Archive for April, 2011

Chef Interview: John Williams, MBE (Ritz, March 2011)

Posted on: April 17th, 2011 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Executive Chef of The Ritz: John Williams MBE

The current Chairman of The British Academy of the Culinary Arts, John Williams has transformed the fortunes of The Ritz restaurant. From humble beginnings John has climbed to the heights of Executive Chef at a number of London’s great hotels. His tireless endeavors for the culinary industry have seen him recognised with an MBE.

John found time to speak to Simon Carter and Daniel Darwood of fine-dining-guide, interview took place in late March 2011 in John’s office, in the heart of the (large) basement kitchen(s) of the Ritz Hotel.

Tell us some background about yourself?

As the son of a Tyneside fisherman, I developed my passion for food at an early age. I was brought up on fish – mainly cod and haddock, we sometimes got Langoustine claws but never the tails as they were too expensive. I was taught by my mother to cook and my culinary interests further developed with cookery classes at school and continued as I studied for my City and Guilds at South Shields College and later at Westminster College.

I took up my first position as a Commis Chef at the Percy Arms Hotel in Otterburn in 1974. Two days before my birthday – August 18th – my first job was plucking a grouse and was an incredible early memory. Later, on the advice of a sous chef in my first job who had worked at The Mirabelle, I moved to London and went to the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington, working my way through the kitchen operation until my appointment as Chef de Cuisine in 1982.

In 1984 I accepted the position of Chef Director at the Restaurant Le Crocodile in Kensington Church Street before joining the distinguished Savoy Group of Hotels and Restaurants in 1986. During my 19 year tenure with the Savoy Group, I served as Premier Sous Chef at Claridge’s and Maitre Chef des Cuisines at The Berkeley before moving to head up Claridge’s kitchens as Maitre Chef des Cuisines in 1995. After nine years in this position, I got a call from the general manager of The Ritz and he asked me what it would take for me to come to the hotel. I felt that the respect for this building and the history of The Ritz was a marvelous opportunity moving forward – A project with a long-term vision to move quietly and slowly (to not frighten people) but make significant impact and change. So, in 2004, I joined the Ritz London as the Executive Chef, and we’re moving constantly in the right direction with aims and objectives to be leaders in our field.

What are your current roles and responsibilities at The Ritz?

The Executive Chef Role. I am responsible for the running and overseeing of all food products at The Ritz. This includes the Restaurant, Palm Court, private dining rooms, Staff, the bar and room service. Everything.

The bar is small on food requirements, the private dining is a growing business while the Palm Court is averaging over 400 covers a day in afternoon tea; five sittings of over 80 covers a time and is pretty intense! I am very proud of our private dining – a stunning environment and again specific in terms of what we will serve. Room service is a different requirement again, the sort of food products that you can ‘kick your shoes off to, relax and watch television.

The Dining Room (main restaurant) is the most beautiful room and also a sales tool for the ‘peoples’ hotel’ – Shortly after I arrived I noticed people would queue up just to come in and take photographs of the room, it is arguably one of the finest eating spaces in world restaurants. I remember, in the early days, there was a service that wasn’t going to my liking, it just wasn’t right, so I called the chefs together and took them into the Dining Room. They were in awe of what they saw, and I said to them – “I never ever want to serve food that does not do justice to this room, the food and the décor of the room must be remembered together by diners for the overall greatness of the experience.”

How would you describe the cuisine on offer at The Ritz?

Of the French style but including some British elements. My job is to be the arbitrator of food that suits the style of ‘the house’ – it has to be evolutionary not revolutionary. The evolution in cuisine is important as it we must cater to the regular conservative eaters and the more adventurous diners in equal measure. However, were the food too revolutionary or cutting edge, I wouldn’t have lasted long in my job, that is not what ‘the house’ is about, however it must have a classic element while being of the moment, be fresh in terms of style as well as ingredients. Through steady development and hard work we’ve built a reputation and a strong business but we are always wanting to be proactive in getting the message across of how we deliver in the modern age while respecting the spirit of The Ritz.

What is the creative process of producing a new dish?

Number one is I am the arbitrator of ‘Is it Ritz’ when we produce new dishes. We have a du Jour menu that changes completely, lunch and dinner, every day. That is a prolific amount of creativity. We have a very strong team of chefs – ranging in ages from 30 to 38 years of age – they have independent restaurant experience from working with Marco (Pierre White) to Phil (Howard). They will bring a dish together with the du jour in mind and we will work on it and perfect it, the dish is always evolving. Over time some of these dishes will develop into the a la carte menu.

How often does the menu change?

We are highly seasonal, the menu changes four times a year. We will keep some big sellers and classics from menu to menu – the crab roll as an example. There will also be retained dishes from the previous spring into this spring for instance. If you think of the du jour menu – that’s six new dishes times seven, or 42 new dishes; the level of creativity in the kitchen means there’s a flow of change to the menu.

What is the size and make up of the brigade?

There’s 54 in total – including my PA and a kitchen purchaser. The hotel is 136 bedrooms but the food and beverage production is quite a scale.

How many covers are you doing in the restaurant?

The flow of business is now strong in the restaurant. We probably experience four or five times the volume of trade that was typical seven or so years ago. There’s between 60 and 80 covers of a weekday lunch or dinner going up to 100 to 120 for weekend lunch or dinner.

What are the best selling dishes?

On the a la Carte, the crab roll is very popular, the Cote de Veau that is served at the table and the modern classic lobster dish. In pastry terms, we have an innovative and creative pastry chef who is producing some wonderful food, one of his creations that is a great seller is the pear cigar.

What’s your view on the ever changing technologies available to chefs?

Embrace them! Anything that can improve the end product and make your processes more efficient has to be embraced. For example, we have been using water baths for seven years as it has something to offer in modern day cooking. You have to look at what you are trying to achieve and if technology advancements will make a positive difference then use them…

What’s your view on some of the trends in modern cuisine?

Let’s take fusion as an example. I’m a firm believer that you can take any variety of ingredients and if the flavour, texture and temperature combination works then the dish works. However, fusion implies a step further – the mixing of cultures – and to me fusion may imply ‘con-fusion.’

The heart of cuisine is that people eat food in a certain area for a reason – history, culture, climate, accessibility to ingredients and so on, the heritage and natural harmonies in cuisine is something important to be cherished and nurtured.

Cooking must also come from the heart, if it comes from within and is something you love to eat you then you will find an increasing tendency toward purity and simplicity. I appreciate that as I have evolved my cooking it has become more pure and focused and consequently better than it ever has been in the past.

How do you go about sourcing produce?

Taste-led. I won’t deliberately source something because it comes with the right label, I will look at the quality of the product first – that is all about the taste of the final dish. Having said that, I do have some wonderful organic lamb from Home Farm (the Prince of Wales estate) and Aberdeen Angus beef. The sustainability of fish debate is a worthy one and to be taken seriously.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that if you have a fish on your plate that was in the sea the day before then you have a much better chance of it tasting stunningly fresh then someone who has held that fish for three days. Likewise, with root vegetables taken directly from the ground and delivered to the plate immediately will have the best taste; or meat that has experienced the correct husbandry and the right preparation. There’s a small window – a point – where meat and game are prepared to their best, so sourcing and preparation are vitally important.

The complex element is that we must have delivery consistently day in day out, at the right time, the right quality, and the right price. You have to look at the end of objective of what you are trying to deliver on a plate to customers and work backwards to get the right sourcing in every respect.

Everything changed with the birth of computers and the spreadsheet. At about the same time, in around the mid-1970s, a revolution was happening in grand hotels, chefs were visiting France and seeing extraordinary creativity. The result was a tremendous amount of work to change menus that would have an impact forever – Ferdinand Point’s inspired nouvelle cuisine was coming into play and the quality of ingredients and sourcing was dramatically changing. The computer and the spreadsheet however, dictated that the business had a budget and the budget had to be managed carefully.

At this point perhaps the grand hotel chef started to become more a manager of budgets and the creative, food-on-a-plate-led chefs were moving to independent restaurants, where the focus was on the end product rather than the spreadsheet.

How many chefs can you name from the late 70s and early 80s? 90% of them would have been in hotels, whereas now it is with independent restaurants. At The Ritz I have been determined to hit the right balance; one that satisfies the hospitality needs – the very best quality of end product – of and to the customer while at the same time managing the budgets effectively.

Tell us about some of the bodies you represent/events organised?

I have just come out of a meeting about Le Bocuse d’Or, probably the biggest competition in the world. My aim, as part of the organising committee, is to produce a chef that will compete and win the Bocuse d’Or. We now have sponsorship and everything else in place to move forward with that objective.

I am chairman of The Academy of Culinary Arts. The Prince of Wales is patron and it remains affiliated to the body in France. It is all about training and nurturing talent in Britain for the future. The Master of the Culinary Arts awards demonstrate the highest level of skills in pastry, kitchen and service. It is probably the most important thing to me outside of The Ritz.

What are your objectives for the future of The Ritz?

To have an outstanding restaurant full of happy customers, whose expectations have been exceeded on every level, and to continue to be recognised as one of the finest restaurants in London.

And so it was time to leave – the kitchen at least – as we were about to sample some of the food that John had been speaking about so passionately. Clearly a man of great vision and natural energy as well as talent: One left impressed with John’s warmth and humility but at the same time aware that we were talking to a leader of men.

The Ritz Restaurant Review, March 2011.

Posted on: April 6th, 2011 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Over a hundred years after its opening in 1906, The Ritz maintains its leading place amongst London hotels. The vision of Cesar Ritz, the Swiss hotelier, it has become synonymous with elegance, luxury and extravagance. A complete and sympathetic restoration from 1995 to 2005 brought the hotel back to its former glory, being abundantly evident in the public spaces and rooms. The vaulted Long Gallery opens on the right into the Art Deco Rivoli Bar, andon the left into the Palm Court, where the Ritz’ famous afternoon tea is served.

However, it is at the far end that the jewel in the crown lies. The Ritz Restaurant, designed in the Louis XVI style, is renowned as one of the most beautiful dining rooms in Europe, if not the world. Its high ceilings, French windows and mirrored walls give a wonderful sense of light and space. The richly coloured rococo décor includes the frescoed ceiling, gold statues of Neptune and Venus, painted murals and lavish drapes. This opulence is further emphasized by an array of chandeliers, linked by gilt bronzed garlands. Tables – there is seating for 100 – are generously sized and well spaced, with comfortably upholstered carved chairs.

Given such exquisite surroundings, it would not be surprising if everything else, including the food, proved an anti-climax. What is the case in many grand hotels is not, thankfully, true of the Ritz. Indeed, the meals produced here do full justice to the magnificence of the room.

Since 2004, the kitchens have been overseen by Executive Chef John Williams (Above), MBE. From humble beginnings, his culinary experience has included spells in some London’s finest hotels, including the Royal Garden, The Berkeley and Claridges, where he was maitre chef des cuisines for nine years before coming to the Ritz.

Whilst showing due respect to the hotel’s distinguished legacy of fine dining, John Williams has also appreciated the need to modernise aspects of the cuisine. In doing so, he has succeeded in producing a balanced repertoire that shows evolution, not revolution. His cooking combines classically based techniques with restrained creativity. There are no outlandish creations, no fusion dishes, no attempts at molecular, no smears, smudges or foams. The emphasis is on precise cooking to maximise the flavour of top quality ingredients; the careful balancing of flavours and textures; adopting combinations – some unfamiliar – which work; and beautiful presentation.

Balance can also be applied to the pricing of menus and their composition. John Williams is keen to make Ritz dining more financially accessible: the three course lunch and dinner du jour menus, at £39 and £48 respectively, help to achieve this.

The more expensive carte gives ample choice from eight starters, (including classic British pea and ham soup), sevenmains (including classic tournedos of beef), and seven desserts (including Crepes Suzette.). The Sonata six course tasting menu and vegetarian options are also available

Value for money is also important, as shown in the generous portions. There is also no stinting on luxury ingredients on the du jour menus, which might include smoked eel, beef, halibut, and even a Ritz classic, poached chicken demi-deuil.

fine-dining-guide had the pleasure of tasting dishes from the new Spring menu, with matching wines.

Over 90% of what is served in the restaurant is made from scratch, this being no less true of the excellent breads – olive, plain white, walnut and raisin – with crisp crusts and firm crumb. The onion and bacon brioche, in particular, was rich, soft and fully flavoured. How delightful, also, to see the near extinct Melba toast offered as an alternative!

An amuse bouche of dressed crab roll proved an exciting start to the meal. Utterly fresh white meat bound in mayonnaise filled a thin tube of fresh apple, the acidity of which, along with its puree, helped to offset the sweet richness of the crab. The spicing was gentle enough not to overwhelm the shellfish or fruit, whilst radish and thin squares of melon added texture and colour.

The first course was a highly innovative dish: soft discs of celeriac – the whole vegetable having been covered in a salt crust and baked in hay to enhance its mild, sweet taste – were paired with cubes of well flavoured pressed salted brisket. A bone marrow beignet gave richness, whereas wild mushrooms and truffle slices added a deep earthiness to this inspired combination. With the addition of a fried quail’s egg, this dish was also visually stunning. The spicy, floral notes of the accompanying Pinot Gris matched the food well. (Wine: 2007, Pinot Gris, Traditon, Hugel & Fils, Alsace, France.)

The next composite plate featured a large scallop, seared to give a caramelized crust and a sweet, translucent flesh, and smoked eel, with oily richness. These items were balanced by confit potatoes and baby beetroot, the whole dish being brought together by a watercress sauce that was mild enough to allow the other elements, including a crisp bacon rasher, to shine. The gentle acidity of the Sauvignon Blanc worked well as a foil to the sweet elements of this dish. (Wine: 2007, Sauvignon Blanc, Gravitas, Marlborough, New Zealand)

Wild salmon, asparagus and crayfish followed. The salmon had been briefly marinated in salt and citrus then cooked gently in a water bath for 24 hours. The result was a succulent medium rare fillet which burst with piscine goodness. Hollandaise partnered the salmon and the asparagus garnish well, although the crayfish and sauce Nantua were overwhelmed by the other ingredients. Again, the oaky, buttery Chardonnay proved an admirable partner to the food. (Wine: 2009, Chardonnay, Hamilton Russell, Walker Bay, South Africa)

A whole Bresse chicken, cooked en cocotte with truffles and morels, gave the opportunity for Gueridon service, which was expertly handled at this elevated grand hotel level. Sealed with pastry which was deftly removed, the cocotte was presented to both diners so the powerful aromas of bird and fungus could be appreciated. Then, the chicken was jointed with swift precision and served with an intensely reduced truffle jus and side dishes of new season’s peas, broad beans and baby carrots. Here, then, was an example of a relatively simple classic dish, without re-interpretation, just brilliantly executed to allow the deeply satisfying flavours to be enjoyed. The complex earthy, savoury notes of the silky, intense Pinot Noir matched the food perfectly. (Wine: 2008, Pinot Noir, Craggy Range, Temuta Road, Martinborough, New Zealand)

A pre dessert of meringue, pineapple sorbet and a brunoise of exotic fruit was suitably clean, light and refreshing, The dessert of “Pear Cigar” was a veritable tour de force of invention, skill and artistry, reflecting the excellent levels reached in the pastry section. Tiny cubes of caramelized poached pear were layered under a toasted brioche pain perdu which itself was topped by a delicately thin chocolate tube containing a rich parfait. All this was then surrounded by a chocolate cage, which has been “combed” into shape by hand. Eating this delectable confection was enhanced by drinking the Sauternes, with its apricot and honey notes. (Wine: 2007, Sauternes, Chateau Villefranche, Bordeaux, France)

Good coffee and well made petit fours ended an excellent meal, which, given the exquisite surroundings, also had an element of fantasy. Real enough, however, was the excellent service provided by Simone, the assistant sommelier who chose the wines, and Claudio, who attended our table. Both were helpful, well informed and friendly. Clearly Simon Girling, the restaurant manager, has a shaped an impressive team, professional, well drilled and formally suited. All this contributes to the memorable Ritz experience.

That John Williams was awarded an MBE acknowledges his services to gastronomy, and reflects the high esteem in which he is held by his peers. As Chairman of the British Academy of the Culinary Arts, he has been tireless in his promotion of the industry. At the same time, under his stewardship, the Ritz’s fortunes have been revived, with a wider demographic dining there than ever before. Public appreciation for his cooking is beyond doubt. It is now incumbent on the food guides, especially Michelin, to grant his restaurant the starred recognition it deserves.

Ritz on Urbanspoon

Olde Bell Hurley Restaurant Review, April 2011

Posted on: April 6th, 2011 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

The Olde Bell in Hurley, the pretty linear village on the banks of the Thames between Maidenhead and Henley, boasts a distinguished history dating back to the 12th century. Originally the guesthouse of the Benedictine Priory, the sanctus bell of which still hangs over the main door, it became renowned in later centuries as a staging inn on the London to Oxford route.

In 1688, it was the site of Lord Lovelace’s successful plot to oust James II in the Glorious Revolution. During the Second World War, guests included Churchill and Eisenhower who held secret meetings nearby.

More recently, the Olde Bell, with its accommodation and function rooms opposite, has gained a good local reputation for weddings and conferences. Accolades have also been showered on it, for instance The Times best ten UK pub gardens 2010, Daily Mail Hot 50 in 2009, and Vogue UK secret addresses in 2008.

Attention has also focused on Ilse Crawford’s design of the 60 cover restaurant which attempts, with limited success, to combine old with new: the original wooden paneling has been painted olive green; mock gas lamps and antler chandeliers give side and overhead lighting, and large wooden tables – some in booths – are furnished with an eclectic range of chairs, some traditional – long benches covered with tapestry – and others stylishly modern. This mixture might prove too indigestible for some diners.

However, The Olde Bell has yet to attract serious attention for the quality of its food. Happily, this is beginning to change with a new team the kitchen. Executive Chef Warren Geraghty’s (Left) CV includes experience at the Michelin starred Chez Nico and Pied a Terre, as well as Richard Neat’s eponymous restaurant in Cannes, and the celebrated restaurant West in Vancouver. New Head Chef James Ferguson trained under Gordon Ramsay and Angela Hartnett. Jason Farr, the new Pastry Chef, specialized in desserts at Rules. All three also have experience in the kitchens of L’ Escargot in Soho.

This impressive collective experience is expressed in a menu which embraces seasonal, locally sourced ingredients with wild and foraged food, which has become a passion of Warren Geraghty. There is no attempt to emulate the style of their mentors, although James Ferguson’s experience with Fergus Henderson’s nose to tail eating is seen in the unusual cuts of meat and fish, while desserts include some updated versions of the traditional British classics, a trademark of Rules.

The structure of the menu, which is constantly evolving, comprises nine starters ranging from £4.95 to £7.10; eight mains from £14.80 to £22.50; and eight desserts, £6.00 to £6.50. Portions are very generous indeed, with main courses garnished with vegetables, obviating the need for side dishes at £3.50 each. A selection of British cheeses is also offered: £8.50 for four, £11.50 for six. For all courses, excellence of provenance, purity of flavour and simplicity of presentation are paramount. Moreover, as the menu states, components of certain dishes might change during service if the chef so decides.

fine –dining –guide visited the Olde Bell on a midweek evening in late March 2011. Serving local – or at least English – produce also applies to mineral water, as we were clearly told that the Italian brand requested was not served. We were offered Tufapure sparkling water from Somerset instead!

A starter of shellfish bisque, made with large brown crabs, was outstanding in its intense flavour, smooth consistency and velvety creaminess. This labour intensive dish – I can imagine the pounding, flambéing, stirring and sieving that went into its preparation – outshone other versions I have tasted in Michelin restaurants. The accompanying cheese straws had a nutty bite that worked well with the soup.

A generous slice of pressed ham hock and duck confit terrine combined two well flavoured meats but was rather dense in texture. A layer of savoy cabbage partly relieved this, although the overall impression was one of heaviness. However, crunchy piccalilli, well balanced in its acidity and sweetness, provided the ideal foil to the protein.

Pan fried duck livers were well timed, being soft and tender. Toasted hazelnuts added a welcome crunch whilst the poached hen’s egg and a veal based jus added further richness. Wild mustard leaves gave the dish colour and a gentle fragrance.

A star main course comprised slow cooked ox cheeks, unctuously delicious with a melting texture. The richness was balanced by a light broth, lifted in intensity with home smoked oysters. New potatoes and radishes – an inspired addition – provided earthy contrasting tastes and textures to the soft meat, whilst horseradish grass was a colourful garnish.

A flavoursome organic pork chop retained its succulence through careful timing in cooking. Grilled radicchio, which had a pleasingly bitter – sweet edge, was another usual vegetable garnish that worked. A side dish of pureed potatoes was light, smooth and creamy, whilst roasted Chantenay carrots retained a delicate crunch.

Diners should be warned that the large portions of the starters and main courses should satisfy the heartiest of appetites. In order to sample the desserts we declined the richer, no doubt delicious, options like treacle tart with clotted cream and blood orange trifle, for the lighter alternatives.

Vanilla pannacotta, well flavoured with a correct degree of wobble, came with poached apple pieces which helped to offset the richness of the cream. Lime ice cream, unusual in itself, added a surprising citrus lift to the dish.

Pineapple upside down cake proved amazingly light, its caramelized fruit topping being balanced by a tangy yogurt ice cream

The carafe of Fleurie 2008 at £23.50 which we drank with the meal came from a connoisseur’s wine list selected by sommelier Nigel Sutcliffe and General Manager Alan Dooley. Listed usefully by ascending price rather than region, it offers reds from £17, whites from £16.50. The list of sweet lines, although expensive, is particularly impressive, with a surprising level of depth which includes Austrian eiswein.

Other aspects of the meal – the home made bread, good coffee and attentive, knowledgeable service of Arkadius, our waiter, all added to the experience and helped to detract from the dubious décor. Overall, the new team should be applauded in its quest to elevate the food standards of the Olde Bell. Whilst the summer months will also bring the attractions of al fresco dining of roasts and salads from the week end Summer Kitchen, the success of their new venture will ultimately be judged on the consistency of the dishes coming from the restaurant. From the evidence so far, there is much potential here, an essential pre requisite for success in this highly competitive part of the Thames Valley.

Medlar Restaurant Review, King’s Road, April 2011.

Posted on: April 6th, 2011 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

The opening of Medlar at 438 King’s Road marks a watershed in the culinary fortunes of this part of Chelsea / Fulham. For so long – indeed going back to the brilliant but short lived Gastronome One in the 1980s – the King’s Road, replete with every kind of eating and drinking establishment, has lacked a restaurant of real quality. David O’Connor, ex manager of The Square, and Joe Mercer Nairne (above), ex sous-chef of Chez Bruce, aim to fill this gap with their first joint venture. Given the evidence of the second day of service, they are well on the way to doing so.

The attractive canopied frontage has folding glass doors opening onto a small terrace for al fresco eating, Interior design by Turner and Pocock blends pleasing tones of grey and green with large, hand painted motifs of the fruit which gives the restaurant its name. Hessian covering on the main wall promotes good acoustics. Spotlighting is supplemented by an eclectic series of ceiling and wall lights.

Seating for 58 diners in this long, narrow restaurant, is spread across three interlinked areas, each with a distinctive character: the front is spacious and airy; the darker middle section is more confined; and the conservatory, lit by a skylight, has a remarkably bright and fresh feel. Upstairs, there is a bar and private dining room seating 14.

Seating is relaxed and comfortable. The middle section has banquettes which add to its intimacy. Round and square tables of various sizes are dressed with fine napery.

In the kitchen, Joe Mercer Nairne and his team demonstrate high levels of skill, versatility and creativity. The cooking has a classical French base with contemporary adaptations. There is confidence in the matching of quality ingredients and accuracy in the timing of cooking. Delicious, stylish and memorable dishes are the result; indeed the menu of six starters, mains and desserts offers an embarrassment of riches.

The front of house is equally important if the restaurant is to succeed, and here David O’ Connor is in his element. His mild mannered, softy spoken and self effacing persona belies strong organizational skills that have succeeded in managing teams at three of London’s most successful restaurants, The Square, The Ledbury and Chez Bruce. His largely young team at Medlar already seemed well drilled in the arts of service.

The meal began with good quality homemade breads – light sour dough and soft foccacia.

An impressive starter of crab ravioli was generously filled with herbed white meat and covered with a rich, deeply flavoured bisque, lifted by the addition of brown shrimps. Leek fondue and samphire gave colour and earthy notes to what is likely to become a signature dish, one that will be in great demand and therefore difficult to take off the menu.

Another starter of duck egg tart comprised a whole fried egg perched on a disc of buttery puff pastry. Garnishes of turnip puree, lardons and sautéed duck heart worked particularly well with the red wine sauce, the gentle acidity of which balanced the with the richness of the tart. (Wines with starters: Puligny Montrachet, J C Bachelal, 2005)

A main course of roast cod was perfectly timed to reveal translucent flakes of delicate flesh beneath a golden crust. Toasted almonds gave a pleasing contrasting texture, whilst celeriac puree and dainty florets of purple sprouting broccoli proved successful seasonal accompaniments. The different elements were brought together by gentle anchovy vinaigrette

Roast rack of lamb also revealed precision of cooking in order to maximize flavour. The pink, well rested meat was partnered with its slow cooked confit shoulder and creamy pan fried sweetbreads. Gremolata added herby, lemony notes to cut the richness, Aubergine puree, grilled baby aubergine and broad beans were well prepared, helping to soak up the light but intense lamb jus. Overall, this dish was a tour de force, likely to remain on the menu for some time. (Wines with mains: Pinot Noir La Crema, Sonoma Coast, 2008)

Not quite in the same league as the savoury courses, but still very satisfying, are the desserts. These show an English bias with junket, poached rhubarb and lemon curd amongst the components

Chocolate and almond torte was soft and melting, although the almond taste was somewhat muted. Honeycomb pieces and honeycomb ice cream and caramel sauce added a variety of textures, tastes and temperatures. For some, the combination might prove too sweet.

Blood orange sorbet with Sipsmith gin was smooth, with a generous spiking of alcohol. The warm madeleines served with it were exemplary in their lightness and texture. (Wines with desserts: The Noble One De Bortoli, New south Wales, 2007)

As an alternative to dessert a selection of plated English and French cheese is available, served with a portion of Medlar jelly.

Strong coffee and chocolate truffles completed a most agreeable meal. This was made even more enjoyable by the fine wines chosen by Head Sommelier Clement Robert. The extensive wine list, organized by country and in ascending order of price, has a bias towards France.

Medlar is clearly a serious restaurant which has made an impressive start. The inspired cooking and seamless service on the second day of service augur well for the future. With three courses initially costing £20 for lunch and £30 for dinner, the promotion formula is likely to prove highly attractive. Even when prices rise to more realistic levels, Medlar will prove irresistible to discerning foodies. It is likely to become both a destination as well as a popular neighbourhood restaurant.

David O’Connor and Joe Mercer Nairne have a wealth of experience that will undoubtedly bring the success their restaurantdeserves. Certainly, a Michelin star is on the cards next year.

Medlar on Urbanspoon

Adam Simmonds at Danesfield House Review, April 2011

Posted on: April 6th, 2011 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Adam Simmonds (above) enjoyed a prestigious career before taking over as Executive Chef in 2007. In just three years at Ynyshir Hall his restaurant gained four AA rosettes, the best Restaurant in Wales for 2006, and a Michelin star. That he has taken longer to gain the same coveted accolade at Danesfield is not through any weakening of imagination or effort on his part, indeed quite the reverse, but more due to the mysterious workings of the Michelin inspectorate.

Anoushka Hempel’s transformation of the previously dark, study–like room into one whose lime washed oak paneling gives a mellow, lighter feel, is remarkable. The effect is enhanced by large mirrors and dainty standard lamps with conical shades, both in bright wood. The older features, which harmonise well, are preserved in the mock Elizabethan fireplace and frescoed ceiling, although the iron chandelier remains incongruous to this magical room. The serious attention given to renovation and decor, which also includes well-spaced tables and large armed upholstered chairs in cream and fawn, now provides a fitting backdrop to Adam Simmonds’ innovative cuisine. Thankfully, lights are not dimmed in the evening, allowing the dishes to be seen in their fully glory. Although the Orangery blocks the view at the back, this is an advantage given the glories of the room and food which should be the focus of attention.

Creativity, attention to detail and artistic presentation are the hallmarks of Adam’s cooking. Capturing flavours, so that the main ingredient shines, is fundamental. His dishes are light but rich, well balanced in tastes and textures, and sometimes with an element of surprise. Unashamedly complex and multi layered, a classical base of cooking is supplemented with modern touches and techniques which harmonise well. There are foams, purees and other flourishes, but here each has a purpose in highlighting, not overwhelming, the principal element. What amazes also is the seemingly inexhaustible supply of new ideas, leading to a constantly evolving menu. This has been tempered with a desire for consistency, thus a carte of five starters, mains and desserts enables the perfection of dishes which show real ambition.

Such food deserves the highest respect. How refreshing, then, to observe Brian Miller’s note that “Guests are respectfully reminded that the Adam Simmonds Restaurant is a fine dining experience and appropriate dress is required.” The move towards casual dress codes, in most high end restaurants (amongst front of house as well as diners) is a trend pleasantly bucked at Danesfield House.

Not that guests are expected view the restaurant as a temple of gastronomy and dine in hushed tones of devoted reverence; the real sense of enjoyment noticed on the night we visited was not expressed in a succession of ooohs and aaahs, but in a genuine quiet engagement with the pleasures of the table.

The strange trend in knocking the unsolicited arrival of amuses-bouches that is surely worthy of reconsideration is again pleasantly ignored here; Often brilliant ideas are conceived and generously offered in order to delight and stimulate informed discussion.

This applies to Adam’s playful version of a famous cocktail. Vodka jelly and Martini granite proved a most refreshing palate cleanser with only the gentlest hint of alcohol. This was followed by a second amuse-guelle, a chilled cucumber essence which distilled the sweet- savoury flavour of the vegetable perfectly, combining it with a slightly sour yogurt foam. Here, then, were two exciting and successful starts to the meal.

Three large Scottish scallops were roasted to a medium rare which preserved their succulence. Pickled carrot gave a gentle acidic contrast to the sweetness of the shellfish, while sand carrot puree, and carrot and cumin cake added substance, texture and a muted spicy warmth. Presented on a black slate, this dish was also visually stunning. (Wine: 2008, Chablis, Domaine Colette Gros, Burgundy)

Another starter of foie gras, served cold as a confit, bore all the mouth coating unctuousness required of this delectable piece of offal. Black fig puree and fig compote cut the richness and gave sweetness, enhanced by cubes of Pedro Ximenes jelly. Hazelnut crunch added the necessary texture to another well-judged, luxurious starter. (Wine:2009, Gruner Veltliner Rosenteig Kremel, Austria)

Next was an intermediate course of brill. The fillet been poached gently to preserve its brilliant white colour, only seen in the freshest of fish, and maximize its beautiful turbot-like taste. The succulent flakes of melting flesh were complimented with the carefully prepared broad beans, peas, pea shoots and morels, the combined flavours of which burst with the freshness of Spring. The silky, if transitory qualities of yeast foam, no mere decorative adornment, served to bring the elements of this vibrantly coloured, well balanced dish together. (Wine: 2008, Pinot Cuvee Silver Lake Willi Opitz, Burgenland)

Similar painstaking effort is seen in the main courses. A canon of new season spring lamb was cooked sous-vide to enhance its inherent tenderness and sweetness. Curried beignets amongst the garnishes added a spicy element that complemented the meat well. The addition of sweetbreads added a melting creaminess. This dish overall, with a sophisticated combination of ingredients, provided the perfect example of Adam’s attention to detail, creativity and labour intensity in producing the end product with (importantly) the deep, clear and clean flavour of the lamb remaining paramount. (Wine:2007: Bourgogne, Domaine Heresztyn, France.)

The other main course proved to be an embarrassment of riches, as reflected in its eclectic presentation. A roasted lobster tail was precisely timed to enable is inherent sweet, juicy qualities to enjoyed to the full. To serve the lobster pieces alongside veal sweetbreads might appear culinary heresy to some, but here is another surprising combination which works. The clean tasting, soft lobster stood up well against the veal sweetbreads with their creamy taste and crisp texture.

Shredded celeriac, pasta and dried almonds provided substance and textural contrast, and lobster consomme, poured at the table, gave added depth of flavour. Finally, a generous garnish of autumn truffle with its heady, earthy aroma, lifted the dish to lofty heights. (Wine: 2007: Macon Fuisse, Domaine Thibert, France)

Cheese, chosen from a selection from, England, France and Italy, were all in prime condition. Especially noteworthy were the Roquefort, Mont D’Or and Cherwell from England. Two dainty quennels of sorbet, one apple, the other celery, might divide opinion as to their suitability. If they are to cleanse the mouth after each type of cheese is eaten, then they are effective. However, the lingering richness of eating cheese is instantly destroyed by this act of epicurean severance.

Given that desserts follow cheese in the French order of eating, surely the sorbets – which are excellent in taste and texture – constitute a brilliant way of cleansing the palate.

Desserts were as refined as the previous courses, revealing superb technique and exquisite presentation. A composite creation of Pear William was presented in forms of caramelized dice, mousse, dried slices and sorbet, all carefully executed in terms of taste, texture and temperature. Pureed and roasted nuts walnuts gave a richness and crunch which balanced the fruit. This was another brave dish, employing two ingredients, usually matched in a salad with Roquefort, to make a memorable dessert. (Wine: 2007, Recioto di Soave Vigna Marogne Tamellini, Veneto)

A milk chocolate mille feuille was a veritable tour de force of the chocolatier’s/patissier’s craft. Wafer thin leaves sandwiched a filling of well flavoured banana and rum parfait. (Wine:2007, Maury Domaine Mas Ammiel, Roussillon.)

All the incidentals of the meal –the sour dough bread, the biscuits and apricot bread served wih the cheese, petits fours and coffee – were excellent. So too was the knowledgeable, efficient and unobtrusive service, admirably overseen by Restaurant manager Karolina Koza. She also chose the wines from an impressive list arranged by country then region, with more Old World than New.

Overall, dining at Adam Simmonds restaurant is a real joy. To see a chef in very good form – not top form as he has so much more to give – finally recognized by Michelin is heartening and renews one’s faith in that august publication. That Adam is now cooking is grander surroundings with a wider hinterland of foodies than ever before, can only be to everyone’s advantage. We look forward to even greater accolades as his cooking goes from strength to strength.


Orrery Restaurant Review, April 2011 by Daniel Darwood

Posted on: April 6th, 2011 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Orrery Restaurant

Located near in the northern end of the fashionable Marylebone village in central London, Orrery continues to attract a broad range of discerning foodies in an area where competition is fierce. Pre dinner drinks can be taken in the brightly coloured bar or, in fine weather, on the stunning rooftop Summer Terrace, which also has four tables for al fresco meals

The 75 cover restaurant on the first floor is long and narrow, with well spaced tables on either side of the central aisle. Large arched windows face the leafy gardens of St Marylebone Church and give plenty of natural light which is emphasised by mirrors on the opposite wall. The barreled ceiling houses an array of spotlights which, mercifully, are not dimmed in the evening. Light wood dividers separate tables along the interior wall, although diners can discretely adjust the swivel panels to peek at their neighbouring table’s food. Blue leather banquettes and chairs with arms offer comfortable seating, whilst the shape of the room keeps noise levels down, even when the room is full.

The clean lines and elegant sophistication of the restaurant’s décor and furnishings form a fitting backdrop to chef Igor’s cuisine. Following a succession of chefs which did little for Orrery’s continuity and consistency, Igor arrived in 2008 with an impeccable CV of experience at Michelin establishments. This included three years as Head Chef at Mirabelle, sous chef at L’Oranger and head chef at Maison Nouvelli. With Marco Pierre White and Jean Christophe Nouvelli amongst his mentors, and drawing on his own classical French training, Igor now leads a team of nine in the Orrery kitchens, developing an extensive, ambitious repertoire.

Orrery is the restaurant that takes its name from a mechanical model of the solar system. It once held a star – a Michelin one – and is aiming to recapture that ultimate stellar accolade. Originally the flagship of the Conran empire, but now part of the D & D restaurant group, its fortunes, as far as the critics and guides are concerned, have fluctuated since 2007.

However, it is now making an impressive comeback under its current Head Chef Igor Tymchyshyn (below left). The use of seasonal, top quality British ingredients, now almost a cliché amongst top end restaurants, is nevertheless taken very seriously here. It helps to account for a constantly evolving menu to take advantage short term market availability. However, ingredients from further afield such as truffles, foie gras and poulet fermier are not ignored, adding diversity andluxury to the menu.

True to his philosophy of giving diners a wide choice and value for money, Igor’s carte of eight starters, ten mains and five desserts showcases his extensive skill and versatility. It offers retro dishes including Escargots Bourguignon, Tournedos Rossini, Turbot Veronique, Tarte Tatin and Rum Baba alongside more contemporary offerings. There is no stinting on luxury ingredients, and portions are large, even on the five course tasting menu. Precision in cooking, creativity, attention to detail and attractive presentation are much in evidence. Menus are at £48 for three courses, or £59 for the tasting menu (with a vegetarian Potager alternative). fine-dining-guide visited on a busy weekday evening.

An amuse bouche of wild garlic veloute prove too hot – we should have been warned – and thin when sipped under the parmesan foam. Certainly, this was not an auspicious start to the meal.

Much better was a starter of foie gras parfait with an exemplary smooth texture. Carefully prepared with proper marinating and seasoning, it came with a scoop of lighter foie gras mousse. The unctuous richness of elements was offset by a gently spiced autumn chutney. Sourdough Poilane toast provided a robust alternative to the brioche accompaniment usually offered in most restaurants. (Wine: Henriot NV Champagne Brut, Riems, France)

Foie Gras

The most popular starter on the menu was seared Orkney scallop. A single, giant specimen was perfectly timed to retain its succulence under a browned crust. Jerusalem artichoke puree added a deep earthy note to balance the sweetness of the shellfish, whilst a potato crisp provided a contrasting texture. Finally, a veloute of Perigord truffle, ceremoniously poured at the table, added an ethereal fragance which lifted the whole dish. (Wine: Albarino Rias Baixas,Spain 2008, (Terras Guarda)

An intermediate course of risotto proved to be a tour de force of serious cooking. The rice was cooked in a well flavoured stock to the correct degree of creamy sloppiness. Soft herbs and Parmesan gave added fragrance and richness, whilst Melanosporum black truffle again provided the luxurious, heady ingredient that made the dish magical. (Wine: Pernand Vergelesses, Sylvian Loichet, Burgundy 2008)


Exemplary fish cookery was seen again in a main course of fillet of Cornish sea bass. The delicate, melting flakes of white flesh under a crisply roasted skin allowed the full flavour to shine. A citrus and coriander dressing was well judged so as not to overwhelm the fish. A stuffed courgette flower and fennel puree added more savoury, aniseed notes. (Wine: Seresin, Pinot Noir (Leah), Marlborough NZ 2008)

It is rare to see stuffed pig’s trotter on a menu, so it was a surprising delight to see this tribute to Pierre Koffmann offered. Foodies in search of this exquisite dish phone Orrery in advance to ensure it is still available. The one offered was the largest I have ever seen. Visually stunning, the deboned back trotter resembled a glove of lacquered mahogany with a gelatinous, melting skin. Although the chicken mousse which bound the sweetbread stuffing was perhaps not set enough, it did not detract from the overall effect of this labour intensive dish. Speckled with truffle, dressed with a rich Madeira sauce, and accompanied by a perfectly smooth pomme mousseline, this was an unashamedly rich and decadent main course, (Wine; Tounga Nacional Blend, Symingtons, Altano Duoro Valley, Portugal 2008)

Although we did not have room to sample them, there was an impressive selection of farmhouse cheeses. Desserts were not in the same league as the savoury courses, although a choice of classic and more innovative dishes was offered. An example of the latter was Pannacotta with orange and champagne terrine and fennel essence. All the elements were well executed and worked well together. This was a rich but light dessert.

Unfortunately, passion fruit soufflé had no flavour at all, possibly because the kitchen had forgotten to fold in the fruit pulp? I was told the first one had collapsed, so they had to make another – perhaps in too much of a hurry? The accompanying ice cream was of white, instead of the billed dark, chocolate, and had partly melted – presumably whilst waiting for the second soufflé? This was, no doubt, a rare and forgivable glitch in what otherwise was a good meal.

Service, overseen by Shana Dilworth, was friendly and knowledgeable, with the assistant sommelier giving enthusiastic, well informed and concise commentary on the matching wines. If constructive criticism can be offered, it would be that the service needs to be more consistent throughout the meal, and during the pre-prandial drinks. There were sometimes over long waits, possibly the result of lack of communication amongst the front of house team, and between them and the kitchen. For instance, only a tasting size of risotto was requested, yet a full portion of this delicious course was served, much of which was left to allow room for the courses to follow.

Overall, Igor’s cooking ability is up to the standard of his predecessors, and certainly offers more variety. Given such an extensive menu, the danger might be one of stretching his skill too thinly. Happily, this was not evident in the most of dishes tasted, and others looked equally polished in their execution. He does, however, need to full support of the front of house to do his food full justice.

Orrery on Urbanspoon