Archive for April, 2005

Interview: Andrew Turvil, Editor Good Food Guide (2005)

Posted on: April 15th, 2005 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Which Good Food Guide 2005, edited by Andrew Turvil

The Which? Good Food Guide has been a constant companion for many years. The Guide is reliable, credible, consistent and interesting to read. Each editor has brought their own personality to bear on the style of content and no doubt Andrew Turvil will prove no different. It was therefore a great thrill to meet only the sixth editor in The Guide’s history at their offices on Marylebone Road. This is what Andrew had to say.

Interview by Simon Carter, April 2005.

Tell us some background about yourself

I joined The Good Food Guide in 1989, aged 24, in a junior editorial capacity. I’ve worked under two editors – Tom Jaine and Jim Ainsworth – and by the mid-nineties I was controlling the management and co-ordination of the team of inspectors. I undertook my first inspection in the early 1990s, so I’ve seen the dramatic improvements to the UK scene over the last fifteen years.

I’ve edited three editions of the Which? Pub Guide (the first of which was under the title The Which? Guide to Country Pubs), but the GFG has always been my main job. In 2003 I took over editorship of The Good Food Guide from Jim Ainsworth.

What has becoming Editor meant to you?

It is quite something that the GFG has had only six editors in over 50 years, and it is certainly a privilege to be in the hot-seat, especially at such a vibrant time for restaurants in the UK. I’m very aware of the history of the guide, and the knowledge, enthusiasm, and loyalty of the readership. (Andrew hands me a copy of the orinigal 1952 Guide).

This is the only copy we have of the original Guide from 1952, and it has hand-written notes, quite probably by Raymond Postgate, the founding editor. We keep this under lock and key. (The book is around A6 size, well thumbed and full of hand written notes, there are no marks for restaurants, I was aware of a sense of history in my hands!).

What does the Which? Good Food Guide ‘brand’ mean to you and your readers?

Well, The Good Food Guide actually pre-dates Which? by a few years. Raymond Postgate linked-up with Which? in the early 1960s, and the organisation is in many ways an ideal publisher for such a consumer-focused guide. Which? is a registered charity and recognized nationally as a wholly independent body striving to improve goods and services for the consumer. Within that context the GFG’s independence is not in doubt, and our strict policy of not charging restaurants for inclusion, taking freebies, or taking advertising, sits very nicely within the company. The guide has always stood for robust good sense, and continues to do so.

A restaurant making the guide at all is in the top 1000 in Britain?

They are the 1000 restaurants most enjoyed by the GFG readers and inspectors. We’ve about 1300 restaurants in the guide in total (including the ‘useful in the area’ section known as the round-ups). I think our rating system of 1 to10 is quite clear to regular readers of the guide – they seem to use it and understand it – although those less familiar might have the misconception that a mark of 1 or 2 or 3/10 is a failing restaurant. On the contrary they are likely to be in the top few percent of restaurants in the country and have reached a level of quality that warrants inclusion. This means the dishes may be straightforward, but the quality of ingredients used and technical competence of the chef are worthy of entry. Low-scoring entries are often good, honest places and well worth visiting. As you climb the ladder to the top few percent, those receiving 8,9 or 10/10 are exceptional restaurant, and undoubtedly among the best in the world.

The marking has been a score out of 10 since 1996, any plans to change?

The marking system is just a guide, an indication of the level of achievement of the kitchen as judged by readers and inspectors. It is quite possible to have a more enjoyable time in a low-scoring restaurant over a high-scoring one. I think the score should only be one of the factors considered when selecting a restaurant from the guide. And no, I’ve no plans to change the scoring system at present. Many readers read the GFG cover to cover and eat out all over the country, so a consistent approach to the marking system is important. But so is the quality and detail of the descriptions. They are fundamental to our approach; the GFG should be a good read. The articles at the front of the book also give our readers something extra, and are an aspect I hope to develop further in the coming years.

Is the mark for food only? What role does service play?

We are very clear that the mark is for cooking, taking into consideration the quality of the produce used, balance of the dishes, technical competence of the chefs, and creativity. The service, atmosphere, ambience and so on are all part of the restaurant experience, so essential elements. We write about those and comment on them, but they don’t count towards the score. Dazzlingly creative food served in a leaky barn could score highly, but we would point out to readers that they’d get wet if it rained.

What are your views on standardising service charge arrangements for restaurants? What are the current issues with the service charge and tipping according to your readers?

Service charges in the UK are confusing for residents, so must be especially baffling to tourists. The 12.5% ‘optional’ service charge seems to be the service charge of choice for most city restaurants these days. The big issue right now is what happens to that service charge. I think most people would assume this money is going to the waiting staff, but recent stories in the press suggest otherwise.

I’m not a fan of tipping and would much rather see inclusive prices. If the cost on the menu is the cost charged to the customer (VAT and service included) there can be no confusion.

What trends have you noticed in fine dining?

Firstly, I don’t think fine dining has had its day, as some have suggested. Sure there is a need for more good quality restaurants at the lower end of the scale – good value, informal, relaxed – but I think people are still willing to pay for a special experience. The problem comes when restaurants charge high prices for not-very-special food. As far as current trends are concerned, the rise of south east Asian-influenced food, particularly in the big cities, is really taking off. Many new openings, though, seem to spend so much money on interior design so as to catch the eye and be the next big thing. Whatever happened to simplicity or understatement? Maybe that will be the next big thing. The rise of decent food in pubs is good to see, and their informality and casual attitude can be refreshing. A broadening in geographical spread of quality restaurants has been evident for a few years now, and most UK cities have somewhere decent within the fine dining genre.

I’m interested to see how the very top-end of the fine dining scale develops over the next few years. Heston Blumenthal is the obvious chef to single out at the vanguard of cooking in this country, but there are others who are also pushing boundaries and exploring new areas of flavour. There has been a steady but discernable increase in overall quality of restaurants in the OK over the last 15 years or so, and a restaurant receiving the equivalent of six out of ten back then would doubtless score something like a four today.

How many inspectors are on your books?

We have around 70 inspectors. They are all volunteers – meaning they’re not paid salaries (future applicants please note), and they visit restaurants at my direction. Many have professional experience within the industry (ex-chefs, restaurateurs, food or wine writers), and others have proven their knowledge over time. They are reimbursed the costs of all inspections, which consist of a full meal for two people. By eating with a guest the inspector’s experiences is the same a regular customer. The inspectors know what is expected from them in terms of depth of analysis of the food, and they have to write us a detailed report on all aspects of the meal, so not just the food.

And what is the process for awarding marks?

The score is allocated by looking at the body of evidence, which amounts to the official inspection and readers’ reports. We often have feedback from more than one inspector as they will always feed us with more information if they go in an off-duty capacity. It is my job to reflect the balance of the feedback and to draw a final conclusion on the score. This is easy when everyone agrees, but less so when there is conflicting opinion. And I won’t have visited every restaurant myself of course! The bottom line is a lack of consistency speaks volumes in itself, as a restaurant achieving 5 or 6 or more is expected to be consistent.

What are the exact criteria used by inspectors at each of the broad (5) banding levels?

The judging of the food starts when you look at the menu – its length, composition, seasonality, provenance of ingredients are all considered. While eating the inspector is looking at every element of the dish, from what it looks like on the plate to the timing of the cooking, from the quality of the ingredients to the appropriateness of the cooking techniques. The lower end of the rating scale includes places with a straightforward approach and allows for some inconsistency. Not everything may be spot on, but we are starting from the baseline of good, fresh produce carefully prepared. By the time you get to the 5- 6 mark we are dealing with serious restaurants, with extremely competent kitchens producing high quality food. A high degree of skill is required to score at this level, and most restaurants in this bracket offer highly creative cooking. By the time we get to 7 and above, we are in the top 40 or so in the country. The ingredients are expected to be as good as they get, and in most cases there is a high degree of creativity and individual flair.

Many of the top inspectors eat out all around the country (and abroad for the matter, but we can’t pay them for that unfortunately) which helps us maintain consistency at a national level. This ensures a benchmark standard of marking across the country. As editor, a key responsibility is to vouch that a mark of 5 in London is same as a 5 in Yorkshire is the same as a 5 in Scotland.

How many visits per week might a typical inspector make?

That can vary a lot and depends on a number of factors ranging from where they live to their areas of expertise. They have to fit the inspections into their normal lives (Yes, they have normal lives!). This means an inspector might take on only one official meal in a week, thus avoiding the jaded palate of a “professional” inspector. Others might do more, but there is rarely any need for a GFG inspector to visit more than one restaurant in a day.

How many reports do you receive a year from your readers?

We get thousands of reports a year – sometimes up to 10,000 comments. Some readers are quite prolific in their output of reviews and provide us with some fantastic stuff. The passion, knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject shown within these reports is uplifting. An increasing proportion of these are coming via email, of course.

When the guide is compiled, how is it written?

Each entry is based on all the feedback at our disposal. That consists of the official inspection, readers’ reports, further feedback from inspectors, plus menus and wine lists supplied by the restaurants. A team of writers and myself write the entries from all these sources, with the greatest input coming from the official inspection. We sometimes quote readers and inspectors, but the tone and balance of each entry should reflect the feedback received over a given year. It is my job to underpin the guide with a level of editorial consistency. We also employ a writer to specifically write the wine copy situated at the end of most entries. This means we have a single person looking at all the best wine lists in the country, and he is able to compare and contrast. This level of analysis is, I think, second to none.

Has the inclusion of discount vouchers been a success? (eg now £20 and used to be £15, introduced in 1999)

They effectively mean you can make a profit by buying a copy of GFG! The guide costs £15.99 and you get four £5 vouchers inside. The uptake of the vouchers is nothing like 100%, and we make it very clear to restaurants featured in the guide that participation in the scheme has absolutely no bearing on their entry. It’s entirely optional. Most restaurants in the scheme are in rural areas, and I dare say they see it as a way to boost numbers in the quieter sessions (they need only accept vouchers in 70% of sessions). Over the course of a year any semi-regular diner is likely to visit four places which accept the vouchers.

Are establishments allowed to advertise GFG inclusion in their literature/on their websites?

Yes. Since the mid-1990s restaurants have been allowed to refer to inclusion in the GFG in promotional material, and we provide free window stickers for display on the premises.

What role does the internet play in your research?

The GFG is available online at present to subscribers to Which? Online, and we are always looking at further ways to make it available, but you’ll have to watch this space. The internet has certainly made life much easier for anyone involved in research. Key in a name of a new restaurant or an unusual ingredient and something is bound to pop up, even if it is not what you’re expecting. It is a great forum for bringing people together, too, and there is no shortage of people passionate about food and wine.

The Good Food Guide can be ordered on Freephone 0800 252100 (£15.99, p&p free) or at or bought from bookshops.

Trompette Restaurant Reviews (2005)

Posted on: April 11th, 2005 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

A Master Restaurateur by Simon Carter, Co-Editor

Nigel Platts-Martin enjoyed a distinguished career in law (Freshfields) and corporate finance (Warburgs) before moving into the restaurant business a dozen years ago. The Michelin Two Star Square restaurant, co-owned with chef Phillip Howard, is perhaps the jewel in the crown.

Meanwhile, with business partner and chef Bruce Poole, he owns Chez Bruce, The Glasshouse and La

Trompette; all immensely popular goldmines, delivering Michelin One Star standard cooking to two full sittings every evening service.

It is perhaps sad that La Trompette is the only one of the family to not formally receive the nod from Michelin for its achievements. Nevertheless all four restaurants would comfortably appear in the 2005 London Top 60 Restaurants within the 1% Club were the Glasshouse in Kew considered ‘London’by the Guides.

So it is easy to see why Mr Platts-Martin is laden with industry awards acclaiming his ‘restaurateurism’.

Hirings are clearly astute and promotion is encouraged from within. Ollie Couillaud is in the process of moving to The Dorchester. Since March 2001 and the opening of La Trompette, Ollie has been a fixture as Head Chef, gaining Which? Good Food Guide London Newcomer of The Year recognition for the restaurant in their first year. Ollie had previously spent time under the tutorage of Bruce Poole at Chez Bruce, an experience shared by his soon to be successor -James Bennington.

This sense of family extends to the front-of-house where Romain Vrinat is restaurant manager; Romain spent five years as a maitre d’ at The Square. The Head Sommelier – Matthieu Longuere – joined the team from Hotel du Vin (Bristol) in 2002 and has rapidly become bedecked with awards including AA Guide, Tio Pepe Carlton and TW Wines recognition.

Since the early days, the food has moved on from rustic and earthy to significantly more refined. Prices remain very generous at £32.50 for three courses for dinner (I can’t remember a price increase), while at the same time the restaurant appears to be doing the opposite of cutting corners on portion control.

On this occasion (I must have visited a dozen times over four years) I started with six warm oysters topped with sauce mousseline and caviar. Sauce mousseline is

effectively Hollandaise lightened by whipped egg whites or cream. There was no ‘crunch for contrast’ or any spinach – just simple but effective, just what I wanted.

The main course was equally straight forward – cote de boeuf with sauce béarnaise and chips. The cote de boeuf comes from the rib of the animal as opposed to Chateaubriand which is a fillet (the latter named after the 19th century French author and statesman Francois Chateaubriand); I mention this as both may be served in similar fashion. A generous custard tart for pudding was enjoyed after a cheesboard of impressive variety albeit mixed ripeness.

Service was charming, professional and efficient throughout and added to the undoubted buzz of happy smart casual dining in the suburbs.

It will be fascinating to experience the impact of James Bennington; there is little to choose in style or execution between Chez Bruce and La Trompette – will we see an individual signature? The key perhaps to even more success for the Nigel Platts-Martin empire.

A Chiswick Gem by Daniel Darwood, Co-Editor

An “effusion” of eateries! A “riot” of restaurants! In fact, what is the collective noun for a group of dining establishments? Whatever term it is, Chiswick qualifies in abundance. The high street is profuse with every possible type of cuisine, along with coffee houses, wine bars and pubs; fittingly so, given the wealthy professional classes that populate this western suburb: why go to the West End when so much is on offer a stone’s throw away?

The real gem, almost hidden from view if walking along Chiswick High Street, is La Trompette, a modern, stylish, French restaurant which was Which? Good Food Guide London Newcomer of the Year in 2002. Tucked in between and opposite various ethnic restaurants in a busy side street, with awning and outside tables for al fresco dining, the restaurant exudes a confident, sophisticated, and refined air of luxury. Fortunately, complacency is not in evidence. The restaurant, shortly to have a new head chef given the imminent departure of Ollie Couillaud to the Dorchester, continues to produce classic and modern French dishes of high quality, with a few new creations to reflect the seasons and ring the changes.

With slightly cramped space, and no bar area, the diner is immediately confronted – when the restaurant is full – with a cheerful buzz. The décor is tastefully understated, with padded leather banquets, spotlights, floor to ceiling windows and a touch of tubular steel; all in perfect harmony with each other and a fitting backdrop for the culinary delights being served.

With 8 choices in each of the three courses – a real bargain at £32.50 (£42.50 including cheese) – an embarrassment of choice awaits the discerning diner. One can be certain shellfish, game, offal, poultry and red meat featuring on the savoury courses. Starters are in many ways the most creative and imaginative area of the menu. Consider for instance, a tarte fine of venison, comprising feather light puff pastry with a celeriac tatin and horseradish cream. Although a rich dish, embellished as it was with a port reduction, the effect was not heavy or cloying. Nor was it over sweet which can easily be the case with many inferior versions. The taste of the medium rare paper thin venison fillet was enhanced but not overwhelmed by the garnishes, the horseradish cream proving also an excellent balance with its slight acidity and nuttiness.

Sharing a cote de boeuf would seem a gourmand’s indulgence of massive proportions. What prevented this from happening was partly due to the perfect timing of the cooking (medium rare), and the expert carving after an appropriate resting period. The taste of good meat is always enhanced when carved fairly thinly. The beef was also well hung, exuding much flavour from the marbled fat. In addition, the red wine sauce and the accompanying classic béarnaise, produced a deeply satisfying contrast of tastes and consistencies. The pommes frites, probably cooked in ground nut oil, provided a cleanness of flavour without the over richness often found in duck fat chips.

The cheeseboard provided highlights for those lovers of strong tastes, although the full variety of tastes and textures were on offer, from cow- goat- and sheep’s milk.

The deserts ranged from highly complex, rich and multi component based choices, such as the plate of Valrhona chocolate puddings, to the more simple but elegant alternatives such as custard tart with nutmeg ice cream. The star choice was an exotic fruit trifle. Lacking the heaviness of the traditional English version, it excited the eyes and the taste buds. Amaretto biscuits, Malibu liquer, fresh mango, pineapple, guava fruit salad was clouded by an ethereal passion fruit mousse of great intensity but perfect lightness. The accompanying deep fried coconut milk beignets, mimicking fresh coconuts, provided a perfect contrast of taste, texture and temperature. The thinking behind this dish combined old and new worlds, with an appropriate fusion of ingredients and techniques.

Cooking of this quality, and service of such professionalism, has not as yet qualified for a Michelin Star. The three knives and forks rating, which represent comfort and welcome significantly under values the performance of La Trompette.. Short of blowing its own trumpet, its many regular diners and admirers should blast its virtues to the heights.