Archive for March, 2012

Kitchen Joel Antunes, The Embassy, London (March 2012)

Posted on: March 27th, 2012 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood
Chef Joel Antunes

Chef: Joel Antunes

To some, a restaurant called Kitchen Joel Antunes might suggest a simple, relaxed approach to both food and décor, perhaps in the style of a bistro, complete with wooden floor and seating, tightly packed bare tables and a blackboard menu.

This is far from the case with Joel Antunes’s restaurant, which opened in November 2011. In line with its Mayfair location in Old Burlington Street, it exudes glamour and sophistication. The long glass frontage overlooks an attractive 40 seat canopied terrace, ideal for al fresco dining. Inside, the low ceilinged 95 cover dining room has a French patterned limestone floor, comfortable leather chairs and banquettes and fine napery on well spaced tables. The collection of artwork, including pieces by Damien Hurst, Tracey Emin and Banksy, are best seen during the day, as the evening spotlighting produces a distinctly dim effect.

Nor can the food be described as simple. Whilst traditional bistro dishes like Coq au vin, beef tartare and foie gras terrine appear on the menu, their preparation is lifted by the creative talents of Joel Antunes, who gained a Michelin star for his brilliant but short lived Les Saveurs in 1994. At Kitchen Joel, his carte, which gives plenty of choice with 14 entrees, 12 mains and 8 desserts, emphasises the dishes of Provence, such as salad Nicoise, duck gizzards, marinated peppers with boquerones anchovies, and baby artichoke salad. Italian influences are also present, as seen in aubergine balsamico and buffalo mozzarella, wild mushroom risotto with parmesan, and oxtail tortellini with Swiss chard. Cooking is technically precise, with clarity of flavour, balance of texture and elegance in presentation. Whilst not cheap, prices are fair given the quality of ingredients and the Mayfair location: starters average £12, mains £24 and desserts £8,

Fine Dining Guide visited on a weekday evening in March 2012

Sliced baguette came with an olive oil and balsamic dip, as might be expected of the   Mediterranean theme of the food.

An entrée of Hamachi ceviche avoided the excessive acidity often encountered in lesser establishments. The soft, fatty texture and slightly bland flavour of the fish proved an ideal vehicle for the citrus marinade, which showed good balance in its sweet, sour and spiced elements. Slivers of radish gave crunch whilst coriander leaves added a lively freshness to the dish.

Ceviche of Hamachi

Another entrée of confit duck gizzards saw the succulent, flavoursome offal in a rich sauce paired with well made potato gnocchi. Skinned broad beans and delicate pea shoots offset the richness perfectly.

Duck Gizzards and Potato Gnocchi

Wild mushroom risotto, served in dainty copper saucepans, benefitted from a well flavoured stock. The rich, creamy rice, properly al dente, delighted with its generous blend of cepes and parmesan. Here was basically a simple dish, cooked with care, that produced a taste sensation.

A main course of Blue shrimp saw six large prawns perfectly timed to retain their sweet succulence. Served on a base of curried vermicelli and seafood stock, the gentle spicing allowed the freshness of the shellfish to shine.

Prawn Vermecilli

Coq au vin revealed the excellence of long slow cooking. Served in a cast iron cocotte, the flavoursome bird came with a glossy, intensely rich, high reduced – but not salty – red wine sauce. Properly garnished with lardons, baby onions and mushrooms, with the addition of baby carrots that added a splash of colour, this was another well executed dish.

Coq au Vin

The accompanying French beans were well rendered, although the gratin dauphinoise would have benefited from less cream.

Perhaps desserts are the most adventurous part of the menu with new creations such as Le “Kit Kat” caramel with tonka bean ice cream and semi freddo, chocolate streusel and coffee granite. However, classical dishes are not ignored; indeed, a caramel mille-feuille was a veritable master class in art of pastry. The crisp, delicate buttery layers simply melted in the mouth, whilst the caramel and crème patissiere added sweetness and soft texture to this simple but sublime offering.


Another favourite, Colonel a la Ciroc, saw a lively lemon sorbet doused with vodka. Caramel and vanilla ice creams were in the same league in terms of smooth, velvety texture and pronounced flavour.

Good coffee and petit fours completed a memorable meal.

The wine list treads a well trodden path, mainly through the regions of France. In addition to the 140 bins, there is a more affordable selection of 11 by the glass. Service is friendly, solicitous and eager to please.

Overall, Joel Antunes can be justifiably pleased with his latest restaurant, as his brief conversation with us at the end of the meal testified. No doubt Kitchen Joel, with its combination of good food and chic surroundings will hold its own in the fierce competition of London’s West End.

Feature: Britain’s Top Twenty (20) Restaurants (2012)

Posted on: March 21st, 2012 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

This is partly by way of an update to an article from mid-2008 which reviewed the top 10 restaurants in Britain: the Britain extract from the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants (at a time when ten restaurants from Britain featured in the list!) was compared to a list of restaurants in Britain scored by three of the leading guides.

This time round – for the start of 2012 – we take the 2012 editions of Michelin, The Good Food Guide and The AA Restaurant Guide and score each restaurant as follows: 6 points per Michelin star, 3 points per Good Food Guide mark out of ten and 2 points per AA Rosettes.  To continue the theme of subjective list comparisons, the top 20 extract from the second annual Harden’s sponsored Sunday Times Top 200 Restaurants of Britain is reviewed.  All three of the guides and the Harden’s list were published by the end of October 2011.

So, The Harden’s Sponsored Sunday Times Top 20 is as follows:-

1. The Ledbury, London

2. Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, Great Milton, Oxon

3. Gidleigh Park, Chagford, Devon

4. Le Gavroche, London.

5. The Waterside Inn, Bray, Berkshire.

6. One-O-One, London

7. Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, Scotland

8. Restaurant Martin Wishart, Edinburgh

9. Pied a Terre, London

10. The Fat Duck, Bray, Berkshire

11. Hambleton Hall, Rutland

12. Midsummer House, Cambridge

13. John Campbell at Coworth Park, Ascot, Berkshire

14. Yorke Arms, Yorkshire

15. The Square, London

16. L’Enclume, Cumbria

17. The Hamborough, Isle of Wight

18. Nathan Outlaw, Rock, Cornwall

19. Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, London

20. The Kitchin, Leith, Edinbirgh

The Harden’s Guide is published annually and the public (those that are registered to their website) respond to a spring survey where they mark restaurants out of five for each of food, service and ambiance.  It does not stop there, as these restaurants are marked in comparison to those in a similar price bracket thereby ensuring a ‘fairer’ value judgement guide.  It is, you will also note, one driven by the public and those diners that have registered with Harden’s.

The three guides’ list is provided below and then both may be examined in general terms:-

1. Fat Duck, Bray, Berkshire.  3 Michelin Stars, 10/10 Good Food Guide, 5 AA Rosettes. Points 58

2. Gordon Ramsay, London.  3 Michelin Stars 9/10 Good Food Guide, 4 AA Rosettes. Points 53

3. Sat Baines, Nottingham, Notts. 2 Michelin Stars 9/10 Good Food Guide, 5 AA Rosettes. Points 49

4. Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, London. 3 Michelin Stars, 8/10 Good Food Guide, 3 AA Rosettes. Points 48

5. Waterside Inn, Bray, Berkshire. 3 Michelin Stars 7/10 Good Food Guide, 4 AA Rosettes. Points 47

6. Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, Oxford, Oxon. 2 Michelin Stars, 8/10 Good Food Guide 5 AA Rosettes. Points 46

6. Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, London. 2 Michelin Stars, 8/10 Good Food Guide, 5 AA Rosettes. Points 46

8. Le Champignon Sauvage, Cheltenham, Glos. 2 Michelin Stars, 8/10 Good Food Guide, 4 AA Rosettes. Points 44

8. The Square, London. 2 Michelin Stars, 8/10 Good Food Guide, 4 AA Rosettes. Points 44

8. Hibiscus, London. 2 Michelin Stars, 8/10 Good Food Guide, 4 AA Rosettes. Points 44

8. Whatley Manor, Malmesbury, Wiltshire. 2 Michelin Stars, 8/10 Good Food Guide, 4 AA Rosettes. Points 44

12. L’Enclume, Cartmel, Cumbria. 1 Michelin Star, 9/10 Good Food Guide, 5 AA Rosettes. Points 43

13. Le Gavroche, London. 2 Michelin Stars, 8/10 Good Food Guide, 3 AA Rosettes. Points 42

13. Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Rock, Cornwall. 2 Michelin Stars, 8/10 Good Food Guide, 3 AA Rosettes. Points 42

15. Midsummer House, Cambridge, Cambs. 2 Michelin Stars, 7/10 Good Food Guide, 4 AA Rosettes. Points 41

15. Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, Auchterarder. 2 Michelin Stars, 7/10 Good Food Guide, 4 AA Rosettes. Points 41

15. Gidleigh Park, Chagford, Devon. 2 Michelin Stars, 7/10 Good Food Guide, 4 AA Rosettes. Points 41

18. The Ledbury, London. 2 Michelin Stars, 7/10 Good Food Guide, 3 AA Rosettes.  Points 39

19. Helene Darroze at the Connaught, London. 2 Michelin Stars, 6/10 Good Food Guide, 4 AA Rosettes. Points 38

19. Danesfield House, Marlow, Bucks. 1 Michelin Star, 8/10 Good Food Guide, 4 AA Rosettes. Points 38

19. Restaurant Martin Wishart, Edinburgh, Sc. 1 Michelin Star, 8/10 Good Food Guide, 4 AA Rosettes. Points 38

The Michelin Guide awards stars to less than 200 restaurants in Britain and Ireland – a fraction in the region of one quarter of 1% of the restaurants in Britain.  The vast majority of these have but one star, just seventeen two stars and only four three stars.  The three Guides’ focus is purely on the food on a plate – that is the preparation, conception and execution of dishes produced with the best, freshest possible ingredients.  Other factors such as service and ambiance are good to have but are only reflected in the restaurant descriptions (where there are any) and not in the calculation of the marks.  Michelin have a separate symbol – knives and forks – that covers warmth of welcome and service.

Another factor that Michelin, The Good Food Guide and The AA Restaurant Guide have in common is their results are driven by a team of (largely) anonymous inspectors, whose role is to rank a restaurant’s quality – to provide a professional benchmark. The Michelin Guide in particular has long been revered by the chef/restaurateur side of the equation, as it has represented the accolade with most gravitas, while at the same time having a track record of filling covers in the restaurant.

So how do the lists compare?  In a way it is like agreeing upon a large complicated contract and then discussing only the fine print.  Why?  All of those restaurants in the Harden’s/Sunday Times list would feature in the top 1% of restaurants as described by the three guides’ formula.  Nineteen of the twenty have at least one Michelin star (the Knightsbridge based, largely seafood restaurant, One-O-One is the only exception – even so, One-O-One’s marks in the other guides are high (Good Food Guide 6/10, AA 3 Rosettes)). There may be some truth in the statement that people are, to an extent, led by the guides and report back positively to Harden’s on those restaurants that have been recommended in the first place?  All the restaurants across both lists are also in the top end of the highest price bracket so Harden’s argument about value statements, where restaurants are compared in price-bracket and therefore the results provide the ‘most bang for your buck‘ is somewhat muted.

Perhaps if there is a theme to be found over time, it is that in 2012 we are entering a new cycle, where innovation in cuisine has its place rather than being in a position of dominance.  There is also possibly a return to new-classical French-led cooking in these lists that was less apparent a few years ago – a trend an odds with the ever expanding choice of high quality international cuisines available in Britain.

A final few thoughts before closing:  In the information age, the watchwords of the internet are interactiveness and responsiveness.  The Hardens/Sunday Times list scores on the interactiveness but like Michelin, The Good Food Guide and The AA Restaurant Guide they are date in time, snapshot ratings.  It might be argued that they are out of date the day they are published.  The web is awash with real time reviews of each and every restaurant – many by discerning diners, with a little effort you could find good quality, amateur critics whose taste matches your own.  Should the guides maintain the status quo then surely they are always playing catch-up.  Couple this with the downward pressure on print media compared to the ever-spiralling demand for digital media then maybe tough times are ahead for all of these publications.

No doubt, however, there is a significant place for the quality restaurant guides and they may adapt to bring to market new products that will capture the essence of fine dining in a medium that reflects the demands of our age.

Michelin Main Cities of Europe 2012: Press Release

Posted on: March 15th, 2012 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

The 31st edition of the MICHELIN guide Main Cities of Europe covers 44 cities in 20 countries. 03/14/2012

Written in English, the MICHELIN guide Main Cities of Europe is intended for business travellers and tourists visiting leading European cities and who want to be able to easily find, for example, a hotel near a convention centre or a restaurant in which they can entertain clients.

The guide features a wealth of useful information, including city maps showing the exact location of hotels and restaurants, key words for defining each establishment’s style, practical information about each city (sites to visit, tips for getting around town, etc) and key tourist information.

The 2012 edition of the MICHELIN guide Main Cities of Europe features a selection of over 3,600 establishments, of which 2,100 are restaurants and 1,500 hotels. These establishments come in all different styles, sizes and price categories and have been visited anonymously by the Michelin team of fulltime inspectors.

Highlights in this edition include two restaurants which have gone straight into the guide with two stars: Gourmet Restaurant Silvio Nickol in Vienna and Maaemo in Oslo. Prague has 2 new one-star restaurants: Alcron and Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise, as well as Athens with Funky Gourmet and Galazia Hytra. In Copenhagen, there are 4 new one-stars, which range in style from the informality of Relæ to the elegance of Geranium.

In this guide the reader can discover 287 restaurants with one star (of which 44 are new this year), 74 restaurants with two stars (of which 18 are new) and 15 with three stars. There are also 48 new Bib Gourmands, bringing the total in Europe to 249 and reflecting the importance our readers place on affordability as well as quality.

From a small, 400-page red guide distributed free of charge to motorists and containing a wealth of useful information on such topics as tyre changes and vehicle maintenance, the MICHELIN guide has developed over the years to become the benchmark in gourmet dining. Today, it covers 23 countries and features a selection of more than 45,000 hotels and restaurants, with the goal of making travel easier and more enjoyable. The guide has always promoted the Michelin Group’s mission expressed in the corporate slogan: “a better way forward.”

Austria (Vienna, Salzburg) – Belgium (Brussels, Antwerp) – Czech Republic (Prague) – Denmark (Copenhagen) – Finland (Helsinki) – France (Paris, Lyons, Strasbourg, Toulouse) – Germany (Berlin, Cologne, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, Stuttgart) – Greece (Athens) – Hungary (Budapest) – Ireland (Dublin) – Italy (Rome, Milan, Turin, Florence) – Luxembourg (Luxembourg) – Netherlands (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague) – Norway (Oslo) – Poland (Warsaw, Cracow) – Portugal (Lisbon) – Spain (Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia) – Sweden (Stockholm, Gothenburg) – Switzerland (Bern, Geneva, Zurich) – United Kingdom (London, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow)

The MICHELIN Guide Main Cities of Europe will go on sale from March 15, priced €22,90.

The Europe iPhone application (priced at €14.99) includes restaurants and hotels from MICHELIN guides in all European countries. The selection of restaurants in Europe is also available on Windows Phone (priced at €12,99).

The 2012 Michelin Main Cities of Europe Official PDF Press Release

Michelin France 2012: Press Release

Posted on: March 15th, 2012 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Michelin Guide France 2012: Reflecting the Vibrancy of French Gourmet Cooking

Scheduled for release in bookstores on March 1, the 2012 MICHELIN guide France offers a unique view of the country’s hospitality industry with 4,457 hotels and 4,289 restaurants recommended, 426 establishments listed for the first time, 1 new restaurant with three stars, 10 with two stars, 58 with one star and 124 new Bib Gourmand restaurants. In ten years, the number of starred restaurants in France has risen by 15% and the number of Bib Gourmands by nearly 40%. Dining every day in a wide variety of restaurants across all price categories, the MICHELIN guide inspectors can attest to the fact that quality everywhere is on the upswing.

A new restaurant with three stars

Flocons de sel now ranks among the 105 restaurants around the world that are “worth a special journey.” Located atop Megève, the restaurant headed by Emmanuel Renaud, a chef whose talents have been confirmed today is on top of the gourmet dining world. His restaurant has become an indispensable destination for lovers of mountain scenery and fine cuisine.

With an expanding array of culinary trends and a constant focus on ingredients, high standards of cooking and renovated interiors, the French restaurant industry is being revitalized and transformed. Despite the current economic environment, young chefs are boldly – and successfully – carving out their own niches with new gourmet restaurants. As proof, a total of five restaurants that formerly displayed the Bib Gourmand label have this year been awarded their first star: l’Auberge de l’Abbaye in Ambronay (01), L’Arbre in Gruson (59), L’Éventail des Saveurs in Rostrenen (22), Le Bec au Cauchois in Valmont (76) and Le Juliénas in Villefranche-sur-Saône (69). From the most prestigious restaurants to simple bistros, the same commitment to quality is lifting the entire French gourmet dining scene and providing the guide’s inspectors, who test the restaurants every day, with new – and renewed – experiences. Dining anonymously like ordinary customers, they systematically pay their own bills. However, as true hospitality industry professionals, they painstakingly judge each dish to ensure that the restaurant meets Michelin’s criteria in terms of product quality, preparation and flavors, the chef’s personality as revealed through his or her cuisine, value for money, and consistency over time and across the entire menu. The best restaurants are awarded the Bib Gourmand label or stars, distinctions that are based solely on cooking quality and are always attributed on a consensus basis. Comfort and service are rated separately.

Hotels and guesthouses for a memorable overnight experience

The guide also features a selection of 4,457 hotels and guesthouses covering all price and comfort categories. Again, the Michelin inspectors have leveraged their expertise, applying rigorous selection criteria to point customers to the very best addresses. This year, 835 establishments have been rated “quiet” or “very quiet” while 873 have been rated as “particularly pleasant” (the inspectors favorites). The selection of hotels with spa facilities has also been expanded, with a total of 281 certified as having superior “well-being and relaxation” facilities. In addition, the guide includes more than 520 guesthouses. The best in each region are indicated. Whether small family inns, seaside resorts, renowned luxury establishments or hotels that reflect the latest trends in design, the guide has something for vacationers and business travelers alike.

From March 1 to 31, 2012, an iPhone application is offered free of charge for each purchase of a MICHELIN guide.

Throughout the month of March, Michelin is for the first time ever offering the 2012 MICHELIN Guide France Hotels & Restaurants iPhone application free of charge with each purchase of the print guide. The application is the perfect complement to the printed guide, enabling users to consult the Michelin inspectors’ selection of hotels and restaurants at any time. It can be downloaded from the App Store simply by entering the promotional code included in the guide.

The gourmet cooking scene in the French capital is also vibrant. The 2012 MICHELIN guide Paris explores some 453 restaurants and 60 hotels, of which 72 first-time selections. The guide includes attractive descriptions with photos, a special Paris Pratique section containing useful advice, 11 theme lists enabling readers to choose according to their desires or budget, street plans of Paris’s 20 arrondissements and a removable map of the entire city.

For more than a century, the MICHELIN guide collection has been committed to making life easier for travelers by providing them with a selection of the best restaurants, hotels and guesthouses around the world. Today, the 27 MICHELIN guides cover 23 countries on three continents.

2012 MICHELIN guide France:
– 8,746 establishments, of which 4,457 hotels and guesthouses and 4,289 restaurants
– 594 “starred” restaurants, of which 485 with one star (58 new listings), 83 with two stars (10 new) and 26 with three stars (1 new)
– 630 Bib Gourmand restaurants, of which 124 newly awarded the label
– 2,016 pages – €24.00

– To be released on Thursday, March 1 2012
Buy online the “2012 MICHELIN guide France” (french shop)

2012 MICHELIN guide France Hotels & Restaurants: the iPhone application:

– The full selection of hotels and restaurants listed in the 2012 MICHELIN guide France
– Functions: search for nearby hotels and restaurants, by address or name; list of favorites;customer comments; map view of the establishment; sharing opinions and suggestions via social networks, etc.
– Available in five languages for iPhone. €7.99

2012 MICHELIN guide Paris:

– 513 establishments, of which 60 hotels and 453 restaurants
– 77 “starred” restaurants, of which 50 with one star (11 new listings), 17 with two stars (2 new) and 10 with three stars
– 70 Bib Gourmand restaurants, of which 20 newly awarded the label
– 480 pages – €15.90
– To be released on Thursday, March 1 2012
Buy online the “2012 MICHELIN guide Paris” (french shop)

The-2012-MICHELIN-guide-France (PDF, Michelin France, Press Release)


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