Archive for January, 2013

Restaurant Review: Rotunda, King’s Place (Jan 2013)

Posted on: January 30th, 2013 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Kings Place

Kings Place is a major new landmark in the rejuvenation of the King’s Cross area. Peter Millican’s office development, party occupied by the offices of The Guardian and Observer, also contains concert halls, art galleries and exhibition areas which provide an attractive cultural amenity in an ultra-modern setting.

The main venue for food and drink is Rotunda Bar & Restaurant. As its name suggests, the shape of the room follows the curvature of the building design. Subtle lighting, fully glazed walls and lustrous banquette seating help to provide a stylish, contemporary venue for relaxed, informal dining. The impressive stepped ceiling, with its sweeping curves, is reminiscent of a flying saucer. My dining companion commented on the overall effect being that of a revolving restaurant, albeit one that does not move!

Rotunda Interior

Nicky Foley, head chef for the last two months, has injected new life into the restaurant. With a CV that includes head chef at Butler’s Wharf Chop House and Aubaine, as well as experience at Bentley’s and Tom’s Kitchen, his experience of London kitchens is firmly established. The emphasis at Rotunda is on modern British cooking with interesting but not outlandish combinations and strong robust flavours. High quality produce such as Goosnargh duck, Rye Bay scallops, Clarence Court eggs and South coast turbot are much in evidence whilst foraged ingredients are mercifully kept to a minimum.

A few traditional dishes from Nicky’s native Ireland also feature.  These include Devilled Irish fry – crubeens, suet-baked kidney, white pudding, chestnut mushrooms, fried quail’s egg – and steamed Irish suet pudding “hare & oyster.”

However, pride of place goes to the beef and lamb. These are sourced from Peter Millican’s farm in Matten, Northumberland but are matured and butchered in the restaurant’s own hanging room to guarantee quality and purity. The menu provides useful pictures of the different cuts of the animals to aid the diner in selection. Prices range from £17.00 to £23 for one and £26 to £32 per person for large sharing cuts. “Hay baked” lamb neck costs £17.00 whist the sharing cuts are £16.60 or £19.95 per person. These might seem steep but portions are generous and there is no denying the quality of the raw material. For instance, the Limousin X beef, low in fat and high on muscle is hung for a minimum of 28 days to maximise its flavour.

Although there is a noticeable absence of pork and poultry – presumably not reared on the farm – the menu structure gives a good range of meat, fish and vegetarian dishes at reasonable prices. It features three nibbles (£2.00 to £2.75), six starters (£5.95 to £10.50, with two available in small and large sizes); five mains (£15.95 to £19.95), five puddings (all £5.95), and three savouries.(£7.50 to £15). Sides average £3.60. These prices compare favourably with charged at similar or lesser establishments.

Rotunda’s wine list, arranged by grape variety and showing an impressive range from Old and New Worlds, has prices to suit all pockets. Brief tasting notes provide useful guidance for those facing such embarrassment of choice.

Fine Dining Guide visited on a weekday evening in January to sample the menu.

Three nibbles were simply prepared and enjoyable. English radishes were crisp, and fresh with a gentle bitterness. The light mayonnaise spiked with anchovy and rosemary was well judged. Soft boiled quail’s eggs were accurately timed and candied walnuts were lightly toasted and not oversweet.

Pan fried Cod cheeks made good use of that often neglected but delicious morsel of fish. Their soft texture and succulent flavour worked well with the jelly like qualities of Judas ear mushrooms and the richness of bacon jowl.  Sorrel added a lemony note to balance the dish.

Rotunda Cod Cheeks

Rye Bay scallops were seared to produce a caramelised crust and moist, sweet flesh. Partnered with a rich duck blood sausage and lifted by celery, lemon and parsley, this was a harmonious marriage of textures and flavours. It would have been even better with more dressing and acidulation. The aromatic citric notes of the Sauvignon Blanc provided a fine match for both starters. (Wine: Domaine Horgelus  Sauvignon  Gros Manseng France 2011 )

Rotunda Scallops

A whole lamb shoulder (to share) was a triumph long slow cooking – 12 hours in fact. The Texel breed is leaner than most, the flavour being well defined. Nevertheless, the sweetness of the shoulder meat, so meltingly tender it could be flaked with a fork, showed the qualities of this flavoursome if more fatty cut. Given its richness and size – it could easily have fed three if not four people, this was not a dish for the feint hearted. The accompaniments of Irish champ, buttered leeks and roast squash were all competently executed, whilst a rich gravy and mint sauce brought the whole dish together.  A Bulgarian Pinot Noir with soft berry fruit proved an unusual but suitable soft red wine for this course. (Wine: Soli Pinot Noir, Moiroglio, Thracian Valley, Bulgaria 2008)

Rotunda Lamb Shoulder

For dessert, Rosehip soup with vanilla ice cream brought a Scandinavian note to the menu. Both elements of this simple dessert were skilfully prepared, with an intense floral note to the thick sweet syrup and a smooth, velvety texture to the ice cream

Carrageen gave the right degree of wobble to a buttermilk pudding topped with a rich jelly of sea buckthorn. Here was an ingredient that evokes extreme reactions, but the dessert was well balanced, the astringency of the berry countering the creaminess of the buttermilk.  (Wine: Seifried sweet Agnes Riesling New Zealand 2009)

Rotunda Carrageen

Service during the meal was welcoming, knowledgeable and helpful.  Manager Liz expertly advised on the wine selections as noted above. Overall, the revitalised restaurant under Nicky Foley’s direction is producing cooking of a high standard and deserves the success it has already attained. We will follow its progress with interest.

Interview: Elizabeth Carter, Editor Good Food Guide (2013)

Posted on: January 22nd, 2013 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood
Elizabeth Carter

Elizabeth Carter, Editor Good Food Guide 2013

The Which? Good Food Guide is a long standing, trusted companion – providing an interesting read as well as a reliable source of information.  The Guide has proven as dynamic as it is robust by moving seamlessly into the twenty-first century.  This has been achieved, in no small part,  by embracing forms of communication and content distribution that are so important in the modern age.

The Guide was founded by Raymond Postgate in 1951; during the last 62 years there have been only seven editors.  Elizabeth Carter (left) is in her seventh year as editor and found time to speak to Simon Carter of fine-dining-guide.

Interview took place Tuesday 3rd January 2013 at The Square restaurant, London.

How have you enjoyed your experience so far as editor of The Good Food Guide?

I can’t believe that I’m about to embark on the seventh book as editor, the time has gone by so fast and I’ve enjoyed it immensely. Of course there have been challenges and opportunities – when I came in we had to change the way the guide looked (and was perceived) while bringing it firmly into the twenty-first century.

Achieving these objectives has not been easy but nonetheless an enjoyable challenge.

Tell us about the features you have introduced.

A strategy with two strands. First, to take the book forward by introducing a number of new features and making various upgrading and updating changes. Second, by embracing the digital and mobile worlds of content distribution that are imperative in the twenty-first century.

The top 50 has been important and the responsibility in compiling it is something I take very seriously. Indeed, our readers as well as the chefs have responded very positively to it.  I remember contacting one chef to provide notice that his restaurant was being promoted from 8/10 to 9/10. His immediate reaction was to think of the top 50 list and that I was telling him he was in ninth place. When it dawned on him he had achieved a rare 9/10 score – he was speechless with shock and delight.

The Reader Awards have been another integral addition and they reflect the Good Food Guide philosophy very strongly. They tell our readers that their views are very important and that we’re in this together in making recommendations – they are the backbone of the guide.

I’m really proud of the fact that the guide is a more colourful, interesting, inclusive and accessible read than ever before.

And also about the web presence and subscription model.

We put a lot of time, effort and money into producing the book each year.  While the book remains a very successful publication, it is important for The Good Food Guide to reach the widest possible audience, which involves embracing all modern channels of communication.

In terms of the web presence, we are taking concrete steps to significantly enhance our nascent website and provide more dynamic, timely content.  We have launched a subscription model and we’re excited about the flexibility this brings – our readers can now pay a small monthly subscription to access our reviews online or can opt for a ‘bundle’, giving them the print guide and a year’s online access.  Moving The Good Food Guide (as I’m sure all guides are finding) from a static publication to one that is digital, dynamic and interactive for the reader is one of the biggest challenges being faced today and one of the most exciting.

Moving forward, we expect to offer a full range of information to subscribers over and above content available elsewhere.  The Good Food Guide also has the interactiveness of the web at its heart – reader feedback has been integral to the guide from the very beginning and we want to protect and extend this dialogue with our readers by embracing user-generated comment, albeit in a careful, moderated fashion. The Good Food Guide is not in the Trip Advisor marketplace! We’ll be making some significant online developments this year, yet to be announced.

And about the mobile app…

The 2013 Good Food Guide iPhone app has just launched (January) with the entire Good Food Guide, including reviews, available to the user.  We’re very excited about this version, which is a step up in terms of functionality and interaction. February will see an automatic update to the app, delivering Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter integration.

The world is going mobile in terms of distribution of content (and functionality) and the app has been a great success – both this year’s and last year’s app went straight to the number one spots in the relevant charts.  I really appreciate how good it is as I have used it myself when out and about:  I was doing a research trip in Devon and Cornwall last year (2012), it was pouring with rain and I just wanted to stop somewhere for a bowl of soup.  I tapped in my location and sure enough some local places were suggested and I found a great pub that served good food.  It was a proud moment to find it all worked so perfectly (smiling)!

I’m delighted that the annual Good Food Guide app is selling so well without denting guidebook sales.  This is not to say that the paper world of publishing isn’t facing tough times, it surely is. However the move into the digital world has been a successful one for The Good Food Guide, and we feel we are reaching out to a newer, wider audience.

At the moment we are specifically targeting the Apple iOS market with the app but are not ruling out additional platforms in the future.

What is your review of the restaurant dining scene over 2012?

London has seen a remarkable amount of vibrant positive energy over the last year considering the recession faced by the country.  From street food through to the top end all appear to be doing well in the capital, and food related pubs are also strengthening, it seems to be the wet-led pubs that are closing.

In the countryside there is sensitivity to price – some areas without doubt have struggled.  Possibly food in country house hotels has been a tough market in 2012, and some have begun to change the way they operate – look at Lime Wood with it’s Angela Hartnett connection and more relaxed attitude to dining, and Chewton Glen’s introduction of the more accessible Vetiver.  It’s a reflection of the changing times: people are more interested in informality and accessibility than ever before and this has led them away from the more formal or traditional offerings.

The Good Food Guide Newcomer of the Year – The Gunton Arms in Norfolk – part pub, part bar, part hotel, part restaurant – is an example of a modern establishment that has got everything just about right for its customers, and is thriving as a result.

What do you expect to see in 2013?

The year of the food-led pub (again).  If you look at the financial figures, for a young chef or a young couple starting up a business, an independent restaurant just doesn’t make financial sense.  A pub has the benefit of lower start-up and maintenance costs (if leased from a brewery) as well as a customer base for the drinks side of the business. Just look at chefs like Tom Kerridge and Steve Harris and see what they have achieved with the Hand and Flowers and the Sportsman – both brewery-owned pubs.

These types of venues offer the chef the opportunity to have anything on offer from morning coffee, through breakfast, bar snacks to full menu dinners and possibly a few rooms.  This scope and flexibility is what customers are looking for and provides a market for the future.

In comparison, the small 20 or so cover independent, family-run restaurant will make little viable business sense.  In America they’re known as “mom and pop” restaurants and tend to be aimed at the budget market. In Britain they are inclined to have higher aspirations and higher prices – financially not for Britain in the midst of a prolonged recession and I’ve already seen a couple of closures in that area and know of others up for sale.

In Britain, we are seeing a cultural shift in terms of people eating out.  The idea of having destination restaurants for birthdays and anniversaries is still there but now supplemented by the desire to eat out more often. This will continue into 2013 but I expect to see people being careful in choosing their restaurants, both in terms of the style of offering and the sensitivity to price.

Where do you see The Good Food Guide going in the future?

It started in 1951 and, 62 years on, the guide remains robust and secure in its position as the bestselling UK restaurant guide. The Good Food Guide has always had a strong reputation and I’m pleased that we have continued to build on that strength by opening up to the digital world of the twenty-first century.  And we know, because restaurants tell us, that the Good Food Guide puts the most ‘bums on seats’, and I am convinced we will continue to do so.

I’m very proud that the guide champions and celebrates British chefs, in an inclusive manner, from those that run small tea shops through to those at the top end who stand up, benchmarking wise, to the very best in Europe and beyond.

Interview: Simon Numphud, Head of AA Hotel Services

Posted on: January 15th, 2013 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood
Simon Numphud

Simon Numphud

Simon Numphud has been an employee of The AA for over fifteen years.  He worked his way through from junior inspector, to senior inspector, through management to head up, for the last six years, Hotel Services.  Here he gives a candid interview to Simon Carter of fine-dining-guide about The AA Restaurant Guide.  Interview took place at The AA Offices, Basingstoke in late December 2012.

Tell us some background about yourself?

I’m originally from Bournemouth and started working in hotels during school summer holidays, doing the washing up. After O Levels, my careers advisor at school suggested catering college, which I felt was a sensible idea, so I enrolled at Bournemouth College .

It was a two year diploma in Hotel & Catering & Institutional Operations.  Within the programme, students were sent for a six months placement in France .  I found myself in a Relais & Chateaux Association, Michelin one star property in the Loire valley, which proved an epiphany in appreciating that a career in hospitality was my future.

Upon completing my diploma course, I then applied to Oxford Polytechnic, (now Oxford Brookes University ) to do a degree in Hotel & Catering Management.  It was a four year modular course and was a great experience – one year was a placement in industry, which I spent at The Feathers in Woodstock .  I graduated in the bleakest of years, the midst of a recession, in 1991.

The next three years were a follow on from The Feathers – I teamed up with the head chef and restaurant manager (Sonya Kidney and her partner) and we opened the Marsh Goose in Moreton-in-marsh in the heart of the Cotswolds.  This became a well known restaurant and featured in all the guides.  It was certainly an exciting project and a great learning experience to be involved in the development of a quality restaurant from scratch.

The next step was as restaurant manager at The Beetle & Wedge Boathouse restaurant, which was owned at that time by Kate and Richard Smith, in Moulsford, Oxfordshire. Kate was a big supporter of developing her staff and encouraged me to expand my wine knowledge – I took courses via the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, entered sommelier competitions and completed trips to France.

After two years, I moved to run Hollington House Hotel just outside of Newbury, which was run by an Australian couple who had run the first Relais & Chateaux property in Melbourne, Australia.  It was a beautiful property – three red stars and three Rosettes.  We had the largest Australian wine list in the country, bought directly from Sydney and Melbourne.

Then the AA job came up as an inspector.  Fifteen years later I’m still here!  I’ve been fortunate to climb the ladder through junior inspector, to senior inspector, into management and for the last six years running the Hotel Services business division in the AA.  The knowledge gained across the spectrum of the industry during the last fifteen years, coupled with the previous experiences, has been quite extraordinary, and I feel particularly privileged.

What are your exact roles and responsibilities with the AA?

I manage the Hotel Services business, which sits within AA Media, the latter being the publishing and digital arm of The AA.

Where exactly does the AA Restaurant Guide sit in this structure?

The AA Restaurant Guide straddles across both AA Media and Hotel Services: Hotel Services own the core inspection team of circa 30 full time inspectors: Inspectors will have previously worked in the industry for at least four years and preferably own a relevant qualification, they will also complete a fairly stringent training programme which is continuous throughout an inspector’s career.

These factors are vital in achieving the level of knowledge required to exhibit empathy with the people we are giving feedback to in the industry, as well as benchmark quality appropriately.  This core team will make decisions regarding Rosette awards, and also provide the majority of the information that the editorial team will then make into the finished product of the AA Restaurant Guide.

In addition we have a small, separate team, trained to benchmark in the same fashion as the core team in Hotel Services; this team exclusively ‘eat and write’ for The AA Restaurant Guide and will cover both independent restaurants and Hotel dining rooms.

What is the editorial philosophy of The AA Restaurant Guide?

There have been several editors over the years and each will have brought their own personality to the AA Restaurant Guide.  The core philosophy has remained constant – a guide which can point the consumer towards establishments of better quality where they will find a restaurant or dining room where there is a chef with a real passion for cooking real, quality food.

The guide is also not just about fine dining – it crosses all types of styles, ethnicity and cuisines.  There are 2200 establishments in the guide so it is particularly accessible to the consumer; their tastes, choices and dining preferences.

Are you aware of the extent to which chefs use the Rosette system as a method of career benchmarking?

When the Rosette scheme was started in 1967 it was purely aimed at providing guidance to the consumer in finding quality food. However, The AA has been pleasantly surprised by the way in which Rosette awards (in particular) have been adopted by professional chefs as a way of benchmarking their development and also as an aid to recruitment.

One of the AA’s longest standing philosophies is about quality – we started benchmarking hotels in 1908, a very short time after the AA started and all areas in which the essence of quality can be spread is dear to our hearts.

What is the decision making process for the making of awards of Rosette – both promotions and demotions?

Our inspection team have the authority to make decisions regarding one and two Rosettes awards based on their skills and experiences.  One and two Rosettes makes up approximately 90% of the guide.

People must remember that one Rosette is a great achievement of quality as there are around 50-60,000 restaurants in Britain and the guide’s focus is on just 2,200 restaurants and dining rooms.

Three, four and five Rosette restaurants will be subject to a series of visits where we are looking for the right qualities delivered consistently.

These awards are made in the annual September launch of the guide book and supplemented by awards of higher Rosettes in a January update.

Sitting on top of this is an independent hospitality awards panel which I chair twice a year.  The purpose of this is to oversee the higher awards; verify the process and endorse the decisions made at the highest levels.  This gives the extra layer of robustness, of quality assurance, really providing an excellent endorsement of- and credibility to- the decisions we are making.

How are inspectors organised?

By geographical territory, so by postcode and county.  However as we seek a purity to the benchmarking on a national basis we aim to ensure that the inspectors are well travelled across regions.

We might ask, how does this restaurant stand out locally, in it’s region, in the country and across the UK ?  A three Rosette restaurant must mean the same in terms of quality wherever you are enjoying that restaurant.

How does a restaurant go about getting an inspection?

We make a discerning decision as we get fairly inundated with requests for inspections.

We will look at menus, chef’s CVs, as well as examine how a restaurant features in the context of their area – it must stand out.  To take soho as an example – where there is such an established concentration of restaurants – the restaurant will have to stand out as noteworthy in the context of soho to be considered for a first inspection. There is no charge for inclusion and we will look carefully at all aspects of a restaurant when planning visits.

What role does consultancy play in The AA Restaurant Guide?

Consultancy is an offering that has been developed over the last eight or nine years.  The offering grew organically from the process of giving feedback to hoteliers, restaurateurs and chefs.  The AA has always prided itself on giving feedback (perhaps now uniquely in the guide business) and this was well received to the point of requests for more information.

The AA has been particularly careful to ensure there is a clear distinction between the consultancy and training process and the Rosette award scheme.  This is imperative for credibility: we have seen our consultancy and training support gives teams a better understanding and focus on how to deliver quality and improve standards in their workplace and critically the importance of consistency.

In excess of 800 chefs have now been through the Rosette Academy and part of this is to encourage the retention of core craft skills which to an extent have become lost in recent years.  The most advanced chefs can create extraordinary things but perhaps there’s the opportunity for many to get the basics right, make one step at a time and consistently produce dishes which reflect their personality and deliver on preparation, taste, texture, temperature and technical execution.

What role does reader feedback play?

A highly valid and important role, however a particular skill-set and a set of criteria are required to consistently benchmark restaurants.  We will take feedback from both readers as well as the industry: Two way communication methods are ever expanding, including web, email, social networking platforms and so on that all help us keep up-to-date and take the guide book forward.  This all adds up to making the Rosette scheme robust, consistent and respected.

Tell us about The AA Restaurant Guide on the web?

The Guide is free to access on the web and we will look to improve and enrich the content of this offering over time.  Mobile devices are key to the future and making offerings as mobile friendly as possible.

This means more than merely making the format more mobile device friendly in terms presentation, including for example, providing neat answers to questions like “tell me the 5 nearest points of interest to where I am right now.”

Today, AA Media have 24 apps across seven different platforms including iPhone, android, blackberry, nokia, windows and so on.  There’s currently been over three million downloads of apps across AA Media offerings, which shows it has become a significant distribution stream for content.  The AA Restaurant Guide is, for example, a free to download app.

Any plans to go real time instead of date in time for Rosette Awards?

The current approach works well and we have no plans to change the frequency of the awards process.

Will the paperback guide see a change in format?

We’re very happy with the editorial content and presentation of the guide so no plans to change but as always we will be keeping abreast of the demands of the marketplace.


AA Three (3) Rosette Awards January 2013 Press Release

Posted on: January 15th, 2013 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood



The AA has today announced the latest restaurants to be awarded four and three AA rosettes.  Just one restaurant, 21212 in Edinburgh , has been awarded the prestigious accolade of four AA Rosettes while thirteen establishments are celebrating being awarded three AA Rosettes.


The name lays out the culinary concept of chef Paul Kitching’s much talked about Edinburgh venue: the menu format offers up to five courses – choose from two starters, two mains and two desserts with small, but perfectly formed, morsels in between.  As the unorthodox name suggests, Kitching’s cooking is exciting, artful, complex, even confrontational stuff that defies easy classification.  The venue is a splendid townhouse in a smart Edinburgh postcode with a high-ceilinged Georgian dining room done out with the original fancy plasterwork.

The new three rosette restaurants range from Cartmel in Cumbria to Padstow in Cornwall with four restaurants coming from the North of England and just one in London.

  • Rogan and Co, Cartmel , Cumbria
  • Freemasons Country Inn, Wiswell, Lancashire
  • Wynyard Hall, Billingham, Co Durham
  • 1851 Restaurant, Peckforton Castle , Peckforton, Cheshire
  • The Sir Charles Napier, Chinnor, Oxfordshire
  • Titchwell Manor, Titchwell, Norfolk
  • Dabbous, London
  • Lewtrenchard Manor, Lewdown, Devon
  • Royal Crescent Hotel, Bath
  • The Feathered Nest Inn, Nether Westcote, Gloucestershire
  • Marquis at Alkham, Dover , Kent
  • Paul Ainsworth at No 6, Padstow, Cornwall
  • Stoke Park, Stoke Poges , Buckinghamshire

AA Hotel Services manager Simon Numphud said, “We are delighted to award four rosettes to 21212 as well as being able to recognise 13 new establishments with the achievement of three AA Rosettes. All have demonstrated a high level of consistency and accuracy in the overall cooking standards that our inspection team have experienced.

“To be awarded four rosettes a restaurant must show a passion for excellence, superb technical skills and intense ambition as well national recognition for its cooking and 21212 certainly covers all these.  Restaurants serving food of a three Rosette standard are worthy of recognition from well beyond their local area and I am delighted that these very deserving restaurants have been acknowledged for their efforts.”

AA Rosettes are awarded solely by AA Hotel and Restaurant Inspectors with no influence from hotels, restaurants or other guides. The AA Rosette scheme is long established and successfully recognises cooking at different levels nationwide. The success or failure in achieving Rosettes is based on at least one visit to a hotel or restaurant. Essentially it’s a snapshot, whereby the entire meal including ancillary items are assessed.  Of all the restaurants across the UK , approximately 10% are of a standard which is worthy of one Rosette and above.