Archive for May, 2010

The Milroy: Restaurant Review, May 2010

Posted on: May 10th, 2010 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

The Milroy Restaurant, which serves the world-renowned Les Ambassadeurs club, has opened its doors to non members for weekday lunches. This offers the public a unique opportunity to experience the extravagance, luxury and comfort for which such establishments have become famous.

Housed at No 5 Hamilton Place, this handsome 19th century building – remodeled in the fin-de-siècle Louis XV style by Leopold de Rothschild (one of its previous owners) – stands in bold contrast to the characterless multi storey hotels which dominate this south western tip of Mayfair.

The location has a rich and glittering history, from being the site of one of Henry VIII’s hunting lodges, later the London home of the Conyngham and Rothschild dynasties, to the current ownership by the Sampoerna family.

The Milroy itself is on the first floor, reached by ascending the magnificent curved grand staircase, hand carved in warm, rich wood by Rinaldo Barbetti. This, along with the equally impressive library downstairs, took fourteen years to complete, comprising two outstanding examples of the Florentine master wood carver’s work.

Gentleman’s club meets French salon is the dominant impression as one enters the dining room. High decorated Georgian ceilings lit by Murano glass chandeliers, and large gilt mirrors, give the restaurant a spacious, glamorous feel. Grandeur is added by an internal marble colonnade leading to a flowered terrace. A restrained colour scheme features white, cream and brown. Comfort is afforded by the upholstered dining armchairs and banquettes in coffee and lime velvet. Of the well spaced tables, the best are those commanding excellent views of Hyde Park.

For private dining for a maximum of eight, guests can enjoy the Leopold Room, lavishly decorated with hand painted De Gournay scenic paper and shielded by extravagant damask curtains.

Head chef Simon Foster has a distinguished CV that includes spells at La Tante Claire and Claridges. His menu of tasteful, refined dishes combines elements of traditional and modern cooking. Scottish oaked smoked salmon with lemon and dill cream or sliced cured ham with melon appear along side seared yellow fin tuna with basil and cauliflower puree in the range of starters.

For main courses, classic deep fried battered haddock with peas and tartare sauce vies with Mediterranean vegetable open tart with herb dressing. Desserts shun the old school stodge in favour of modern classics like warm chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream or crème brulee with poached rhubarb and shortbread.

The starters chosen on this visit exemplified the utter freshness of ingredients and simplicity of presentation that characterize most dishes. The white meat of Portland king crab had a delicate sweetness enlivened by lemon mayonnaise with accompaniments of avocado and mango. The Milroy steak tartare – asked for mildy spiced – was expertly created from its multiple ingredients at the table. The accompanying Poilane toast provided the right degree of crunch to offset with the soft raw meat.

For mains there were more conservative dishes. A perfectly timed Dover sole was deftly filleted at the table, the meuniere sauce of butter and lemon being poured over once the fish was plated to retain the heat. This was another fine demonstration of les arts de la tables, almost extinct amongst fine dining establishments. The other main course, a huge Barnsley chop was cooked pink as requested and served with meltingly textured roast kidneys. These were balanced by an excellent bubble and squeak hash and lifted by a rich, deeply flavoured rosemary jus.

Be warned: the portions for starters and mains can be very generous, leaving little room for dessert for the unwary. The lightest of the sweet courses was the elderflower and lime jelly with mixed berries and crème fraiche. For those with heartier appetites, a selection of French and English cheeses with homemade chutney was also available Coffee and petit fours can be taken in the downstairs library / bar, which gave the visitor ample time to marvel at the beautiful wooden carving.

Ludovic Bargibant headed a highly professional front of house team. The service, which might seem rather too brisk for those who wish for a more leisurely experience, was nevertheless happy to adapt upon request and proved highly efficient and knowledgeable. Andres Lucas, the sommelier, was happy to advise, on a list which ranged widely across Old and New Worlds, with over 200 bins with 10 available by the glass. The Milroy Cocktail of champagne and red berries, served as an ideal aperitif – light and refreshing.

Lunch at the Milroy was a real treat, confirming if not exceeding the reputation Les Ambassadeurs has had for beautiful and lavish surroundings. It will also destroy the myth that such establishments serve indifferent, boarding school type food. Opening to the public for lunch is a bold move which, hopefully, will be followed by other clubs.

Interview: Marlon Abela (MARC) May 2010

Posted on: May 2nd, 2010 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

According to the Marlon Abela Restaurant Corporation (MARC) website “the complete MARC portfolio will include fine dining, casual dining, suburban chic, retail boutiques, fine wines and management services”

With a young, dynamic and inspirational founder and leader MARC goes from strength to strength – a work in progress if you will. Already boasting flagship addresses to match any in London, MARC has expanded confidently into the east coast of America. More is to come.

Marlon Abela found time to talk to Simon Carter of fine-dining- guide at Morton’s Club, Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London. Interview took place during February 2010.

What aspects of your background inspired you to become a restaurateur?

I consider that I was born into a family of food. I had the bug for top end restaurants from the beginning. My father founded a catering business in 1948 that expanded throughout the globe. The business covered catering and high end hotels, which naturally led me to my passion for top end restaurants. Family life and business life were inherently linked therefore so much time was spent around food.

We lived in the south of France for a while and one of the hotels the company owned included a Michelin Two Star restaurant, so I was very lucky and privileged to grow up – from a pre-teen – visiting and eating in our restaurants with my father.

Naturally, I was encouraged to pursue this line of business as it would potentially play a larger role in my life in the future, so by my early teens I was looking at hotel plans for new ventures with my father and at the age of seventeen had taken a closer interest in the business on the catering side.

At home we also had a beautiful garden with fresh herbs and vegetables – tomatoes, French beans, courgettes, peaches and apricots – everything was grown there and was of the highest quality. Through my late teens and early twenties the top end restaurant bug had really taken hold and I must have visited every two and three Michelin Star restaurant in France and many in Italy.

So food and wine were always a passion and when the time came to sell the family business I had the opportunity to focus all my energies into creating MARC – a top end restaurant and wine company.

Tell us about MARC from the beginning?

Some six to seven years ago, we decided to make life very complicated for ourselves (smiling) by re-launching The Greenhouse restaurant and launching from scratch Umu and Morton’s Club – all within the space of four months!

These remain flagships of our group.

A fascinating aspect of dining today is that chefs from all over the world ask themselves the simple question about a dish they’ ve created: “does it work or not?” The amount of influences that have appeared across cultures, across geographical boundaries and around the world is quite amazing. Chefs can now experiment with combinations of ingredients that would never have been considered 20 years ago.

In France, let’s say, there’s Bocuse and Gagnaire that offer two extremes of French gastronomy but both will retain sound fundamentals in common. So long as these fundamentals are adhered to then the scope for all chefs in presenting new and exciting dishes with influences from all over the world are enormous. These are exciting times in the food world! Umu is very much like that. The food is often contemporary with international influences but it is based on fundamental Japanese techniques.

And there’s a natural marriage between top end restaurant food and top end wine?

Yes naturally. I have always had a very passionate interest in both the restaurants and the wine – sometimes you find people have a greater passion for one over the other but for me they are inherently connected. I may be more so on the wine than the typical restaurateur; indeed a stamp of quality of a MARC Restaurant will be the wine list: There must be an extraordinary wine list!

The Greenhouse is a perfect example. Whether it is somebody who wants to taste interesting but inexpensive wines that are perhaps hard to find or unique, or whether it is someone who wants to taste older vintages of great wines that may be hard to find with excellent provenance or again those who just try something that they like and think they may want to try something similar but a little better, there are upgrade paths – you can climb the ladder of wines – and before you know it, the restaurateur has developed a 3,300 bins wine list! (Laughing).

Umu again, the Japanese Kyoto influenced restaurant in London, has over 600 bins plus the largest selection of sake in Europe. The new (second) A Voce Italian restaurant in Manhattan has over 2000 bins and we just opened.

How would you describe or define the MARC Group restaurant philosophy?

How are Marc restaurants defined? – MARC aim is to be of the highest quality in whichever area of the market our restaurants exist. This encompasses many things. In the food for example, we demand the highest quality ingredients, to have the right chef, the right designer for the restaurant space, the right décor, the right service, to generate the right atmosphere and so on.

MARC is slightly different to chef-driven enterprises where, in many instances, the restaurant will revolve around the named chef.

With MARC, step one is the concept, which may for example be Kyoto influenced food in a restaurant space in Mayfair, London or authentic Italian food in a contemporary setting on Madison Avenue, New York. From this Umu and A Voce are born. The chef is of course critical to our success and is sought after (then trained and guided) very carefully, so too is the space, the designer, the service, the wines and so on: all of them carefully brought together to achieve a clearly designed concept.

MARC has seven restaurants that are highly individual but joined by the common denominator of high-end quality. They started without constraints and as a result of shared high quality standards they are delivering a growing expectation of the quality of the brand. This reflects too, in a shared great customer experience in any of our establishments around the world.

You will not find a MARC restaurant with the name of the chef above the door, although many of the chefs are garnering first class reputations from their work within the context of the Group and receiving recognition from some of the leading guides, magazines and reviewers.

What are your proudest professional achievements as a restaurateur?

Something I’m proud of is having maintained and improved highest quality standards across a group of restaurants. It would be no good to launch restaurant number eight if restaurant number one had started to suffer.

I’m also proud of the achievement of having opened restaurants across two continents in a relatively short period of time that all retain the sought after quality of the group.

We have a new venture coming up in September 2010 – a more informal Provencal bistro with 80 or 90 covers in Brompton Road, London. Hopefully in a year or so that too, will be one of my proudest achievements (smiling).