meats as his restaurants main strengths,
but I went in one lunchtime, when there was a cheapo lunch menu,
offering lahmajun, chicken stew, an overgrown börek - that
sort of thing. The menu and low aspirations are reminiscent of many a
small café in Turkey, as is the somewhat basic decor.
I don't see this lasting long. While the simple cooking may appeal to
some, there's no sense of occasion to make people go for food they
could easily cook at home.
Lahmacun was ok - nice fresh tasting, but a rather thick, unappetising
pizza base. The börek sort of thing was the same pizza base
folded over a filling of spinach and cheese and then baked, served
sliced, sprinkled with sesame seeds: it was the better of the two, but
not exactly inspiring.
0/10 (which is not to say it's actively bad, but not somewhere I'd
recommend eagerly) (December 2006)
Dining Room, Rawtenstall
If you look at that
vast organ of
collective hearsay, wikipedia, you get the impression that Rawtenstall
is famous for ... absolutely nothing. They mention that it's the
birthplace of Jane Horrocks, but manage to omit that Rawtenstall is
home to Britain's last remaining temperance bar, Fitzpatricks, with its
excellent sarsaparilla and dandelion & burdock among other
restorative non-alcoholic drinks, alongside shelves laden with herbs
and spices of varying degrees of mysteriousness, all looking destined
for non-culinary purposes, to judge from their monochrome appearance. The Helmshore
Mills textile industry
working museum is just down the road, as is the northern terminus of
the East Lancs preserved railway line.
Rawtenstall's market, which proudly preclaims itself the friendliest
market, is an interesting mix of outdoor cabins (à la
traditional market hall.
Opposite the market hall is something
that should add to the fame of Rawtenstall, but appears curiously
overlooked by all the food guides, except Hardens.
location is somewhat unpromising and you wouldn't expect to see an
advertising A-board outside many Michelin-starred
isn't Michelin-starred, but should be. To my mind, some of
food in the north west is being served here. I find the
well conceived, very well balanced, very well executed, and beautifully
I've never actually eaten à la carte here, having
always been tempted away by the excellent value offered by the tasting
menu or the equally excellent value set lunch. The latter
courses for £16.95 (less for fewer courses), which is
for the quality of food and execution.
Today was the set lunch,
starting for me with a room temperature fillet of mackerel served on
top of some lightly pickled ceviche-style carrot (and something
The balance of the un-ceviched mackerel and the ceviched (if you'll
allow me to make up words) vegetables was just right. Top
moving on to main course, we had an additional starter off the
carte, mine being the terrine of foie gras. This was served
rather nice gewurztraminer jelly chopped, and mixed with a fine
brunoise of apples, a much too thick brandy snap (the first real fault
I've found in the food in numerous visits) and some very fine home-made
brioche, which had been toasted with a degree of precision that is
quite rare. The terrine itself was well-made, though perhaps
slightly small slice, but was a bit underflavoured: it needed a bit of
salt, though a bit more marinading of the livers would have achieved
the same result I think.
Then it was back to the set lunch. Set
lunches are the time for restaurants to wheel out cheaper cuts (and
indeed there was a slow cooked shoulder of lamb), but my main course
featured the primest of prime cuts, the pork tenderloin.
cooked and served with peas three ways (though that's not how the menu
described it, as that just mentioned the risotto): fresh peas, a pea
purée and a superb risotto of peas and cider-marinated bacon.
there would have been no problem switching to à la carte for
(and the chef's selection of desserts for sharing was recently an
exceptionally good selection of exquisite desserts), the lure of "apple
crumble tart" on the TDH was too much for me. Super light yet
pastry, with a nicely tart apple filling topped with an almost streusel
like crumble, served with a scoop of excellent vanilla ice-cream, was
really spot on. It would be tempting to slip a touch of
such a dessert, but on this occasion I much appreciated the purity of
the apple flavour.
Incidentals are top notch too. Bread is
home made and superb: four varieties, all tasting of what they're
supposed to. Petits fours are very fine: a perfect miniature
tart with a gossamer of crispy brûlée topping, an
ultra light lacy
tuile and a superbly hedonistic chocolate truffle. The wine list perhaps doesn't
have the same interest
skill as the kitchen, but there is sufficient to match the food at
not too unreasonable prices.
is the most recent visit, but based on a number
of visits, The Dining Room
is one of the best restaurants in the North West, if not the North of
England. Andrew Robinshaw's cooking is assured, skilled and
inventive, without any excesses that can arise from inventiveness.
I find the food is better (or rather more consistent) than at
Northcote Manor (and I prefer the more informal atmosphere at the
Dining Room to the temple of gastronomy feel that Northcote
cultivates), better than all the restaurants run by Paul Heathcote,
better than many of the Lake District restaurants. Nutters in Edenfield
is probably the closest local competitor: I find Nutters
over-bearing and the food isn't as good as they think it is: I've had
some great meals there, and some less good (the best was the first
time, at the old Nutters site, when we persuaded Andrew to do a tasting
menu for us at lunchtime, and as we were the only ones there, he came
out and talked us through some of the dishes). Probably
the closest restaurants in quality and standard to the Dining Room are
L'Enclume in Cartmel, Hipping Hall near Kirkby Lonsdale and the new
Michael Caines at Abode (in the former Rossetti hotel in Manchester).
L'Enclume is in a class of weirdness of its own, and doesn't really
bear comparison. Hipping Hall (like the Dining Room, curiously ignored
by all the major food guides, apart from Hardens) has a very near level
of quality of food, maybe slightly better executed on occasion, but the
Dining Room edges it slightly for me as the menu changes more
regularly. Michael Caines at Abode is also at a similar level of
quality, but it's in a dark basement down anonymous corridors and
concentrates on a grazing style of menu. If pushed, I would
probably say that The Dining Room
about edges slightly ahead of the food at Hipping Hall
Kirkby Lonsdale, and what pushes it ahead is the more frequent
menu changes: indeed, the second time we had the tasting menu at the
Dining Room, they adjusted the menu to avoid duplicating the dishes we
had had on the previous visit. Edging slightly ahead of
Hall, makes this probably the best restaurant in the north west.
9/10 (August 2008)
very sadly, the Dining Room closed in the autumn of 2009. I
we see Andrew Robinshaw cooking in a restaurant kitchen again soon.
White Bull, Ribchester, Lancashire
& Chris Bell
took over the place in 2006, having both spent eight years at Paul
Heathcote's Longridge Restaurant, she as GM, he in the kitchen. Here at
the 300-year old White Bull, they've certainly not messed about with a
traditional boozer. As you pass through the Roman columns of the
portico (this is the former Bremetennacum Veteranorum after all), there
are some pool tables in a distinctly rough looking room to the left, a
large lounge bar in the centre and a restaurant room to the right. All
is pretty much unreconstructed old pub (and still operating as a
local), and you get the distinct impression not much money at all has
been spent, which in these days of "designed" gastropubs is actually a
pleasant change. There's even a stuffed fox rather bizarrely cut into
two and mounted so that it appears to be leaping through a wall.
lounge bar there are two smallish blackboards, and then in the dining
room there is one large blackboard and a second smaller one with
steaks. Too many blackboards. In addition there's a printed menu
(laminated, wipe clean, but somehow not feeling particularly cheap or
icky). Ingredients are shared between blackboards and the menu, but
with slightly different treatments, which just seemed a bit confusing.
The common thread through the menus is British food from local
We started with a good ham hock terrine served with a nice
chutney and a large, quartered and toasted barmcake and a beautifully
smooth wild garlic and potato soup, entirely lacking the flouriness
that too often mars an anything and potato soup. Though a bit more wild
garlic would certainly not have gone amiss. Main courses were an
exceptionally good rib eye steak - beautiful flavour, perfectly cooked.
A bit thin maybe, but it was only £11.95 (or was it
£13.95?) with pretty decent chips. A suckling pig dish on
mashed potatoes and a couple of other things I've forgotten looked
remarkably like Pugh's porchetta and as is often the case with the
latter suffered from an uncrispy, heavy skin. Desserts are
fairly standard and unfortunately both of us were too full
to try more than a couple of scoops of local Mrs Dowson's ice cream.
Nice, but nothing the kitchen here had had a hand in. While they've
spent nothing on the decor or furnishings, they have invested in a
espresso machine, and managed to produce very good espresso from it.
The wine list is feeble - really very much a pub wine list, though a
bit more expensive than it should be. A screwcapped 2004 Mitchell
Peppertree Shiraz was a solid basic Ozzie shiraz which didn't really
excite me. Fortunately there is some good beer, including on
this occasion a very nice pint of Great Jemima from the local Bowland
Brewery at Bashall. Service was surprisingly good for a pretty
traditional village pub, not so surprising for someone who used to run
front of house in a Michelin starred restaurant. All in all, I thought
the White Bull was much, much better than I thought it was going to be.
Utterly unprepossessing. Reasonably priced food, done fairly well - I
need a few more visits to find out whether some minor seasoning errors
were just that or more of a problem. Doesn't really replace the
Freemasons (RIP), though the toilets are much more pleasant at the
3/10 (April 2008)
Bells are, from July 2009, taking over Paul Heathcote's former flagship
restaurant in Longridge (see below).
What the relationship is to the Heathcotes group is currently
unclear, and varies depending which story you listen to! At
time of writing (July 2009), the Heathcotes group website isn't
admitting that the previous chef isn't there any more and the menus are
dated February (without a year).
House, Romilly Street, Soho, London
Richard Corrigan has now relocated to the former Chez Nico premises at
90 Park Lane (connected physically but not in business terms to the
Grosvenor House Hotel). The old Lindsay House premises on Romilly
Street are now (autumn 2010) occupied by Alexis Gauthier,
formerly of Roussillon.
of my favourite London restaurants, excellent at both lunch and
dinner. Here is a report of an impressive set price lunch.
Keeping itself very much to itself on this quiet street between the
attractions of Old Compton St and Shaftesbury Avenue. Ring the bell to
be let in. Inside it is very much a house, with a series of rooms on
three floors (second floor private dining, first floor lunch and
dinner, ground floor dinner) with a slightly seedy air. Cultivated
seedy perhaps. The decor is "lived-in Soho town house". Having entered
you go down a rather dark hallway and up some uneven, very creaky
slightly rickety stairs. The dining rooms have uneven bare wood floors
and a general distressed appearance. Distressed by design, I assume. It
works well - you might even say complements the rustic touches to much
of the food - and provides a comfortable, conducive atmosphere. Tables
and their settings are spot on though.
Roast wood pigeon, rosti potato, plum jus (they don't waste words on
the menu here) was what it said. Small pigeon breats, slightly beaten
out, perfectly cooked and sandwiched (some places would say en
feuilleté) of wafer thin rosti. Served with stewed plums and
an excellent stock reduction sauce flavoured with plums. Good
combination, well executed.
Main course was Poached monkfish, shellfish ravioli, squid
bouillabaisse. The monkfish was wrapped in courgette and the timing of
its cooking was absolutely spot on. The ravioli contained a remarkably
good combination of cockles and mussels made into a barely cooked
mousselline: the pure, fresh flavours of the shellfish worked extremely
well. The bouillabaisse was an excellent, very finely flavoured fish
soup style sauce with some pieces of squid rather than fish. The squid
seems at first glance redundant, but not only contributed flavour to
the bouillabaisse (an achievement in itself), but added another welcome
texture to the dish. The three main ingredients - the monkfish, the
cockle & mussel ravioli and the bouillabaisse sauce worked
exceptionally well together, each adding something and counterpointing
the others, but remaining a very harmonious dish. Absolutely splendid.
This came with a small pan of creamy Robuchon style mashed potatoes.
Dessert was rosehip soup, vanilla cream, almond biscuit. Quite unusual
(to me anyway). The rosehip soup was served hot, and if that's what
rosehips taste like, I like them. Sweetish but also with a savoury and
slightly sour tang and a distinct pepperiness. The vanilla cream was
80% the way to being ice cream, yet wasn't melted ice cream. And once
more it all worked well together, ending up with a dish far more than
the sum of its parts. Without the vanilla cream and biscuit, the soup
would have been too rich; the contrasts of the heat of the soup and
cream and of the textures of soup, cream and biscuit were very well
The lunch menu is £23 and with a sherry (£7.50) a
bottle of very apt Ostertag Sylvaner 1999 (£26), a bottle of
water (£3.50), very good coffee with excellent petit fours
(£3.50) and an "optional" 12.5% service charge, the bill came
to just over £71.
service charge is merited. The staff are excellent: friendly and
approachable without being over-familiar and splendidly efficient. They
also have the ability not to loiter within the dining room(s), but
respond well to telepathic summons, as they almost instantly appear
should anyone want them.
This easily deserves an 8, and it would be a high 8, almost a 9 out of
lunch visit brought the following:
very fine anchovy and tomato crisp thins come
while you peruse the menus (carte also available at lunch), and are
Starter was a rump of veal with pickled aubergines. The veal was served
barely lukewarm, very rare and almost like a tataki of veal. The
pickled aubergine (a sort of melitzanosalata, if my recollection is
correct of the menu at Kalamaras in Inverness Mews all those years ago)
appears delicate at first, but manages to pack quite a punch,
presumably from undetectable chilli and perhaps a bit of cumin. Fried
basil leaves and a syrupy reduction of pan juices and soy (which I
thought were much more than just that, so good were they) rounded off a
very good dish. Light and oddly refreshing on a hot summer's day.
Main course was tongue with chanterelles. This was a very satisfying
slab of calves? (could have been young ox) tongue cut lengthwise from
the tongue. Came with a the largest coxcomb I've ever seemed, which
rather redeemed the coxcomb as a food in my mind. So much better,
meatier and more flavoursome than the tiny little gelatinous lumps that
I would normally associate with coxcomb. It must have been a very big
cock. Some small cream coloured quenelles defied identification at
first, but when they were explained to be foie gras gnocchi, all became
clear. A good madeira sauce rounded it off. This was far from being a
good dish - it was an absolutely marvellous dish. A less common
centrepiece with unaccustomed accompaniments that all knitted together
The wine list is not quite so splendid. The difference in price between
half and full bottles was minimal (say 0.75:1.0) and having nothing
else whatsoever to do in the afternoon, I ended up with a bottle of
Crozes Hermitage Les Pierrelles 1998 Belle Pere et fils at
£28. Light and oddly fresh. Actually went quite well, but as
a wine was a bit undistinguished.
Having plenty left I took a selection of cheese - 5 Irish cheeses,
perfectly à point with some utterly delicious soda bread. It
came with a very branston like pickle, which was singularly
wine-killing. I expect Richard Corrigan has spent years perfecting this
so it tastes just like Branston (in the same way Paul Heathcote has
perfected Heinz tomato soup), but it was singularly out of place,
particularly when the cheese had been suggested in order to finish the
wine. The cheeses were all named, but no order in which they were to be
eaten was suggested, unfortunately.
Dessert was "raspberries and raspberries". A raspberry sorbet, a tiny
millefeuille of raspberries, a raspberry parfait (actually a very good
vanilla parfait with a raspberry in the middle of it), a hot
raspberry-frangipane tart and a wine jelly containing raspberries.
With a glass of sherry, bottle of water (£3.50), good
espresso and an "optional" 12.5% service the bill came to a very
reasonable £82.69 (I had had a full bottle of wine,
remember), and the card slip was closed.
Service was friendly and welcoming, without being obtrusive. Very well
judged. Just like the food.
A clear 9 out of 10.
went again to the Lindsay House for lunch on 11th
They were actually number 3 on my list: couldn't get in to Gordon
Ramsay or Tom Aiken.
I had a fantastic lunch with a glass of wine at each course.
Canapés were: Queen olives wtih a goats' cheese stuffing (the
olives had been scalped and some light goats' cheese mousse piped in:
very nice, but perhaps a touch rustic?) Sherried foie gras mousse on crisps (very airy, but
also a very powerful flavour with an excellent balance of sherry and
foie gras) Anchovy straws (ok, take a sheet of puff pastry, lay
anchovy fillets horizontally at 1.5" intervals along the whole width of
the pasty; season; put another sheet of pastry on top; cut vertically
into fine strips and bake. Very nice - I think I'll be replicating
these. Though I might air them briefly in the oven before serving,
which unfortunately Corrigan's brigade hadn't done)
There is the carte, and - at lunch - two TDH menus at £25,
but no problem to mix and match between them: so effectively a choice
of 2-2-2. I'd just about made up my mind what I was going to have, and
had talked myself into the TDH, when the waiter announced the specials.
How on earth could I not have a "Ravioli of pigs head with a tempura of
So I slotted that into the TDH as an extra course, but had to change
from the lobster ravioli that I'd been eyeing up as a starter to Beef bouillon with marrow croutes
A very intense, but not overly beefy (ie not tending to oxo-iness)
consommé, which was absolutely spot on in every way. The
croutes were more garlicky/parsley than slathered with marrow. On
reflection, I wonder if they incorporated the marrow into the dough
before baking it? There were some halved soft boiled quails eggs which
added colour and texture, but wouldn't have been missed; and there were
also some little patties of (I think) shin, which added another texture
and more flavour, and really did contribute.
With that, I had a glass of 2003 Albariño, DO Rias
Baixas from Pazo Señorans
Next up was the Ravioli of pig's head with brain tempura
A large (6 inch square) flat raviolo, that was slightly thick at the
edges where the two layers of pasta met: they'd have been better to
trim it a little further after cooking and before serving. The brain
fritters were vey light and airy - almost ethereal. The raviolo had an
excellent meaty filling with a variety of textures. Trendy pea sprouts
and other green sprouting veg type stuff, together with a good meat
jus, completed the dish. Jolly good dish.
With that, I had a 2003 Chablis, Domaine Perchaud
Main course was a Ballotine of chicken and wild mushroom,
chorizo bread pudding
An excellent example of just how good chicken thigh meat can be -
really succulent. Good flavoured mushrooms. Some more sprouting leaves
and a good intense, yet light jus. Really nice dish. This came with a
rather odd sounding - and odd-looking - bread pudding. This was a
savoury bread and butter pudding, with a rich savoury custard and cubes
of chorizo. What a fantastic accompaniment! Gorgeous.
With the chicken ballotine, I drank 2003 Villa Vieja
Sangiovese, La Agricola, Mendoza, Argentina
Dessert was a warm banana tart with hot raisin syrup. Needed a sweet
tooth, but with one was utterly delicious and moreish. A sort of banana
tarte tatin, but not one that had been upside down. Nice light puff
With that and with excellent espresso, I drank 2000 Mas
Cristine, AC Rivesaltes
One of the greatest strengths of the Lindsay House is its treatment of
offal and less prestigious cuts. I've not (yet) been to St
John, but I gather that the nose to tail eating there is pretty much
literal and the cooking is much simpler. At the Lindsay House, these
cuts are given a much more cheffy michelin treatment, if you see what I
mean. E.g. their treatment of the classic Irish crubbeens (pig's
trotters) sees them boned and formed into small breadcrumbed beignets.
The wine list is the problem at the Lindsay House - the markups are
ferocious. Each of these glasses of wine was around
£8-£10 each. Corrigan's menu is one that should
actively encourage innovative food and wine pairings, but instead
diners are punished horribly whether drinking by the bottle or by the