Archive for August, 2010

Bath Priory Hotel Review, (September 2010)

Posted on: August 15th, 2010 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

When I learnt I was reviewing the Bath Priory, my excitement was tinged with apprehension: driving through the city with its one way systems, sharp bends, steep hills and limited parking had always been a nightmare on my previous visits. How pleasing, then, to find that the hotel’s clear directions from the M4 avoided the city centre, with the additional benefit of being a scenic route through the panoramic views of the Somerset countryside. And, on arriving, the ample parking was most welcome. No stress!

Located in the northwest of the city, Bath Priory is close enough to the surrounding countryside and centre of Bath to serve as a base, yet just far enough from the main sites to avoid the tourist crowds. It is, indeed, a retreat within the city. A walk through the nearby Victoria Park – and Bath is a walking city – will take you to the main attractions.

Not that the hotel lacks its own attractions. The more energetic may opt for a work out in the well equipped fitness suite, a spell in the steam room and a dip in the indoor heated pool. Alternatively, for those who seek more relaxation, a treatment in the recently refurbished Garden Spa, might provide the perfect therapy. Nature lovers need only step from the sun terrace – where meals and drinks can be enjoyed on warm summer days – into the beautifully maintained, secluded Victorian gardens. The Drawing Room and Library, heavily hung with Edwardian portraits, constitutes a virtual picture gallery in themselves. Furnished luxuriously with deep, fat cushioned settees, the Drawing Room is perfect place to take coffee and relax. Indeed, as seen on the night of my visit, the peace and comfort it affords caused one highly contented couple to fall asleep after dinner in their arm chairs!

From the outside, the main grey stoned Georgian building looks best at night when the silhouetted gables and brightly lit windows give an eerie yet welcoming feel. The interior has undergone gradual and substantial refurbishment, whilst retaining the classic country house image. The original Dining Room, Library and Drawing Room retain a traditional look – thick carpeting, elegant furnishings, heavy curtains, chandeliers and table lamps – whilst the three function rooms, which can be cleverly converted into one large room, have a lighter, more contemporary look, with paneling painted in mocha and terra cotta and modern spotlighting.

Owners Andrew and Christina Brownsword aim to give the “impression of staying a family home rather than a hotel.” Certainly, the corporate image is avoided both in the public areas and in the bedrooms. All rooms and suites are named after a flower and individually designed. In Begonia, a first floor room with full views of the gardens, the king sized bed, and two-seater settee were supremely comfortable. Floral gold wallpaper, heavy floral patterned curtains to match the bed headboard opposite, and large floral pictures, provided a pleasing coordination of décor. Wall lights, lamp stands, and light wooden tables completed the elegant, classical look, making the flat screen television seem out of place. The pink tiled bathroom with separate shower had indulgent fluffy towels, bath robes and Molton Brown toiletries. The provision of slippers – so often overlooked in top rank hotels – was also appreciated. All this made for a highly satisfactory night’s stay.

However, there were a few, easily remedied, shortcomings in the room: bottled mineral water left to get warm – on a hot afternoon – by the window; a single apple which constituted the “fruit” to welcome the guest; the paucity of literature on Bath itself; missing instructions on how to operate the Sky TV remote control, with no information about the channels; the lack of a clock in the bedroom; the absence of a blind (instead of a net curtain) for the small bathroom window. Strangely, only sample menus – and no reference to tasting menus – of the restaurant were available. Indeed, given the plaudits given to Bath Priory’s restaurant, one wonders why menus are not on display for residents and non residents alike.

With an occupancy rate of 60-70%, the presence of a top Executive Chef, Michael Caines, will certainly prove a major selling point. This feature, along with the opening of the new Garden Spa, has helped to attract a younger clientele of couples in their 30s and 40s. Whilst its popularity with retired and elderly couples remains, this gradual shift in the demographic of guests is to be welcomed. Those who stay can indulge in the luxurious accommodation, the superb amenities, and the first rate food. They also appreciate the continuity of staff – many of whom return after a brief spell elsewhere – and the excellent service they provide. The hotel, now currently holding 4 AA red Stars and three rosettes for its restaurant, is well worth a visit.

Texture, Mayfair. Restaurant Review, August 2010

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

Since its opening in September 2007, Texture has made a bold impression on the London fine dining scene.

That equal importance is attached to both food and wine is not surprising given the pedigree of the two co directors: Agnar Sverrisson, of Icelandic origin, was Head Chef at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, where he met French born Xavier Rousset,

UK Sommelier of the Year in 2003 and a Master Sommelier at the age of 23.

Since leaving Raymond Blanc’s Oxfordshire restaurant, they have forged a food and wine partnership which has won them a host of distinctions including: The Independent New Restaurant of the Year 2007; Remy Martin London Restaurant

Award in 2008; Champagne Bar of the Year at the Drinking Out Excellence Awards 2009; as well as a Michelin Star in 2010.

Located just north of Oxford Street, in an area not replete with high end restaurants, Texture is housed in a handsome Georgian style building which was once a bank hall. Retaining its original corniced high ceiling and large sash windows, which give the room a bright and airy feel, the interior benefits from an eclectic, contemporary design.

The unpolished wooden floor, white and coffee toned walls, vivid paintings by Icelandic artist Thorlakur Morthens, and tasteful flower arrangements, help to produce a relaxed atmosphere. Green banquettes and leather chairs provide comfortable seating, although some of the plain black wooden tables are too close to each other.

The spacious 30 seat Champagne Bar, adjacent to the entrance, is separated from the main restaurant by a glass divide. At the far end, behind open wine racks, a plating area for starters and desserts enables diners to view chefs at work on the final stages of the preparation of a dish.

The menus at Texture are “Modern European” with a little Icelandic influence. For the health conscious, the lack of butter and cream in savoury dishes provides an usual but not unique selling point.

Whilst most dishes – with their foams, mousses, gels and sprinkled garnishes- lack the clean lines and uncluttered presentation of Michelin cooking, this is more than balanced by purity of flavour and contrasting textural composition which are the hallmarks of Agnar’s technically complex cooking. As the restaurant’s name suggests, the whole range of textures, from crisp and crumbly, firm and substantial, to soft, light and melting can be experienced. These features were brilliantly demonstrated in the Scandinavian Fish Tasting Menu with matching wines.

The meal began with a signature plate of nibbles, including Parmesan crisps and deep fried cod skin, the piscine equivalent of pork scratchings. Whilst their flavour, and that of the wasabi and mint yoghurt dip was rather muted, the dish was texturally satisfying.

However, the amuse bouche of pea and mint appealed on both fronts. A small bowl of velvety smooth pea mousse beneath soft fresh peas, was topped with a delicate mint snow which tickled the tongue with its fresh tasting, ultra light crystals.

(Wine: NV Le Mesnil, Grand Cru, Blanc de Blancs)

The next dish of Graflax (the Icelandic ‘Gravadlax’) comprised delicately smoked organic salmon fillet with a coating of herbs and pepper. The rich oiliness of the fish was cut by a horseradish sauce and lemon dressing which were light and not over powering. A sprinkling of rye crumbs added a crunchy texture to this well balanced dish.

(Wine: 2008 Sylvaner, Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Ostertag)

Another signature dish of Icelandic langoustine followed. The cooking of the crustacean – one very large specimen – was perfectly timed to a medium rare to retain its sweet succulence. Clams and cockles poached in a vegetable nage sprinkled with herbs gave a more savoury edge, with depth of flavour and textural complexity.

(Wine: 2009 Cantina Terlan, Terlaner Classico, Alto Adige)

Icelandic Salted Cod (Bacalao) was not, as one might assume, salted fish rehydrated. Instead, fresh fish had been gently salted and precisely cooked to maximize the flavour of the large flakes of moist fillet. Barley risotto, spiked with peanuts and enriched with mascarpone, and a few prawns, proved delicious accompaniments. A shellfish foam added another, arguably, unnecessary, garnish to an already over burdened plate.

(Wine: 2009 Cotes du Rhone, Viognier, Les Gendrines, P Gaillard)

A sorrel granite with Muscadel sabayon provided an exquisitely light sweet and savoury pre-dessert.

Valrhona White Chocolate mousse and ice cream were expertly executed with contrasting cucumber and dill garnishes which worked well on the taste and texture fronts. This was another dish that might have been even better without the foam – this time mango – which did not enhance the flavour or presentation.

(Wine: 2005 Juracon, LaMagendia, Lapeyre)

Good coffee was accompanied by well made petits fours of madeleines, macaroons and truffle. The “Fisherman’s Friend” lollipop, however, provided a less welcome presence.

Service was knowledgeable and efficient without being obtrusive, and in tune with current tends, dishes are not elaborately described when being served.

The sommelier chose an excellent flight of wines from a list that is extensive (300+) and well formulated. There is ample choice across the whole range of price levels, pleasing both connoisseurs – who will love the Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 2001 and the Chateau d’Yquem 1991 by the glass – and those of more modest experience. 85 cuvees of champagne from 25 different houses and a host of sweet wines, also testify to the ambition of the wine provision, which it must be stressed, is given equal weight to the food.

Overall, Texture has more than justified the acclaim it has received to date. Whilst some may question the possible overuse of foams, smears and sprinkles, whilst others may suggest stronger flavours are needed, few can deny the technical skill and genuine creativity that is seen in the range of dishes. Although no meat, poultry or game dishes were sampled, many favourable reports have been supplied. There can be little doubt that the overall expertise shown on the food and wine fronts will elevate Texture to even further heights of recognition in the future