Archive for May, 2011

Le Coq d’Argent Restaurant Review, May 2011.

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

Located on the top floor of No 1 Poultry, in the heart of the square mile, Coq d’ Argent is ideally placed at attract lunch and dinner trade from the City’s financial and commercial workforce. However, it is much more than a corporate restaurant, attracting a wide range of discerning customers since it opened in 1998. The evenings, in particular, show a more relaxed, informal atmosphere with an exciting buzz.

Accessed by private glass lift, which itself generates a special sense of anticipation, the rooftop terrace, brasserie and restaurant do not disappoint with their stunning views, sense of space and contemporary design. Architect James Stirling’s use of red Portland stone provides a fitting backdrop to the exquisite roof garden designed by Arabella Lennox-Boyd. Drinks can be enjoyed on the outside tables whilst absorbing the skyline panorama which includes the Bank of England, St Paul’s, the Monument and the Gerkin.

The restaurant itself features a huge floor to ceiling window facing the canopied, lamp heated terrace for al fresco eating. Inside the large dining room, green leather bucket chairs and soft banquettes provide comfortable seating. Square tables, rather closely spaced, align the sides, whilst round ones accommodate larger groups. Fine napery and glittering place settings anticipate a serious dining experience.

Head Chef Mickael Weiss (above) has produced a menu that reflects his extensive experience in England and his native France. This includes working in Relais & Chateaux hotels in France and head chef positions at Kartouche, Chapter One and the Bleeding Heart restaurants in London. Knowledge of City dining habits may have taught him the virtues of adhering to a largely classical repertoire for a largely conservative clientele.

Combinations of high quality ingredients are generally safe, with dishes being well executed. There is harmony in the balance of flavours and textures. A tendency to eschew the excesses of fine dining is shown in the absence of amuses bouches and pre-desserts. Those seeking cutting-edge cuisine must look elsewhere.

Ample choice on the carte is provided by 11 starters including a plateau de fruits de mer and Colchester oysters. Two vegetarian dishes supplement seven meat and three fish main courses. There are eight desserts and one cheese option.

To celebrate ten years in his current position, there is a six course tasting menu, with two alternatives in each course

Amongst the starters, snails in garlic butter, crevettes mayonnaise and smoked salmon were familiar, popular classic dishes. For those who spare no expense, the menu advised “a more extensive selection of caviar is available to pre-order.” Equally decadent but less expensive was the terrine of foie gras, a model of its kind, properly marinated and seasoned with a suitably rich, melting quality. This was offset well by delicately spiced pear chutney and accompanied by excellent toasted brioche.

Another starter of Devon crab salad featured a generous portion of utterly fresh white meat, and made good use of the brown meat in a well seasoned parfait. A puree of avocado and wasabi was well judged so as not to be too strong, although the dish as a whole would have benefitted from a citrus lift.

Mickael’s signature dish, Coq aux morilles, a well flavoured bird braised with onions, smoked bacon, mushrooms and the delectable fungus, has justifiably retained its popularity. Amongst familiar meat courses such as rack of with gratin dauphinois or the rump steak with seasonal vegetables, an assiette of pork offered a more adventurous, but not too innovative alternative. The cooking of the three cuts was finely tuned: the belly had the promised crisp crackling; the braised cheek was unctuously tender; and the fillet was pleasingly juicy. Garnishes of caramelised apple, plum, beetroot and port sauce might suggest a surfeit of sweetness but were remarkably well balanced in their composition and set off the dish nicely.

Skilled fish cookery was well exemplified in a dish of roasted halibut. A generous ultra fresh fillet was precisely timed to produce a golden crust with moist flesh. This robust fish stood up well to its wrapping of smoked streaky bacon and a grenobloise dressing of capers, brown butter and lemon. Saffron potatoes added colour and a perfumed note without being too dominant.

Desserts showed a greater element of flavour experimentation with violet and blackberry parfait, white chocolate and strawberry tart and pear and salted caramel miroir. However, many would opt for the classic tarte tatin for two. This had the correct degree of caramelisation, soft chunks of apple and crisp melting pastry. The crème fraiche accompaniment gave balancing acidity, whilst well made rich vanilla ice cream gave contrasting texture and temperature.

Other aspects of the meal – homemade breads, coffee and petit flours – were very good. Service, led by the Head Waiter, Nino Fernandez, was charming, efficient and knowledgeable. The sommelier expertly chose matching fine wines by the glass for the savoury courses; for instance, the Chablis 1er Cru Monte de Tonnere. Louis Michel 2008, was an inspired choice for both the halibut and pork main courses, albeit at £20 a glass. The award winning wine list, featuring distinguished vintages from Old and New Worlds, is a true connoisseur’s crop. To make some of these more accessible, the D & D group composes a “Love Wine” list for each of its restaurants. At Coq d’ Argent, Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Clavoillon Domaine Leflaive 2007 is a relative bargain at £98.00.

A visit to Coq d’Argent is not cheap, although the set lunch is an opportunity to sample Mickael Weiss’s cooking at more modest prices – £28 for two courses, £32 for three. Overall, the restaurant’s wide ranging menu of classic dishes, carefully rendered but with few frills, has proved to be a winning formula, both for City workers and those coming for a special occasion. Given its central location and rooftop setting, this success is certain to continue.

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Amaranto Restaurant Review, May 2011.

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

The reopening of Four Seasons on Park Lane, London, after a two year closure, has evoked much interest and, indeed, envy. Not only has the guest accommodation undergone complete restructuring and refurbishment, but so have the public areas, to the tune of a £125 million investment. The distinction between fine dining, which gained Brunot Loubet and Jean-Christophe Novelli acclaim here in the 1990s, and less formal eating has disappeared. In its place is an integrated bar, lounge and restaurant, with meals taken in any of the three areas, at most times of the day, according to the occasion and mood of the guests. This flexibility would appeal particularly to hotel guests who might otherwise have to seek alternative dining venues. However, the separate dark glass entrance clearly suggests that Amaranto has aspirations to be a destination restaurant.

The remodelling of the ground floor has produced an opulent, stunning series of interconnecting rooms, in keeping with the high standards of the Four Seasons group. The conservatory front of the restaurant opens onto a terrace garden which willsoon be available for al fresco dining. Inside, marbled surfaces in black and upholstery in red are the predominant colours in the bar and restaurant. The distinctly plush, oriental feel is further emphasised by Chinese lacquered cabinets, spot-lit equine sculpture and dim lighting.

Amidst the unashamed luxury and pleasing design is an interesting feature; the well spaced dining tables are covered with leather table tops and tablemats which is perhaps in keeping with the modern way of maintaining a relaxed feel in otherwise opulent surroundings.

Heading operations in the kitchen is Chef Davide Degiovanni, whose experience at Semplice and Locanda Locatelli, both Michelin starred, will stand him in good stead and provide an achievement to emulate. Certainly, he is highly enthusiastic in his new role, and relishes the challenges ahead. Amaranto is a much bigger undertaking with its flexible eating arrangements. The remodelled kitchens accommodate up to 22 chefs, preparing an average of 180 covers at day across restaurant, bar and lounge. The Italian based, seasonally changing menu, overseen by Executive Chef Adrian Cavagnini of the La Terrazza restaurant at the Hotel Eden in Rome, uses ingredients imported from Italy wherever possible which helps to account for their superb quality, but also for the high prices. Whilst the daily set menus offer a less expensive opportunity to sample the light, modern interpretation of regional Italian cuisine, a fuller appreciation of the kitchen’s skill is gained from the carte.

Fine Dining Guide visited on a weekday evening in found much to admire in the cooking and service.

The sumptuous, seductively designed bar, replete with impressive Italian-led ‘wine walls’ was the ideal place to enjoy an aperitif. An exquisitely refreshing bellini of raspberry and thyme proved an excellent start to the evening.

Initial impressions were very good: home made breads, including three kinds of Focaccia and Stromboli (anchovy and gorgonzola) had fine texture and full flavour. This was enhanced by dips of Tuscan and Sardinian olive oil and rich balsamic vinegar.

An amuse bouche of candied tomato with mackerel, carbonara and pesto served its purpose of exciting the palate with the vibrant, herby flavours that typify Italian cuisine.

A starter of delicate and well flavoured Fassona beef carpaccio, lightly seasoned with celery and spring herbs, was given a lift by the addition of parmesan mousse – far more exciting than the usual parmesan shavings! The elegant acidity and well integrated sweet tannins of the Pinot Noir did full justice to this dish. (Wine: Hofstaetter Barthenau Vigneto Sant Urbanhof Pinot Nero 2007)

Another starter involved scallops prepared three ways. Britanny scallop seared in pancetta with a carbonara sauce, retained its natural succulence. A tartar, bursting with fresh sweetness was balanced by blood orange and chives. Less successful was a scallop carpaccio with spicy new potatoes, the taste of which was muted. The accompanying Chardonnay, with its fruity aroma, mild acidity and hint of vanilla, set off the shellfish perfectly. (Wine: Elena Walch “Beyond the Clouds”, Chardonnay 2007)

An intermediate course; a serving of aubergine risotto; one of chef Degiovanni’s signature dishes proved delightful. The rich, creamy rice, slightly al dente in texture, was given extra depth of flavour by a taleggio cheese fondue and finished with a 120 year old Modena balsamic, poured by the chef himself. This was a masterful rendering of risotto, so often used and abused by lesser chefs, providing the appropriate consistency and bursting with flavours. The sparkling Ferrari wine, yeasty, crisp and elegant, with a hint of ripe apples, proved an ideal match for the food. (Wine: Ferrari “brut perle”, Blanc de Blanc)

Main courses featured grilled British meat with Italian touches. Casterbridge lamb cutlets were grilled pink to maximise their flavour and coated with a balsamic sabayonne which added a gentle sweet and sour element. Roasted root vegetables gave extra sweet earthiness and contrasting texture. The matching Valpolicella wine, with its warm and spicy bouquet, and its complex, velvety taste, worked well with the grilled lamb and the balsamic sabayonne. (Wine Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2006)

Deeply flavoured, matured Angus beef fillet was perfectly timed to a medium rare. Baby baked potato, creamed Swiss chard and sweet and sour aubergine proved to be interesting garnishes which did not overwhelm the meat. However, the dish, although not dry, may have benefited from more sauce to bring the elements together. The accompanying red wine had a ruthless acidity which complemented the savoury elements to perfection (Wine: Fattoria le Pupille “Poggio Valente” Morellino di Scansano 2006)

Desserts exceeded the high standards set by the previous courses, showing the strengths of the pastry section. Apple and cream mille foglie, featured multi layers of softly baked caramelised apple, topped with mascarpone cream on a crunchy almond biscuit base. A paper thin dried apple slice crowned this simple yet delicious dessert

Even better was the white chocolate and lime tart, the soft filling of which burst with amazing citrus fragrance. The accompanying passion fruit sorbet was a model of its kind, with intense flavour and velvety texture. A lively citrus dressing completed this outstandingly refreshing dessert, the after taste of passion fruit and lime lingering for some time.

Excellent coffee and petit fours completed this accomplished meal. True to the Four Seasons’ reputation, service throughout the evening was relaxed, welcoming, efficient, attentive and unobtrusive. In particular, Sommelier Rafael Peil explained the matching wines with an infectious enthusiasm which demonstrated a deep and passionate love of his craft.

The wine list, predictably strong on Italian vintages, also had a carefully chosen selection from Old and New Worlds. A unique feature, at least for London restaurants, is to sample the wine list by the glass, provided at least two are ordered.

Amaranto has made an impressive start under an inspirational chef and capable front of house. Although the competition is fierce, especially from the other five star hotels in Park Lane, the Four Seasons can rightly reclaim its place in offering its guests a memorable dining experience. With over 60 covers present on a mid-week evening, the carefully constructed concept of providing a versatile restaurant that can satisfy guests while attracting those from further afield is clearly paying dividends.

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John Campbell at Coworth Park, May 2011.

Posted on: May 5th, 2011 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Coworth Park, the restored 18th century mansion set in 240 acres of Berkshire parkland, is a triumph of sophistication, luxury and good taste. This applies both to the interior design by Martin Hulbert of Fox Linton Associates and – literally – to the cuisine of multi-Michelin starred chef, John Campbell.

As befitting part of the Dorchester Group, no expense has been spared in creating a contemporary style with a sense of historic grandeur. The high ceilinged, well lit reception area, drawing room and bar are attractively adorned with elegant chandeliers, original artwork, sculpture and modern glass. Stylish leather seating, plus carpeting and silky fabrics add to the sumptuous feel of the rooms. The design of the dining room itself draws inspiration from the natural surroundings with its stunning canopy of oak leaves and acorns in beaten copper. Hanging from the ceiling and reflected in the mottled pattern of the carpet, this magnificent adornment to the room creates a unique and dramatic effect; that it appears to “crown” the exquisite food and drink being served below is a highly appropriate imag

Having made his name at Lords of the Manor in Upper Slaughter, where he gained his first Michelin star, and the Vineyard, Stockcross where he gained his second, John Campbell seeks to emulate these achievements in his role as Consultant on the grander stage of Coworth Park. To say he is a passionate chef fails to do justice to his total commitment to the profession. Whilst love and emotion are apparent in his infectious enthusiasm at interview, the foundations of his success are rooted in an extensive knowledge and clear understanding of ingredients and cooking techniques. Whether in describing the best way of preparing stock or explaining flavour combinations to stimulate different taste receptors of the palate, his intelligent application of scientific principles is clearly evident. That he is willing to share his expertise is an even greater testament to his dedication and generosity. As co author of the leading manuals used in cookery schools, and as visiting professor of International Gastronomy at Thames Valley University, his legacy will thrive in future generations of chefs. This sharing of ideas and experience is no truer than in the kitchens of Coworth Park where new dishes are the collaborative effort of a least five people, including Head Chef Olly Rouse.

To use top quality, seasonal and local ingredients has become almost a cliché amongst top chefs, no matter how true; but to create unusual yet harmonious combinations, giving a range of taste sensations, is far more demanding. This is where John Campbell’s cooking excels. Balance of flavour, taste and texture are essential. Although plates never appear cluttered, and the main ingredient is allowed to shine, dishes in all three courses are multi component, each element retaining its individuality. Foams and purees are used not as decorative touches but as integral parts of the whole; how pleasing to note also that foams here actually taste of the advertised ingredient. Menu descriptions are understated, even terse, allowing for an element of surprise and even amusement when dishes are brought to the table. All these characteristics were displayed to their full advantage when Fine Dining Guide visited for a week day lunch.

Guests can choose from the daily three course Shire Menu, made from ingredients sourced within a 70 mile radius; the eight course tasting menu, with a vegetarian alternative; or the carte. Any of these choices will begin with crisp bread with humous and anchovy dips and Parmesan crisps. Four types of well made bread – wholemeal, rye, crispy baguette and poppy seed – are also offered. An amuse bouche of cold pea espuma with meat juice and bacon was vibrant in both taste and colour.

A starter from the carte was humbly labelled as “Duck, cherry, water chestnut.” In fact, this composite dish featured cured smoked breast from a duck ham, a parfait of its liver, crispy deep fried tongue, a base of marinated sliced duck leg, water chestnut, turnip, pine nuts and cherry! This was a tour de force not only of creativity in balancing the flavours and textures, but also of consistency, each element being afforded equal attention so their inherent tastes shone through. The accompanying rich and powerful red wine stood up well to the game. (Wine: Marsannay, Pinot Noir, 2007, Burgundy)

Equally accomplished but much lighter was “Crab, grapefruit, avocado and cucumber.” Here, the beautifully fresh crab meat was wrapped in an ultra thin sheet of mouli and given acidity by the grapefruit. Again, surprise came in the form of salmon mi-cuit which also went well with cucumber and avocado. Skilled wine pairing was again displayed in the choice of white wine with its citrus and spicy notes. (Wine: Alliam, Gruner Veltliner 2009, Austria)

A third starter of “Red mullet, brandade, tomato, olive” was simple in conception and brilliantly executed. The rich smokiness of the seared fillet perched on soft saffron polenta contrasted with the taste sensation of baby tomatoes which had been marinated in olive oil and balsamic and burst with sweet and sour tastes. Olives also appeared in the form of a light crumble which added texture and a form of seasoning. The well rounded chardonnay, rich and buttery, drank well with this dish. (Wine: Domaine de L’Hortus, Chardonnay, 2009, Languedoc)

An intermediate course of “Scallop, ceviche, pak choi, tomato” from the tasting menu made no mention of the nuts and morels that added earthy notes to more delicate flavours. This was one of the most labour intensive of the dishes, involving a gentle sear of the shellfish, marinating in citrus for six hours, and the extraction of tomato water through muslin to create a sublime essence which, when poured at the table, lifted the whole dish. The chosen wine, intensely concentrated with salty minerality and lasting finish was another inspired choice by the sommelier. (Wine: Pioneer Block 18, Sauvignon Blanc 2010, New Zealand)

A main course of “Sole, chicken, asparagus and grapes” can be seen as a playful version of Sole Veronique, but made with Lemon rather than Dover sole, and with a much lighter butter sauce. The addition of a hazelnut praline crust, chicken wing and asparagus completed the combination of soft and crisp, savoury and sweet, strong and mild elements. The accompanying white Burgundy had bright, citric qualities that worked well with the fish. (Wine: Meursault, Les Luchets, 2007, Burgundy)

“Royal farm beef, polenta, beetroot, bone marrow” was, perhaps, the least complicated of main courses, but no less accomplished for that. Cooked to a perfect medium rare, its mature flavour was complemented by the softness of the polenta, sweetness of the beetroot and the richness of the bone marrow beignet. How fitting that cured meat and tobacco notes of the rich, dark berry Syrah should be offered with this dish (Wine: Cote Rotie, Baurgard, Syrah, 2006, Rhone Valley.)

“Halibut, oyster, chorizo, seaweed” saw the firmly textured fish precisely cooked, giving a golden crust and retaining its inherent moistness. An oyster, wrapped in brik pastry, squash and potato spaghetti, showed real skill and attention to detail in producing sophisticated garnishes. Fennel puree and chorizo gave gentle and aniseed and spicy notes which did not overwhelm the fish. The good balance of slightly sweet fruit flavours and brisk acidity of the white wine complemented this dish wonderfully. (Wine: Ca’tullio, Pinot Grigio 2010, Italy)

Lime sorbet with green tea foam captured the fragrance of the fruit and the bitterness of the tea, proving a refreshing palate cleanser.

There were surprises in the dessert section. “Muscavado, marcapone, prune, passion” was a fun if loose interpretation of a deconstructed Tiramasu. The deep, sweet richness of the Muscavado replicated the coffee liqueur. However the dessert went much further with its use of prune and raisins soaked passion fruit to create a delectable, stylish dessert.

Lime and vanilla pannacotta was an unusual combination which worked well and showed the correct degree of wobble. Gariguette strawberry sorbet and jelly had an intensity not usually associated with this fruit. Finally, tarragon foam gave a gentle herby aniseed note which worked better than the ubiquitous mint leaf found elsewhere.

“Hay Chocolate, rose, blood orange” was even more experimental. Chocolate infused with dried hay and reminiscent of those rural smells, was rendered into a ganache. It came with rose marshmallow, crystallised rose, blood orange puree and lychee sorbet. The sparing use of the potentially overpowering rosewater was an inspired element in this brilliant evocation of the English countryside.

The description of “Mango, coconut, black olive” failed to do justice to the intensely flavoured mango parfait and rich coconut rice pudding served. Black olive caramel, with its salty sweet notes, worked well with the other elements, which included mango puree and white chocolate ice cream

Good coffee, excellent petit fours and chocolates completed a memorable meal in what must be one of the most beautiful dining rooms in the country. Service under the direction of the charming and gracious Thomas Mercier, was impeccable.

Staff were friendly, engaging, unobtrusive and knowledgeable about the dishes – not an easy task given the range of components and cooking techniques. As mentioned above the flight of wines to accompanying the savoury courses hit the mark perfectly, enhancing the whole experience.

Olly Rouse and his brigade of 12 in the kitchen, together with the front of house team, have produced a restaurant of which they can be truly proud. The consultancy role of John Campbell will, no doubt, help take Coworth Park to greater heights, gaining the recognition from Michelin and other the major guides it deserves.

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Brawn London, Restaurant Review, May 2011.

Posted on: May 5th, 2011 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

In recent years, The City and London’s East End has seen a flowering of successful restaurants, some of which easily outclass those found further west. Columbia Road Hackney, famed for its Sunday flower market, is not the obvious location for a destination restaurant, but this is what Brawn has become. Since opening in the autumn of 2010, this unpretentious bistro serving small plates from a pan-European menu, has attracted an increasing number of serious foodies, including restaurateurs, chefs and critics. For Bruno Loubet, who was sitting at the next table when we visited, it is his favourite restaurant.

Housed in the ground floor of a former commercial building – its bars still across the windows – Brawn is identified by the long snouted pig logo above its Horatio Street entrance. Inside the two high ceilinged dining rooms, the bare bricked, white painted décor is relieved by the artwork of Michael Tolmer, who also designed the logo Bare, café like wooden tables and chairs emphasise the simple, no nonsense approach to eating: the focus will always be on the food.

And what food it is! Ed Wilson and Oli Barker, the same team who opened Terroirs in Charing Cross, have produced a more extensive menu at Brawn, creating a real embarrassment of choice. There are three Taste Ticklers, seven items each of Pig, Plancha, and Cold, five Slow Cook plates, with four Desserts and up to five cheeses. Despite the small plate label, portions are large enough for sharing, part of the joy of eating here; and although the menu changes daily, part of itsstrength lies in the boldly flavoured, hearty meat and offal dishes available all year round.

An indulgent lunch began with two Taste Ticklers. Soft boiled quails’ eggs were a rich but delicate, enlivened with celery salt. Pork scratchings was a severely understated description for the long strips of warm, crunchy crackling that were actually served.

Three of the seven items from the Pig section were ordered.

The dish which gives the restaurant its name is far denser and more substantial than other inferior versions. The pieces of tongue, cheek and snout tightly compacted with herbs and set in jelly, results in a stronger flavour and firmer texture. This robust terrine is offered as a generous slab which would make a meal in itself.

Two plump quenelles of pork rillettes contained a well judged balance of shredded meat and fat, and had an unctuously melting quality on the tongue.

Jesus de Pays Basque ham was one of three chacuterie items. This thinly sliced, dark red salami, sprinkled with peppercorns to cut its delicate sweetness, had a deliciously chewy texture. The richness of this porcine feast was offset by the acidity of cornichons and pickled baby onions. The ideal accompaniment was the excellent Hackney Wild Sourdough bread baked at the e5 Bakehouse.

Of the seafood items sampled, smoked Cornish sprats were accompanied by a fresh horseradish cream which brilliantly offset the salty oiliness of the fish. Dorset clams with chilli, ham and garlic benefitted from a delicious broth of natural juices, enriched with white wine and butter.

Salad items were simple but utterly fresh and well prepared. Soft chicken livers, cooked pink, came with delicately dressed artichokes and lamb’s lettuce. Wedges of baby gems were lifted by a Dijon mustard dressing. Best of all was a plate of sweet Cheltenham beetroot, sour pickled walnuts and refreshingly pungent watercress.

Brandade gratin, one of the five Slow Cook dishes, contained a pleasing balance of salt cod and creamy pureed potatoes, topped with a golden crust.

The piece de resistance was a dish of Pigs trotters. The braised meat, fat and skin had been taken off the bone, finished in the frying pan, and shaped in a round mould. The rich, gelatinous qualities of this exquisite dish were countered by the sharpness of tarragon vinegar, shallots and capers in the accompanying sauce ravigote

Desserts are not in the same league as the savoury courses but well made and delicious nevertheless. Lemon tart had good pastry and a suitably astringent filling. Chocolate pots had smooth, velvety texture and a rich, bitter sweet flavour. A selection cheeses from Androuet in Spitafields were guaranteed to be in prime condition.

As for wine, both Brawn and Terroir pride themselves on their selection of natural wines, produced in sustainable, organic or biodynamic conditions. The list, arranged by style of wine rather than region includes “Stones, sea and shells”, “Clean lines” and “Jura and Guests” for white, and “Vins de Soif” and “Pinot Noir naturally” for reds. Given the range of dishes order, we left it to the manager to choose our wines. To begin, the sparkling pink wine from the Loire proved a refreshing aperitif. To follow, the 2008 Chardonnay, Cuvée Florine Ganevat, J-F Ganevat Jura and the 2009 Ploussard Uva Arbosiana, Domaine de la Tournelle red drank agreeably with the savoury courses.

Overall, it is clear why Brawn is thriving. The simple, relaxed ambience puts diners at their ease. The appealing menu of small dishes gives them an opportunity to “graze”, in order to appreciate the full range of the kitchen’s repertoire. Putting affordable, well cooked, honest food before discerning diners of all income groups is to be thoroughly applauded. Coupled with this is the responsibly sourced, highly agreeable wine list, with prices to match all pockets. Finally, the well informed, friendly and correctly paced service, reflecting the strengths of the front of house team, enhanced the overall experience.

The restaurant richly deserves the acclaim it has received and can look forward to even greater success in the future.

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Odettes, Restaurant Review, Revisited.

Posted on: May 5th, 2011 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Fine–dining–guide made a return visit to Odette’s in Primrose Hill to sample the delights of the summer menu.

Bryn William’s restaurant continues to attract a loyal following in the prosperous neighbourhood and from those further afield.

In good weather, greater opportunities for alfresco eating are offered in the front terrace and the inner garden. Inside, those who find the eclectically designed front room with its cramped tables, chintzy wallpaper, wall lamps and metal chandeliers overwhelming can seek refuge in the more spacious back room which has been tastefully refurbished with display shelving and comfortable banquettes.

With a brigade of just five in the kitchen, Bryn continues toproduce seriously accomplished cooking, confirming hisplace amongst the leading young chefs in the capital. That he has not yet been awarded a Michelin star – it must surely be just a matter of time – remains a mystery. Both simple and complex dishes delight with their precision in cooking and generosity of serving. Eating at Odette’s can be a relative bargain, especially the set lunch and early evening menu, with two courses at £16, three at £20. On the carte, the quality and sheer range luxury ingredients, along with a wide choice, more than justify the price structure: starters range from £8 to £14, mains £16 to £25, desserts from £8 to £10 and cheese at £12. For those who are defeated by the embarrassment of choice, a six course tasting menu is available at £60, or £90 with matching wines. (£50 /£80 for the vegetarian option)

Bryn’s current menu fully exploits the brilliant, well sourced produce of summer. Consider, for instance, the lunch dishes of chilled tomato soup, lamb fillet with pea and mint risotto or Parmesan gnocchi with asparagus, broad beans and pesto and a dessert of strawberry soup with spiced bread ice cream.

These dishes capture much of the rich colours and vibrant, fresh flavours of the season. This continues into the carte, with summer vegetable tart with Jerusalem artichoke, radish and herb salad, or braised fennel, grilled courgette, black olive gnocchi and aubergine puree. Both these options also show the strength and versatility of Bryn’s Mediterranean influenced vegetarian cookery.

Our summer lunch dishes, left to the chef’s discretion, showcased his signature dish as well as new creations.

A starter of hand dived scallops, beautifully seared to produce a caramelised crust and soft melting flesh, worked well with confit chicken wing and a light chicken jus. The whole dish was lifted by a sublime puree of new season’s garlic, delicate sweet and fragrant. A crisp, vibrant white wine complemented this dish well. (Wine: Chenin blanc, Dry Creek, California, 2009)

Another starter of wood pigeon saw the breast roasted to a tender pink, with a pastilla of its leg, both resting on a thin jus flavoured with chocolate. A foie gras croquette added an unctuous richness, whilst pickled cherries gave a sweet and sour astringency which balanced the other elements perfectly. Like all the dishes, this was stunning in its artistic yet restrained presentation. The chosen red wine did full justice to the robust flavours of this dish. (Wine: Cotes du Rhone, “Haut du Brun”, Alain Jaume, 2009)

Heading the list of main courses, Bryn’s signature dish, showcased in BBC’s Great British menu for the Queen’s 80th birthday, revealed his creativity at its best. It was a triumphant marriage of turbot and oxtail. The pan roasted, golden crusted, firm textured and fully flavoured fish worked well with the slow cooked, meltingly tender boneless oxtail. Cockles and samphire added texture and element of salinity, complementing the fish. Red wine jus and garlic foam completed this composite, sophisticated dish, one which it will impossible to take off the menu, regardless of season. This distinctive dish deserved a fine accompaniment, which the lightly floral and fruity notes of the chosen white wine supplied.

(Wine: Macon Villages, Louis Chedeville, 2009)

Noisettes of Elwy Valley lamb from Bryn’s native Wales were cooked pink to retain their exceptional sweetness, whilst a wrapping of fat helped also to retain their succulence. A baton of shredded lamb shoulder, crumbed and deep-fried, added richness and textural contrast. Vegetable accompaniments of fondant potato and peas, baby gem lettuce and mint in the French style, enhanced the dish well. Of particular note is the quality and skilled cooking of the fresh peas, which avoided reducing them to unpalatable bullets! The big, full flavoured palate with berry aromas of the red wine proved a fine accompaniment. (Wine: Cotes du Rhone, “Haut du Brun”, Alain Jaume, 2009)

Desserts showed the same creativity and attention to detail as the other courses.

A playful interpretation of the seventies’ shop bought classic was Bryn’s Arctic roll. His version replaced ice cream with an intense lemon curd. Cranachan with raspberries provided an appropriate balancing garnish

Equally delicious was the rich, moist Pistachio cake, which worked particularly well with apple puree and calvados cream. Both desserts were enhanced by the well balanced sweet wine.

(Wine: Muscat de Rivesaltes, J M Lafage, Roussillon.)

Other aspects of the meal – the well made breads, the good coffee, and the knowledgeable and attentive service – were all beyond reproach. (However, it might be useful on hot summer days for mineral water to be chilled). Overall, eating at Odette’s is a joy, even if some of the décor is not to everyone’s taste. The consistency with which Bryn Williams delivers high quality dishes must surely stand his restaurant in good stead for Michelin star recognition. We await the publication of the next guide with interest.

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